Born in Ipoh, Malaysia, she is based in Hong Kong and was chosen by People magazine as one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World in 1997.
She is best known in the Western world for her roles in the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, playing Wai Lin, and the multiple Academy Award-winning Chinese action film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, for which she was nominated the BAFTA for "Best Actress". In 2008, the film critic website Rotten Tomatoes ranked her the greatest action heroine of all time.
She is credited as Michelle Khan in some of her earlier films. This alias was chosen by the D&B studio who thought it might be more marketable to international and western audiences. Yeoh later preferred using her real name.
Early life and careerMichelle Yeoh Choo Kheng was born 6 August 1962 to a prominent ethnic Chinese family in Ipoh, Malaysia, on 6 August 1962. Her parents are Janet Yeoh and Yeoh Kian Teik, a lawyer and MCA politician. She was keen on dance from an early age, beginning ballet at the age of four. At 15 years old, she moved with her parents to England, where she was enrolled in a boarding school. Yeoh later studied at the Royal Academy of Dance in London, majoring in ballet. However, a spinal injury prevented her from becoming a professional ballet dancer, and she transferred her attention to choreography and other arts. She later received a B.A. degree in Creative Arts with a minor in Drama.
In 1983, at the age of 21, Yeoh won the Miss Malaysia beauty pageant. She was also Malaysia's representative at the 1983 Miss World pageant in London. From there, she appeared in a television commercial with Jackie Chan which caught the attention of a fledgling Hong Kong film production company, D&B Films.
Yeoh's career in Hong Kong started with a few commercials for Charles Jourdan, opposite action movie heroes Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-fat before being offered a film contract. The Charles Jourdan brand was handled by D&B Group in Hong Kong, run by Yeoh's future husband, Dickson Poon. In 1988, she retired from acting after marrying Poon. Three years later, the couple divorced and Yeoh returned to acting in 1992. Her first movie after the comeback was Police Story 3: Super Cop, which was partly shot in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Yeoh also modelled for The Body Shop and L'Oreal.
Wider fameYeoh started her film career acting in action and martial arts films such as Yes, Madam in 1985, The Heroic Trio in 1993, and the Yuen Woo-ping films Tai Chi Master and Wing Chun in 1994. Yeoh has had no formal martial arts training and she relies on her dance training and instructors, and does her own fighting and most of her own stunts.
Yeoh learned English and Malay before Cantonese, and cannot read Chinese characters; consequently she learned the lines for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon phonetically.
She starred in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies as Wai Lin (1997). Natasha Henstridge was rumored to be cast in the lead Bond girl role but eventually Yeoh was confirmed. Brosnan was impressed, describing her as a "wonderful actress" who was "serious and committed about her work". He referred to her as a "female James Bond" in reference to her combat abilities. She wanted again to perform her own stunts but was prevented because director Roger Spottiswoode considered it too dangerous. Still she performed all of her fighting scenes. Thereafter, she was offered the role of Seraph in the two sequels to The Matrix, but she could not accept due to a scheduling conflict (the Matrix writers then changed Seraph into a male character and cast Collin Chou in the role). In 2002, she produced her first English film, The Touch through her own production company, Mythical Films.
In 2005, Yeoh starred as the graceful Mameha in the film adaptation of Memoirs of a Geisha, and she continued her English-language work in 2007 with Sunshine. In 2008, Michelle Yeoh also starred in fantasy action film The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor with Brendan Fraser and Jet Li.
In 2010, she starred in Reign of Assassins.
Save China's Tigers project committed to protect the endangered South China Tiger.
Awards, honours and stylesOn 19 April 2001, Yeoh was awarded the Darjah Datuk Paduka Mahkota Perak (DPMP), which carries the title Dato' by Sultan Azlan Shah, the Sultan of Perak, her home state, in recognition of the fame she brought to the state. The award was given in conjunction with the Sultan's 73rd birthday celebrations.
On 25 November 2002, she was honoured as The Outstanding Young Persons of the World (TOYP) (Cultural Achievement) by JCI (Junior Chamber International).
On 23 April 2007, French President Jacques Chirac awarded her Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur. The decoration was presented to her in a ceremony in Kuala Lumpur on 3 October 2007.
NominationsBAFTA Film Award 2001 – Best Actress (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)
|1984||The Owl vs Bombo||Miss Yeung|
|1985||Yes, Madam||Inspector Ng|
|1985||Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars||Judo instructor|
|1986||In the Line of Duty||Michelle Yip||a.k.a. Wong ga jin si|
|1987||Dynamite Fighters||Fok Ming-Ming|
|1987||Easy Money||Michelle Yeung||a.k.a. Tong tian da dao|
|1992||Police Story 3: Super Cop||Inspector Jessica Yang|
|1993||The Heroic Trio||Ching/Invisible Woman/Number 3|
|1993||Butterfly and Sword||Lady Ko|
|1993||Holy Weapon||Ching Sze/To Col Ching|
|1993||Once a Cop||Jessica Yang|
|1993||Tai Chi Master||Siu Lin|
|1994||Shaolin Popey 2 - Messy Temple||Ah King||a.k.a. Shao Lin xiao zi II: Xin wu long yuan|
|1994||Wonder Seven||Ying||a.k.a. 7 jin gong|
|1994||Wing Chun||Yim Wing Chun|
|1996||Ah Kam||Ah Kam||a.k.a A Jin de gu shi|
|1997||The Soong Sisters||Soong Ai-ling/Madam Kung|
|1997||Tomorrow Never Dies||Wai Lin|
|1999||Moonlight Express||Sis||a.k.a. Sing yuet tung wa|
|2000||Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon||Yu Shu Lien|
|2002||The Touch||Pak Yin Fay|
|2004||Silver Hawk||Lulu Wong / The Silver Hawk|
|2005||Memoirs of a Geisha||Mameha|
|2006||Fearless||Ms. Yang||(directors cut only)|
|2008||The Children of Huang Shi||Mrs.Wang|
|2008||Babylon A.D.||Sister Rebeka|
|2008||The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor||Zi Yuan|
|2009||Turning Point||Michelle Yeoh||Make Roads Safe documentary|
|2009||Among the Great Apes with Michelle Yeoh (documentary)||Michelle Yeoh||National Geographic documentary|
|2010||True Legend||Sister Yu|
|2010||Reign of Assassins||Zeng Jing||Chinese title Jianyu a.k.a. Jianyu Jianghu|
|2011||Kung Fu Panda 2||Soothsayer||(voice)|
|2011||The Lady||Aung San Suu Kyi|