Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh is launching her career to a whole new level. It’s mid-November in Los Angeles and the city is bracing up for Oscars season. Yeoh is at the center of attention before an industry film screening of her film Everything Everywhere All at Once. Everyone here wants to meet and shake her hand. Cracking jokes and throwing her head back in laughter, her platform sneakers and embellished blazer just made her glass of wine a perfectly fitting scene of a star. As fellow co-star Ke Huy Quan approaches, her demeanor softens as she brushes something from his shirt after placing a hand on his cheek.
Yeoh’s warm is evidently infectious in the midst of the chaotic atmosphere.
What has now blown to a full proportion of what is officially termed an Oscar campaign can be a little overwhelming even for a star who has been in films for 40 years. Remarkably, she is now one of the most talked about Asian actors in Hollywood.
Growing up in Ipoh, Malaysia, Yeoh never thought that she’ll be a world-known movie star. She had imagined a future in ballet, but a back injury after starting classes at the Royal Academy of Dance in London cut her dance career short. In 1983, her mother signed her up for the Miss Malaysia pageant, which she won. Leading her to film a wristwatch commercial with Jackie Chan soon after.
Remarkably, what has never happened before is happening. Until Everything Everywhere All at Once, which premiered in March, never has she been No. 1 on a Hollywood call sheet. While some of us may know rather briefly about her roles in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Memoirs of a Geisha and rather more recently in Crazy Rich Asian, Michelle Yeoh’s debut in Hong Kong action films began in the mid-‘80s. Among the martial project with Jet Li in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, she also managed her own stunt driving a motorbike on moving trains in Jackie Chan’s Supercop. In Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond in Tomorrow Never Dies, she jumped off a skyscraper. She’s also done Marvel, Kung Fu Panda, Star Trek, Minions – Avatar, Transformers, The Witcher are next.
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Yeoh’s illustrious career carries added weight in this year’s Academy Awards race. More than anything in the Asian entertainment industry, we’ve come to gradually digest that her forthcoming victory would be greatly received by Asians everywhere as a triumph for them too. Not only is she directly doing it for her personal achievement, but she is also doing it for us too.
There’s no point in wondering what would have happened if she had decided to have children or get married. Because her life has taken the journey that it has done. What comes next is only forward from here.