Michelle Yeoh‘s chances of making history at the 2023 Oscars as the first Asian actress to be awarded by the Academy grow every week, and there are only 2 left until the party. She has stiff competition from Cate Blanchett for an amazing performance in Tar, but Cate always delivers amazing performances. Michelle, aged 61, has always been a star in her home country, gaining international recognition when she was cast as a “Bond Girl” in 1997 alongside Pierce Brosnan in Tomorrow Never Dies. 23 years ago, when she starred in the cultural phenomenon that was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, her restrained performance was one of the film’s strongest elements, but after that, she stayed in secondary roles until the new phenomenon: Everything, Everywhere All at Once, where she is the main star and plays several roles in one, confirming a versatility that had not yet been explored. And for those with the Tiger sign like Michelle, the year 2023 – of the Rabbit – will be a positive year, of recovery after difficult phases. Written in the stars?
Michelle comes from a wealthy Malaysian family, the daughter of a lawyer and a housewife. With a lot of energy and competitive nature, she learned to play the piano, swim and play both basketball and rugby, becoming a Junior Squash Champion, but she really wanted to be a classical dancer. So much so that, aged just 15, she moved to London where she followed her course at the traditional Royal Academy of Dance. In those days, the Royal Ballet was not inclusive and there were practically no foreigners in its corps de ballet, so Michelle’s goal was to open an academy when she returned to Malaysia. A back injury ended the career she had so carefully planned.
When she returned home in 1983, she participated in the Miss Malaysia pageant and was crowned the most beautiful in her country. That’s why the opportunity arose to do a commercial with none other than Jackie Chan as a co-star. Thus was born a legendary partnership in Hong Kong cinema.
Michelle, whose real name is Yeoh Chu-Kheng, adopted the western name of Michelle Khan to pursue her new career as an action film actress. Jackie Chan was already a star and by pairing with him, she quickly became famous as well. She debuted in 1984, in The Owl vs Bumbo, but played the traditional role of the young lady in danger. Curious about the fight sequences, Michelle invested in the study of Martial Arts, and her second film, Yes, Madam!, in 1985, already featured her fighting on equal terms with men. It was the first of several hits.
Like Jackie, Michelle did her own fights without the support of stuntmen and in 12 years, as a result of so many dangerous stunts, she left the set of The Stunt Woman, in 1996, with a fractured vertebra and broken ribs. It was at that time that they selected her to join the James Bond franchise, changing her artistic name once again. Now she was Michelle Yeoh.
As an Asian, Michelle Yeoh is paving the way for several stars even in Hollywood. She was the first Asian “Bond Girl” and also one of the first partners of 007 who fought more than him, participating equally in the action scenes. And it was just the teaser because the actress’ Martial Arts sequences in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are among the best in cinema. And he had torn knee ligaments when he recorded part of them!
In the United States, Michelle found herself trapped in ethnic roles, such as what she did in Memoirs of a Geisha, in 2005, or The Mummy (alongside another nominee this year, Brendan Fraser) so she tried to stay in the sci-fi universe where her origins had less weight, starring in Sunshine and Far North, before returning to fighting films like Reign of Assassins, in 2010. Not forgetting that she could prove herself as a dramatic actress, her performance in the biographical film, The Lady, 2011, featured her very well as the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi in The Lady (2011).
Like many actresses, Michelle struggled with roles after 40, but it got worse in her 50s, most often in a supporting role and mother of the leads. Her performance as the tough matriarch in Crazy Rich Asians was praised, but even with the box office success, it didn’t change the offering much. She had a small role in the romantic comedy Last Christmas, and participation in the series Marco Polo, Strike Back, and Star Trek: Discovery, in addition to appearing in The Witcher: Origin of Blood as well as in the Marvel universe on account of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. But it is with the small Everything, Everywhere All at Once that Michelle Yeoh finally received recognition for more than 30 years of her career.
Essential start of a complex plot, of multiverses, in which Michelle transits into different personalities, she is the soul and heart of the film, written especially for her. With her critically acclaimed portrayal of Evelyn Wang, the frustrated owner of a troubled laundromat, she has what it takes to make history on the night of March 12th.
Activist, awarded, and empowered, Michelle has been in a stable relationship with Jean Todt, President of the FIA – International Automobile Federation, for 21 years. On Oscar night, if she is indeed chosen as Best Actress, the Academy may crush now any hopes that she will go up and say thank you in just 45 seconds. At the Golden Globes, when the maestro started to play the song to force her to stop, she interrupted her speech and warned: “You can stop otherwise I will hit you and you know I know how to fight”. Picture the scene at the Oscars?