You just can’t keep a good tiger down. A spinal injury forced Michelle Yeoh to give up her girlhood dream of becoming a prima ballerina, but the years of dance training helped unleash her inner tiger in Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). After marriage cut short her acting career, she roared back as Jackie Chan’s co-star in Police Story 3: Supercop, her vehicle to stardom.
Yeoh’s tiger charisma won her the Miss Malaysia title in 1983 and a trip back to London — where she had spent several years studying ballet — to vie for the Miss World title. She caught the eye of Hong Kong entrepreneur Dickson Poon who had recently formed D&H Production with Sammo Hung. He cast her in a commercial with Jackie Chan and launched her career as an actor in low-budget action films. He was also the one who ended her film career in 1988 by marrying her.
Yeoh’s marriage to Poon ended three and a half years later, around the time D&H shut down for good as Poon turned to retailing luxury goods. Yeoh lost no time landing the co-starring role in Supercop. Her superb performance as an action figure led to being cast opposite Pierce Brosnan in the James Bond thriller Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) which propelled Yeoh to international stardom.
It wasn’t until she played the virtuous, love-stricken swordswoman Yu Shu Lien in Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger (2000) that Michelle Yeoh won raves for her nuanced acting as well as her physical grace and power. The role won her a Best Actress nomination from BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) in 2001. She used her newfound stature to set up her own production company and produced The Touch (2002), a romantic action adventure in English in which Yeoh stars as an acrobatic circus performer.
Yeoh built her acting stature even more with her portrayal of a seasoned geisha in the film version of Memoirs of a Geisha (2005). She also won acclaim for her supporting role in Danny Boyle’s sci-fi thriller Sunshine (2007) She changed things up the following year with a starring role in the The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor with Jet Li and Brendan Fraser.
Michelle Yeoh was born in Ipoh, in western Malaysia on August 6, 1962 to ethnic Chinese parents. English films were a natural progression for Yeoh because it was one of her first languages, along with Malay. She only learned Cantonese well into her childhood and does not speak Mandarin. She had to learn her lines by ear for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. In July of 2008 Yeoh became engaged to race driver Jean Todt.