If there is one actress who embodies grace, intellect, courage and fierce fighting skills in one scintillating package, it is Michelle Yeoh!
Born in Ipoh, Malaysia, Yeoh began to learn ballet at the age of four. When she was 15, her family moved to the United Kingdom where Yeoh studied at the Royal Academy of Dance in London, majoring in ballet. However, a spinal injury prevented her from becoming a professional ballet dancer, and she transferred her attention to choreography and other arts, earning a B.A. degree in Creative Arts with a minor in Drama.
Having won the Miss Malaysia beauty pageant in 1983, Yeoh appeared in a television commercial with none other than Jackie Chan. The advertisement caught the attention of the Hong Kong film production company, D&B Films, leading to small roles in Sammo Hung’s “The Owl vs Bombo”, and as a Judo Instructor in “Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars”. Yeoh’s dance training allowed her to pick up fight choreography very quickly and gave her the physical attributes required to perform much of the high-kicking action herself. It resulted in Yeoh earning the leading role in the martial arts action film “Yes Madam/Police Assassins”, alongside American martial artist Cynthia Rothrock. It was a ground-breaking action film that portrayed the female leads to be just as tough as any comparable male action stars. It also saw Yeoh go beyond martial arts fighting and progress to performing many of her own stunts.
Its success and Yeoh’s reputation for performing her own stunts kickstarted her career as a leading action star with appearances in movies such as “Royal Warriors”, “Magnificent Warriors”, “Police Story 3: Supercop”, “The Heroic Trio” and many more.
Being fluent in English, international fame beckoned, and in 1997 Yeoh was cast as “Wai Lin” opposite Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond, in the global box office hit “Tomorrow Never Dies”.
Even greater international success was to follow in 2000 with Yeoh’s acclaimed performance in Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning martial arts epic “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”.
Having worked alongside many of the biggest names in the business, including Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen and Chow Yun Fat, Yeoh continues to act in movies and television shows to great acclaim, whilst also supporting several charities.
Here we take a look at 10 of the best and most entertaining fight scenes from her enduring career!
- Wing Chun (1994)
- Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
- Once a Cop/Project S/Supercop 2 (1993)
- Royal Warriors (1986)
- Tai Chi Master/Twin Warriors (1993)
- Magnificent Warriors (1987)
- Reign of Assassins (2010)
- Police Story 3: Supercop (1992)
- Police Assassins/Yes Madam (1985)
Directed by choreography legend Yuen Woo Ping and co-starring Donnie Yen, Michelle Yeoh played the famous martial artist who gave her name to one of the world’s most popular traditional styles; Yim Wing Chun! Although the fight scenes feature very little actual Wing Chun, there are quite a few fun fights that allow Yeoh to show off her versatility with traditional choreography, weapons and wirework. Not least is the epic final duel with regular Hong Kong movie bad guy, Norman Chu!
When it came to cast a female lead for Pierce Brosnan’s second outing as James Bond, the producers were looking for a “female 007”. In Michelle Yeoh they found not only an actress who could deliver all the dramatic beats, but also all the action beats too! As Wai Lin, Yeoh finally got to showcase her skills to a mass worldwide audience, not least in the fight in the Bike Shop. Acclaimed action director Vic Armstrong brought in a team of Hong Kong movie fighters especially for Yeoh to fight to her maximum capability!
In this spin-off from Jackie Chan’s Police Story 3: Supercop, Michelle Yeoh reprises her role as Inspector Jessica Yang, who this time is trying to thwart a gang of hi-tech bank robbers. Also directed by Stanley Tong, one of the highlights is Yeoh’s fight with an opponent who is twice her size! It’s a great device to showcase her incredible timing and physicality when it comes to action scenes.
Following the success of “Yes Madam”, Michelle Yeoh broke out on her own as Inspector Yip, who teams up with Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada (“The Last Samurai”, “Rush Hour 3”) to thwart a gang of violent mobsters. Clearly played out as a platform to project Michelle Yeoh’s action star onwards and upwards, the fight scenes in this film up the brutality. However, Yeoh still gets to showcase some of her more elegant skills, especially in this weapons duel.
Co-starring with her good friend Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh makes an action-packed entrance in this scene as a Sanxian (Chinese Lute) playing kung fu fighter. It is a great way to establish her versatility, flexibility, and skill on wires, not least when she continues to fight on a pair of stilts!
In this Hong Kong martial arts action adventure film, Yeoh plays the Indiana Jones-like Fok Ming Ming. She even gets to use a whip! But it is her fight with a Rope Dart that particularly impresses in this always-fun movie. The scene is even more remarkable when you consider Michelle Yeoh had no formal martial arts training prior to her movie career, and yet she looks a complete natural with this intricate and difficult-to-master Chinese weapon!
Arriving a decade after “Crouching Tiger”, Michelle Yeoh returned to the romantic side of the wuxia genre in this fun, John Woo-produced martial arts movie. As a former assassin, Yeoh is trying to lead an anonymous life, but an unexpected robbery at her local bank forces her hand. The scene plays out like something from a Western, with some very clever and intricate martial arts choreography. This beautifully orchestrated fight incorporates kicks, chin na (wristlocks and traps), acupressure and weapons, with Yeoh performing them all as gracefully as ever.
You need to have something special to match Jackie Chan fight-for-fight and stunt-for-stunt, but Michelle Yeoh did just that as Inspector Jessica Yang in the third Police Story instalment. Although this fight is short, it is particularly sweet and firmly establishes that Jackie’s co-star is on equal terms in the action stakes.
Before this film came along, female characters in martial arts films were more-often-than-not just eye-candy or “damsels in distress” to be rescued by a male hero. Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock blew all that away as tough, hard-hitting cops in “Yes Madam”! Their fights with Hong Kong action regulars Dick Wei and Chung Fat in particular, make a point of clearly showing it is the actresses giving as good as they get when it comes to the rough stuff. The slow-motion footage of Michelle Yeoh smashing through plate glass, or the frenetic high-kicking duel with a knife-wielding Chung Fat are nothing short of spectacular, and it’s incredible to think that this movie actually pre-empted Jackie Chan’s iconic “Police Story”!
…and in at #1 is….
Could there really be anything else at number one? This showpiece fight with Zhang Ziyi gave Michelle Yeoh a worthy opponent to showcase Yuen Woo-Ping’s first-class choreography. Using various weapons and wushu techniques, the scene also allowed the two actresses to express themselves dramatically as well as physically. The scene stands up today as one of the finest pieces of modern-era Chinese martial arts movie choreography to have graced the big screen.
So, there we have it folks, 10 Top Michelle Yeoh movie fights! Are there any others you think we should have included? Did you like the fantasy fighting in “Butterfly and Sword”, or did you enjoy the craziness of Wong Jing’s “Holy Weapon”? Which other female fighting stars would you like to see featured in a Top 10? Let us know in the comments below, join in Like and follow the conversation on Facebook and Twitter your thoughts on over to us. Meantime, check out our other martial arts Top 10’s!