What a historic night!!! This award season has pulled a ton of ‘firsts’ for performers of Asian descent, and as an Indonesian-born critic, that is something to celebrate! I don’t usually blog about SAG Awards but I’ll make this post a first because of Michelle Yeoh’s historic win.
Thankfully the event was streamed LIVE this year on Netflix Youtube account so I was able to watch it on the night it happened… I teared up watching miss Yeoh gave an emotional speech…
Woo hoo Michelle Yeoh!!! 🤩🏆🇲🇾💪🏼✨
First Asian Best Actress Film Winner at #SAGAwards … hope this is just the first of more to come.
“This is not just for me; this is for every little girl that looks like me…” #legend https://t.co/lBZU8DEiU3
— FlixChatter ♥️🎞️ (@FlixChatter) February 27, 2023
“I think if I speak my heart will explode. SAG- AFTRA, to get this from you who understand what it is to get here… everyone of you know the journey, the roller coaster ride, the ups and downs. But most importantly we never give up. I thank you… This is not just for me, this is for every little girl who looks like me.”
The first paragraph of this THR article says all about how far Hollywood has come but also still needs to go… It took 59 years for Michelle Yeoh to land her first lead role in a Hollywood film. And it’s taken 95 years for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize a woman who identifies as Asian in its best actress category. Yeoh addressed the lack of roles for Asian performers when she won a Golden Globe back in January… “When I first came to Hollywood, it was a dream come true — until I got here… I came here and was told, ‘You’re a minority.’”
Michelle Choo-Kheng Yeoh was born in Ipoh, Malaysia in 1962. She became a movie star in Hong Kong, doing a few movies with martial arts star Jackie Chan before crossing over to Hollywood. She is only the second Asian actress to be nominated in the SAG Best leading actress category after Beijing-born Ziyi Zhang for Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), In 2020, Yuh Jung Youn won Best Supporting Actress for Minari, which made Yeoh only the second Asian woman ever to win a SAG film acting prize.
It’s really astonishing (read: sad) that her win is so historic, as actors of Asian descent are often overlooked. Even more so in the Best Actress category, especially the Oscars, which according to the same THR article is ‘historically one of the awards body’s whitest and least diverse, certainly among the four acting races. Women from the global majority represent a slim minority of nominees, with Halle Berry the only winner — more than 20 years ago — for Monster’s Ball.’ If Yeoh wins at the Oscars on March 12, she’d be the first actress who identified as Asian to ever win!
So as a tribute to the phenomenally-talented and beautiful 60-year-young former Miss Malaysia, I thought I’d highlight some of my favorite performances from the past 3 decades!
10 AMAZING MICHELLE YEOH PERFORMANCES
Starting in 1984 in a tiny role in a Hong Kong movie called The Owl vs. Bumbo, Michelle Yeoh has been steadily working ever since. Even in smaller supporting parts, she managed to make the most of her roles. These 10 scenes showcase Yeoh’s talents and versatility in various genres: action, drama, comedy, etc.
I have to admit I’ve only seen clips of this movie but I will definitely watch the whole thing in its entirety this year! The phenomenal stunts of Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh are simply unbelievable!! Interestingly, Yeoh recently shared on Graham Norton that the directors of Everything Everywhere All at Once first offered her role to Jackie Chan.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Yeoh was the first ethnic Chinese Bond girl and surely one of the best and the most badass!! I couldn’t pick just one scene from the movie. She constantly one-ups Bond and saves him from being killed on more than one occasion! I love the moment she quipped ‘don’t get any ideas!’ when Bond has this smirk on his face when she straddles him on the front of his bike.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
I’ve said this before Yeoh deserved an Oscar nomination for her role here. I’ve only seen the first Crouching Tiger movie that Ang-Lee directed where she gets to display her martial art AND dramatic skills. Apparently Ang Lee pitched this film to Yeoh as ‘Sense and Sensibility with martial arts.” So dedicated was Yeoh that she spent a year before filming began training and learning Mandarin (she’s fluent in English, Malay, and Cantonese).
I can’t find a clip of Yeoh in the movie but I definitely remember her as a botanist in this underrated sci-fi movie by Danny Boyle. I love the diverse cast which includes two Asian actors who are much more well-known today: Benedict Wong and Hiroyuki Sanada.
The Lady (2011)
One of the rare leading roles for miss Yeoh where she portrayed the controversial Burmese political activist Aung San Suu Kyi. Per IMDb, she studied 200 hours of videos of Suu Kyi and learned Burmese for the role. Regardless of how one feels about the subject matter, Yeoh’s performance is fantastic and she has the gravitas and dignified stature that she brought to the role.
Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
As a Singaporean and the mother of a Malaysian-British actor, Eleanor Young is as close to Yeoh’s Malaysian heritage as she gets. Eleanor is a relatable character to most Southeast Asians, As an Indonesian, I know a few mother figures who thinks and acts like her. Yeoh’s performance here is absolutely spot-on, plus she’s got such an elegant, enviable wardrobe!
Last Christmas (2019)
I always love seeing actors known for their action/dramatic roles try their hand at comedies. Glad Paul Feig cast Yeoh as Emilia Clarke’s retail boss named Santa. She’s so adorable and fun to watch here, clearly she relishes her chance at doing comedic roles!
Gunpowder Milkshake (2021)
I gotta admit I wasn’t too keen on this movie but the highlights were Yeoh AND Angela Bassett who are both nominated this year!! Even when performing a crazy fight scene, Yeoh seemingly never loses her cool.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
I often forget the fact that Yeoh never trained in martial arts, but she relies on her dance discipline for the martial arts action scenes. So I love the fluid and graceful dance movements in her fight/action scenes, such as this one when she trained Shang-Chi.
Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)
There is a lot of going on in this movie, so I really enjoyed the quieter moments, especially this one which is a tribute to Wong Kar-wai’s In The Mood For Love. I’d watch an entire 2-hour movie with Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan in a romantic drama like this one!
Hope you enjoyed my Michelle Yeoh tribute. What are some of your favorite of her performances?
16 thoughts on “10 favorite Michelle Yeoh performances – in honor of her historic 2023 SAG Best Actress win”
Supercop is awesome as it’s the third film in the Police Story film series with Jackie Chan and she basically stole the film from him. They did a sequel that was focused on her with Jackie Chan and another actor from that series making a cameo appearance… in drag. She’s just fucking awesome and I’m glad she’s getting all of this love. I didn’t watch the awards last night but I did see James Wong’s speech at the end as that was a great “fuck you” to the old Hollywood who casted white people as Asians and their depiction of Asians back then. That’s why I never watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s as I saw that scene with Mickey Rooney as an Asian and…. that was offensive.
I really should watch Supercop in its entirety, I only watched all of miss Yeoh’s scenes, LOL! She’s just so immensely talented and SO much more than just an action star!
Oh yeah, I was almost gonna include James Hong’s (not Wong, ahah) speech as it’s definitely a sobering reminder of how racist Hollywood was and they still have a long way to go still. Yep I agree that Mickey Rooney’s role in Breakfast At Tiffany’s is extremely offensive!
Criterion Channel just announced a month of films starring Michelle Yeoh in celebration of her that includes Supercop. Those stunts in that film are ridiculously fun.
Yes, some things haven’t aged well as there’s some white actors from the past who played Asians and they were uncomfortable having to get their eyes slanted with tape and all of that such. It was fucking terrible then. Now them racist executives are going to have to bow down.
Oh cool! Man I really should bite the bullet and get Criterion! I’m just struggling adding one more streaming as I could barely watch the ones I want to watch as it is!
As for the racism of Old Hollywood… I think Asian performers faced even more hurdles for representation than other races, as I can’t even name ANY Asian actor prior to 1950s. I just read a recent article about Donnie Yen where he laments that even today, all the roles he gets are Asian stereotypes, so Hollywood still can’t think outside the box when it comes to certain ethnicities 😦
Great tribute, ruth! I’m happy for her historic win. A great chance she will win the Oscar, now. Great! I fell in love with her watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragons. I’ve seen many of her films–she never disappoints.
Hi ya Cindy! Thank you, I do hope she’ll win an Oscar too. I love Blanchett but she’s already got 2 Oscars and has way more opportunities than Yeoh ever did. Winning an Oscar for miss Yeoh would mean a lot more for her career.
I haven’t seen a ton of her work before Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I need to catch up on that. I really hope she repeats this win at the Oscars!
Crouching Tiger really puts her on the map though I think a lot of people know her from the Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies. She still ranks as one of the best Bond girls of all time for me!
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As usual, I didn’t really know about these SAG Awards since I don’t pay attention to any award shows. But nice to see Yeoh finally get the recognition that she deserves. She probably didn’t mention it in her speech during this award but I remember how she said she had to go through quite a bit of sexism in Asian film industry too. Heck, I remember she said Jackie Chan wasn’t too happy that she became popular than him in Super Cop. So, when she made a move to Hollywood, she experienced not just sexism but also racism.
I’ve seen a lot of her work in Hong Kong action films, but only a few of her Hollywood produced films. Of course, I saw her in Tomorrow Never Dies, I was kind of shocked and happy when she was cast as the Bond girl in that film!
Even though it’s nice seeing Asian actors getting the love for this year’s award season, I don’t think we’ll see something like this again for a while. I still remember 2012 when many black talents both in front and behind the cameras got lots of love when 12 Years a Slave and Django Unchained came out. That was a decade ago and there hasn’t been that many black actors or directors to be seen during the award season since then.
Yeah I think Yeoh has been through a lot, more than most of her white contemporaries. Yet she persevered and thrived despite the racism and sexism she faced, so that’s why her win is something worth celebrating. I was dumbfounded when Yeoh shared that the Daniels had offered her role in Everything Everywhere to Jackie Chan first but I’m glad it didn’t work out as Yeoh killed it in the role. I’m not in love w/ that movie but her performance was amazing!
I really want to rewatch Tomorrow Never Dies again now, I always enjoy seeing Yeoh kick ass in that.
You’re right Hollywood is cyclical so this is a small step to true representation, but y’know, I’ll take whatever we can get. I also hope that Ke Huy Quan gets more work. I just read an article about him and how he struggled to get cast, I think Asian men had it tougher than the women. I mean good looking mixed-race Asian actors don’t get as many roles, so Henry Golding is one lucky guy!
Oh yeah, Asian male actors just don’t have that much opportunities in Hollywood. They have to accept typical roles like dorky sidekick, a villain or some lame role. When Jackie Chan tried to make it in Hollywood in the early to mid 80s, they tried to make him into a combination of Bruce Lee and Clint Eastwood. He got frustrated with that type of casting and he left and became success in Hong Kong. He didn’t come back to Hollywood until the late 90s.
As for Ke Huy Quan, I feel bad for him since he does’t have the typical leading man look. So, it’s hard for him to get any major roles in Hollywood. I’m sure he’s getting more offers now with Everything Everywhere All at Once being an award darling this year.
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I know it was just a voice role, but I also thought she did a great job as the soothsayer in Kung Fu Panda 2, one of my favorite sequels ever btw.
Oh yeah I remember her in Kung Fu Panda 2! She also did voice work in Minions: The Rise of Gru.
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