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Why Michelle Yeoh’s big moment of recognition is long overdue

New York Post logo: MainLogo New York Post 1/10/2023 Sara Stewart

Film industry colleagues have been singing Michelle Yeoh’s praises for decades — but only now is the 60-year-old star of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” enjoying major mainstream recognition.

The Malaysia native’s performance in the genre-bending flick earned her a Golden Globe nomination for best actress in a comedy or musical film, which she’s widely favored to win. And if rampant predictions are right, she’ll get an Oscar nomination when they’re announced two weeks hence.

In December, Time magazine named Yeoh Icon of the Year. She just received the International Star Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival and, this summer, she received an honorary doctorate from the American Film Institute. 

“Everything Everywhere” is a thrillingly absurdist film blending sci-fi, comedy and family drama, expertly showcasing Yeoh’s range.

© Provided by New York Post In “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Yeoh plays a laundromat owner trying to save the world from forces of evil.Courtesy Everett Collection

The plot centers on frazzled laundromat owner Evelyn Wang (Yeoh), who learns she’s the only one who can stop an evil force bent on destroying the fabric of existence across an endless constellation of parallel universes, each with their own version of Evelyn.

In one, she’s an international movie superstar — a cheeky homage to Yeoh herself. In another, she’s married to Jamie Lee Curtis’ character in a world where everyone has hot dogs for fingers. In yet another, she’s the brilliant scientist who discovered how to jump from one universe to another.

The first Hollywood film to put Yeoh front and center has elicited a wave of awards and raves.

© Provided by New York Post Originally intended to star Jackie Chan, “Everything Everywhere” brought Yeoh front and center in one of 2022’s more acclaimed films.AP

“This is the perfect confluence of a part and a movie being released with an actress who’s been waiting patiently for us to pay f–king attention,” Daniel Scheinert, one half of the “Everything Everywhere” directing duo known as the Daniels, recently told the Hollywood Reporter. 

Why has it taken so long for Yeoh’s awards moment? The industry’s longstanding biases against women, older women and non-white actors have all been factors, and Yeoh has been vocal in calling them out.

Last May at the inaugural Gold Gala, receiving the first ever SeeHer award for defying gender stereotypes, she dedicated the honor to “tireless women who have worked hard their entire lives and remain unseen. Let this award be proof that all women’s stories need to be told and need to be seen. Let us make that common and normal and not just a one-off.”

And at the Palm Springs Film Festival, she pointed to Asian actors pushing for equal footing in the industry.

“Representation matters,” she said in her acceptance speech.

From the earliest days of her career in Hong Kong action movies, Yeoh set the bar ever-higher for what women could do onscreen. The Malaysia-born actress, who trained as a ballet dancer, first came into the spotlight when she won the Miss Malaysia World contest in 1983.

© Provided by New York Post Yeoh caught her first break as Miss World Malaysia back in 1983.

Her third film role was in the 1985 movie “Yes, Madam!” where she co-starred with American martial artist Cynthia Rothrock; in the film’s climactic fight scene, the women, playing detectives, fend off a steady stream of male attackers. Both actresses did their own stunts, and, as Rothrock told the Post, they bonded right away.

“I think we both just wanted to make this big, tough, kickass film that showcases women,” Rothrock, 65, said.

The duo went so hard that the film’s director had to nix one scene because they were visibly injured.

“We were so bruised that every time we would fight, we would flinch,” she said of the cut scene.

© Provided by New York Post One of her earliest films was 1985’s “Yes Madam,” with American martial artist Cynthia Rothrock.

But the hard work paid off: “When the movie came out,” Rothrock said, “I remember going to a midnight screening, and the two of us were sitting there and people were cheering.”

In 1992, Yeoh starred opposite martial arts superstar Jackie Chan in the Hong Kong action film “Police Story 3: Supercop,” where she proceeded to pull off jaw-dropping stunts that include her jumping a motorcycle onto a moving train. In another death-defying stunt, Yeoh leapt from a speeding van onto a convertible — and fell off onto the road, which could have killed her.

“Fortunately, I didn’t land headfirst,” she told Entertainment Weekly. The harrowing fall can be seen in Chan’s trademark outtakes reel in the movie’s end credits. 

© Provided by New York Post 1992’s “Police Story 3: Supercop” brought her together with Jackie Chan. Quentin Tarantino called it one of his favorite films of all time.Courtesy Everett Collection

Yeoh has publicly chided Chan for needing to update his views on women. The two were friends, but when she went on David Letterman’s show in the late ’90s, she called Chan a “male chauvinist pig” who had believed women belong in the kitchen — “except for Michelle, because she would kick my butt.”

Ironically, Yeoh’s role in “Everything Everywhere” was originally written with Chan in mind, with Yeoh playing his wife. When he declined, the Daniels rethought their plot and offered the lead to Yeoh.

“Your loss, my bro!” she texted her old friend

© Provided by New York Post “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was one of the most talked-about films in 2000; Yeoh had a supporting role.SONY Pictures Classics

One of Yeoh’s longtime Hollywood admirers, Quentin Tarantino, is the person she credits with reviving her interest in performing after she was badly injured filming the 1996 movie “The Stunt Woman.”

Tarantino came to meet her during a visit to Hong Kong, where she was recuperating. As she told the Hollywood Reporter, he sat down and described his fandom of her work in detail.

“I’ve watched all your movies,” he told her, proceeding to recount his favorite action sequences frame for frame.

Tarantino recently included “Supercop” in his list of must-see movies, saying it’s got “the greatest stunts filmed in any movie, and that includes Buster Keaton.” 

Yeoh finally shot to global stardom with a role in 1997’s “Tomorrow Never Dies,” which included a sequence in which she and Pierce Brosnan are in a motorcycle chase while handcuffed together. Three years later, she dazzled in Ang Lee’s martial arts masterpiece “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” then went on to flex her dramatic muscles in 2005’s “Memoirs of a Geisha” and, in 2018, the hit rom-com “Crazy Rich Asians,” where she played intimidating matriarch Eleanor Young.

© Provided by New York Post Yeoh’s turn as a Bond girl had plenty of heads on the swivel in 1997, when she co-starred with Pierce Brosnan in “Tomorrow Never Dies.” Sygma via Getty Images

“I’ve had men and women come up to me and tell me, ‘I’m so scared of you.’ I love that!” she told The Guardian in 2021.

When Michelle Yeoh arrived on the set of Marvel’s 2021 film “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” shortly before the pandemic closed down production, director Destin Daniel Cretton told the Post, “we were all insanely nervous to meet this legendary goddess of Asian cinema.” 

Yeoh did not disappoint.

© Provided by New York Post Yeoh getting ready to take care of business in “Tomorrow Never Dies.”Getty Images

“She’s smart, kind, insightful, a master of her craft, but what impressed me the most was her unflinching spirit of playfulness and exploration,” the director told The Post. “Having her on our set was so damn fun, I start laughing just thinking about it.”

Now, at age 60 and with her award season prospects looking extremely promising, Yeoh is in ever-higher demand.

Last year, she was also featured in Paul Feig’s “The School for Good and Evil” for Netflix, as Professor Emma Anemone and played the swordmaster Scian in “The Witcher: Blood Origin,” also for the streamer.

“I get to play an elf, and you don’t see an Asian-looking elf running around a lot,” she told E! News a month ago.

© Provided by New York Post Yeoh didn’t even have to get up from a table to intimidate her opponent as matriarch Eleanor Young in “Crazy Rich Asians.” AP

She will re-team with “Crazy Rich Asians” director Jon Chu in his two “Wicked” musical films. She’s also in the next three “Avatar” sequels set to come out in 2024, 2026 and 2028. In short, she’s very much everywhere. And, all at once, she’s this year’s awards darling. Not a moment too soon, say her collaborators.

“Michelle deserves all the praise coming her way right now,” said Cretton. “She’s deserved it for a very long time.”


New York Post

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