It should be clear by this point that Michelle Yeoh is not just ageless but unable to provide a subpar performance. She turned 60 this past August, yet she still carries herself like the young woman who, after winning the Miss Malaysia title in 1983, became a Hong Kong action icon in the middle of the 1980s.
Yeoh was born on August 6, 1962, in Ipoh, Malaysia, and it seemed as though he had already developed unmatched cinematic martial arts abilities before he ever left the womb.
However, she remained largely unknown on this side of the globe until she appeared in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” in 2000 and received a BAFTA Award nomination. She had been acting for 16 years when she became an instant phenomenon owing to filmmaker Ang Lee.
The majority of viewers might be unaware that Yeoh had no formal martial arts training and instead relied on her dance abilities and on-set coaches to get ready for the intricate action sequences that became her trademark in films like “Yes, Madam!”, “Magnificent Warriors” and “Wing Chun,” Yeoh has avoided recognition from the Oscars, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards over a phenomenal career approaching four decades.
But that might be about to change due to Yeoh’s brilliant, much-praised performance in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which catapulted her into the conversation for significant accolades after the film’s premiere at South By Southwest back in March.
See if you agree with our rankings by viewing our photo gallery of Yeoh’s 10 top movies.
Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)
Writer/Directors: Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong, Tallie Medel, Jenny Slate, Harry Shum Jr., Biff Wiff
The movie is, in fact, all that A24 describes it to be in its marketing materials: “a hilarious and big-hearted sci-fi action adventure about an exhausted Chinese American woman (Michelle Yeoh) who can’t seem to finish her taxes.” It is outrageous, wild, and wonderfully, unabashedly over the top.
It is a masterful assault on the senses that grabs you by the eyes, ears, and throat and won’t let go. It’s also a professional high point for Yeoh, whose Evelyn Wang character is a laundromat owner traveling the multiverse who still has it in her to kick ass. Nothing, not even close, has ever been quite like this movie.
— Everything Everywhere (@allatoncemovie) December 14, 2021
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Director: Ang Lee
Writers: Hui-Ling Wang, James Schamus, Kuo Jung Tsai, based on the book by Du Lu Wang
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang, Chang Chen, Sihung Lung, Pei-Pei Cheng, Fazeng Li, Xian Gao, Yan Hai, Deming Wang, Li Li, Suying Huang
Yeoh’s smoldering performance as Yu Shu Lien, Master Li Mu Bai’s (Yun-Fat) lover and devoted comrade, in this period piece set in 19th-century Qing Dynasty China, made her an “overnight” sensation in America even though she had already been a star in Asia for 15 years by the time “Crouching Tiger” arrived.
The movie is a masterwork from director Lee, consisting of thrilling battle sequences and fantastic choreography that essentially reinvents the genre. It’s pulpy and philosophical, artistic and bizarre, aggressive and enjoyable. Again, Yeoh is a warrior’s warrior who is at once kind and fierce. The most incredible Oscar snub was hers.
Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Director: Jon M. Chu
Writers: Peter Chiarelli, and Adele Lim, based on the novel by Kevin Kwan
Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Harry Shum Jr., Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang
Yeoh distinguished himself as a scene-stealing marvel in this box office sensation, a comedy-drama-romance that was well received by both reviewers and viewers and was based on the same-named book. It follows the story of Rachel (Wu), an economics professor at NYU, who travels to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick (Golding) for his best friend’s wedding.
There, she is forced to feed by Nick’s wealthy family, which includes clawing tiger mom Eleanor (Yeoh), a bossy, strong matriarch who says what she means and does what she says. She is a ball of ferocious socialite passion and the ideal chess player on the “Crazy Rich Asians” board.
— Crazy Rich Asians (@CrazyRichMovie) January 22, 2023
Director: Stanley Tong
Writers: Edward Tang, Fibe Ma, Lee Wai Yee
Starring: Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung, Kenneth Tsang, Wah Yuen, Bill Tung
The action comedy/drama genre was unheard of thirty years ago. Chan was never better than in this chaotic kung fu film, where he plays a Hong Kong police officer who goes undercover to infiltrate a Chinese prison. From there, he uses cunning, quirky charm to infiltrate a drug cartel in tremendous danger to his safety.
Yeoh, who plays Jessica Yang, a different undercover agent, gives him a lot of help. Of course, there are hilarious mix-ups and a tonne of bone-crunching stunts that appear to have been performed by the actors. The end product is an eccentric genre gem that finds everyone having a great time, including Yeoh.
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The Lady (2011)
Director: Luc Besson
Writer: Rebecca Frayn
Starring: Michelle Yeoh, David Thewlis, Jonathan Raggett, Jonathan Woodhouse, Susan Wooldridge, Benedict Wong
Yes, Michelle Yeoh can engage in politics and does so both admirably and effectively. Yeoh displays a royal, stoic, and forceful presence as Aung San Sun Kyi, the political figurehead of Burma who earned the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize while imprisoned in her home country, while her real-life persona fights for a cause bigger than herself.
The relationship between Kyi and Thewlis’s portrayal of her husband, Michael Aris, is portrayed in the film. Despite extended distances between them and the persecution of a belligerent Burmese government, their love remains. The actress performed a very different role from what she was used to, yet she still served it with her signature flair.
Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)
Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Writers: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
Starring: Jack Black (voice), Angelina Jolie (voice), Jackie Chan (voice), Dustin Hoffman (voice), Gary Oldman (voice), Seth Rogen (voice), Lucy Liu (voice), David Cross (voice), James Hong (voice), Michelle Yeoh (voice), Danny McBride (voice), Dennis Haysbert (voice), Jean-Claude Van Damme (voice), Victor Garber (voice)
The follow-up to DreamWorks Animation’s “Kung Fu Panda” is a better film than the first; it’s darker, more serious, and packs a bigger punch while retaining the original’s humor and warmth. With Black, Cham, Hoffman, Oldman, Yeoh, Liu, Rogen, and Cross among its voice actors, it has an impressive voice ensemble.
Yeoh portrays the Soothsayer, an old and wise goat endowed with the power of “second sight,” and Po (Black) is a Dragon Warrior trying to prevent the Valley of Peace from falling into the clutches of evil. Although it’s more intricate than that, as long as the Soothsayer is there, we always feel wonderful.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Director: Roger Spottiswoode
Writer: Bruce Feirstein
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Teri Hatcher, Ricky Jay, Gotz Otto, Joe Don Baker, Vincent Schiavelli, Judi Dench, Desmond Llewelyn
It’s a lot of fun, and Brosnan proves himself to be an eminently competent James Bond. However, he has Yeoh by his side in the role of Chinese secret agent Wai Lin to help prevent Armageddon, which is why he comes off as so credible. Michelle Yeoh indeed played a Bond girl, which makes perfect sense when you think about it. Pryce portrays the Murdoch-like magnate with a lot of mustache-twirling styles.
Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: Alex Garland
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, Cliff Curtis, Chipo Chung, Michelle Yeoh, Hiroyuki, Sanada, Benedict Wong, Troy Garity, Mark Strong
A stellar cast, led by Murphy, Byrne, and Evans, with Yeoh following closely after, supports the Oscar-winning director Boyle’s sci-fi psychological thriller. She is one of eight men and women who have traveled to space in 2057 to prevent the Sun from going out and putting an end to life as we know it on Earth.
She plays a biologist in this crew. It’s reasonable to say that things don’t quite go as planned, but Corazon, played by Yeoh, keeps her attention on the present and the task. Nothing as simple as a fading fireball will phase the actress now, just as she never flinched when facing down rooms full of nasty dudes.
Shang-chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Writers: Dave Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham
Starring: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Ben Kingsley, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Michelle Yeoh, Wah Yuen, Florian Munteanu
Simu Liu, who plays the main character Shang-Chi, receives helpful instruction from his aunt Ying Nan on being a badass just before Yeoh’s entrance into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Yeoh).
She gets the chance to demonstrate that, despite approaching 60 years old, she still has it in her to play the wise elder character with absolute conviction. The reasonably complicated plot revolves around Shang-need Chi’s confronting his history due to being lured into the Ten Rings movement. Awkwafina, who plays Shang-best Chi’s friend Katy, a hotel valet, adds flavor to the mix.
Shang-Chi sets off to unlock the keys to immortality and save his father in 'Shang-Chi and the Quest for Immortality,' a graphic novel releasing this October from @Scholastic! Read an interview with creator @VictoriaYing: https://t.co/LXdV2IV3ww pic.twitter.com/hAATZEywKF
— Shang-Chi (@shangchi) January 17, 2023
Tai Chi Master (1993)
Director: Woo-Ping Yuen
Writer: Kwong-Kim Yip
Starring: Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Siu-Ho Chin, Fennie Yuen, Cheung-Yan Yuen, Shun Lau,
“Tai Chi Master” is the apex of filmmaker Yuen’s career and is arguably the best pure action movie of Yeoh’s career. While it’s a showcase for star Li’s abilities, it also exemplifies Yeoh’s excellent agility in a dramatic setting (he’s the martial arts choreographer of the “Matrix” and “Kill Bill” flicks).
The plot centers on Li and Chin, two childhood friends who parted ways but were eventually reunited via the power of Tai Chi. With some tremendous fistic combat sequences, this is portrayed as a seminal work in the martial arts genre, solidifying Yeoh’s position as the queen of the Hong Kong thriller.