Childhood & Early Life
Michelle Yeoh was born as Yeoh Choo-Kheng on 6 August 1962 in the city of Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia. Her parents, Janet Yeoh and Yeoh Kian Teik, were of Malaysian-Chinese descent who traced their roots to the Cantonese-populated areas of China.
As a child, Yeoh showed immense interest in dance and ballet. She started learning ballet at the tender age of four. The family later moved to the UK, and Yeoh had the opportunity to study at The Royal Academy of Dance, London. She even majored in ballet.
Despite her enthusiasm, Yeoh’s ballet career did not take off due to a spinal injury. This however did not deter her as she started concentrating on other forms of art, such as choreography and stunts. She studied Creative Arts and Drama for her BA degree.
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In 1983, Michelle Yeoh made the headlines across the country when she won the Miss Malaysia pageant. Subsequently, she represented her country at the Queen of the Pacific pageant in Australia and won the crown.
Her other honors after winning the Miss Malaysia pageant included being crowned as the Miss Moomba in Melbourne, and later representing Malaysia at the Miss World 1983 pageant. These pageants provided her global recognition.
Yeoh’s first stint with the silver screen was a television commercial alongside Jackie Chan. It helped her catch the attention of D&B Films, a film production company based in Hong Kong. D&B Films decided to rope in Yeoh in several of their films.
Her initial career mostly included several martial arts and action films, such as ‘Yes Madam’ (1985), ‘Royal Warriors’ (1986), ‘Magnificent Warriors’ (1987) and ‘Easy Money’ (1987). Yeoh performed her own stunts in these action-packed films, and her popularity rose.
In 1987, she decided to retire from acting after marrying Dickson Poon, the businessperson behind D&B group.
Michelle Yeoh resurfaced after her divorce in 1992. Her comeback film ‘Police Story 3: Super Cop’ (1992) was a super hit, and it marked her return to acting. Other hit movies such as ‘The Heroic Trio’ (1993), ‘Tai Chi Master’ (1994) and ‘Wing Chun’ (1994) followed.
She achieved international recognition after starring in the famous James Bond film, ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, in 1997. She played the role of Wai Lin and starred opposite Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan, a long-time James Bond veteran, was impressed with Yeoh’s commitment and skills. He called her the ‘female James Bond’.
Yeoh wanted to perform all her stunts in the James Bond movie, but the director Roger Spottiswoode dissuaded her as he considered it too dangerous. Her fight scenes in the film earned her a nomination in MTV Movie Awards for Best Fight.
In 2000, she starred as Yu Shu Lien in the international Ang Lee action movie, ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’. It was predominantly shot in China, and Yeoh had to learn Mandarin for her role. The movie was declared an international blockbuster.
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The success of ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ earned Yeoh many awards. She was nominated for a BAFTA under the Best Actress in a Leading Role category. Several other nominations poured in and her reputation soared.
In 2002, she produced and starred in the action-adventure film, ‘The Touch’. It was the first production released under her banner, Mythical Films. However, the film was not successful and was received negatively.
From 2004, she started focusing on her work in English-language films. Her role as Mameha in the adaptation of ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ was a success. Despite mixed responses that the film received, Yeoh’s acting was universally appreciated.
From 2005 until 2010, she starred in various successful movies, including ‘Sunshine’ (2007), ‘The Children of Huang Shi’ (2008) and ‘The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor’ (2008).
In 2010, Yeoh was cast as Zeng Jing in the drama adventure film, ‘Reign of Assassins’. It was screened at various reputed film festivals, and Yeoh was nominated in the Best Actress category at Asian Film Awards for her role. It was also one of the highest grossing movies of the year.
In 2011, she played the role of Aung San Suu Kyi in the biographical film, ‘The Lady’. This sparked several controversies and Yeoh was refused entry to Myanmar. However, many critics appreciated her acting and were impressed by her grace and ferocity.
Her popularity across the world made her the first choice for Guerlain, a traditional French cosmetics company, to become their skincare ambassador in 2011. She was expected to bridge the gap between the Asian and European markets.
She made her television debut as Mei Foster/Li-Na in 2015 in the final season of ‘Strike Back’. She starred in TV series, ‘Marco Polo’, as Lotus in 2016. She also starred in several movies, such as ‘Mechanic: Resurrection’ (2016) and ‘Morgan’ (2016) during this period.
In 2017 Michelle was roped in to play the role of Captain Philippa Georgiou in the fantasy series, ‘Star Trek: Discovery.’ She continues to play the role up until now, and it earned her a nomination for the Saturn Award for Best Guest Starring Role on Television.
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In 2018, she essayed the role of matriarch Eleanor Young in the international-hit, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’. The movie was successful in many parts of the world, and critics lavishly praised Yeoh’s role as Young. The movie raked in several awards, and two sequels have been slated for future releases.
She is currently working on multiple projects. Her movies ‘Boss Level’ and ‘Last Christmas’ are scheduled to release in 2019. Another movie titled, ‘Blazing Samurai’, is currently under the works, and Yeoh is busy shooting for it.
Her contributions to the world of entertainment have been repeatedly recognized and honored by her native country, Malaysia. She has been conferred many titles and has been on the panel of several international film festivals.
Family & Personal Life
Yeoh was married to Dickson Poon, a Hong Kong executive, from February 1988 until 1992. They divorced after four years of marriage. Yeoh decided to step away from acting during her brief marriage to Poon.
She later entered a relationship with Dr. Alan Heldman, a cardiologist from America. They briefly dated and were engaged to each other in 1998. However, the relationship ended soon.
Yeoh started dating French national Jean Todt in 2004. Todt is a sports executive and ex-CEO of Ferrari. She is currently in relationship with Todt, and they confirmed their engagement in July 2008.
Yeoh is a practicing Buddhist and leads her life according to Buddhist principles. When she is not busy acting, she involves herself in various causes. She is a patron of the Save China’s Tiger mission, which intends to protect the endangered species.