January 27, 2011

Five Films: Michelle Yeoh

This week’s Five Films segment is dedicated to Michelle Yeoh. She was born in Malaysia, raised in Great Britain and then introduced to movie audiences via Hong Kong. She originally trained as a ballerina, but a spinal injury led to her shifting to choreography, then modelling, and finally to acting. She will next be seen playing Aung San Suu Kyi in Luc Besson’s biographical drama The Lady, but she’s got an enormous back catalogue of films that are well worth checking out. Here, below, are my five favourites.

Police Story 3: Supercop (1992)
Yeoh featured in six films before retiring from acting in 1988. It was only after she divorced her husband, Dickson Poon, that she returned to the screen opposite Jackie Chan in Police Story 3. She is extraordinary in this film, going toe-to-toe with Chan in terms of energy, screen presence and ridiculously dangerous stunts. Her final stunt in the film – riding a motorcycle off a ramp and onto the roof of a moving train – was so impressive that it led Chan to add an even more dangerous stunt for himself (hanging off a rope ladder tied to a flying helicopter) to keep his reputation intact as Hong Kong’s most reckless and talented stunt artist.

The Heroic Trio (1993)
Following the enormous success of Police Story 3, Yeoh co-starred in The Heroic Trio. It’s a wonderfully inventive and enjoyable action film directed by Johnnie To. Yeoh stars opposite Maggie Cheung and Anita Mui as one of three superheroes. A sequel was produced, The Executioners, which had a darker, post-apocalyptic style. It’s nowhere near as good as the original, which was one of the first Hong Kong action films I ever saw and remains a personal favourite.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Just as Yeoh managed to be Jackie Chan’s equal in Police Story 3, here she manages to be the first female lead in a James Bond movie to truly look, act and feel like an equal to the British secret agent – rather than a mere sidekick or love interest. The motorcycle vs. helicopter chase sequence is potentially the best action sequence James Bond has ever had. For a while there were plans to spin Yeoh’s character off into her own franchise, but sadly they never came to fruition. No ‘Bond girl’ has been better – before or since.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000)
Yeoh returns to her Asian cinema roots in this exceptional Taiwanese wuxia epic. As master swordswoman and kung fu artist Yu Shu Lien, Yeoh dominates the screen. Her on-screen chemistry with Chow Yun-Fat also helps create one of the most understated and dignified love affairs in movie history. This isn’t simply Yeoh’s best movie – it’s one of the greatest motion pictures of all time.

Sunshine (2007)
This is a very different role for Yeoh, a relatively meek botanist in Danny Boyle’s widely underrated science fiction thriller. This film boasts a wonderful ensemble cast, as well as a great visual aesthetic and a fairly clever screenplay. It’s not necessarily the best film to watch for Michelle Yeoh, since she’s only playing a smaller supporting character, but I do think it’s a must-see for science fiction fans. Danny Boyle is such a ridiculously versatile and talented director.

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