Old-school Yeoh: Top 5 action movies to get your Michelle Yeoh fix

AMY SUSSMAN/Agence France-Presse ACADEMY award-winning actress Michelle Yeoh.

At the recent 95th Oscars, Malaysian-born actor Michelle Yeoh made history as the first Asian star to win best actress in the nearly century-old Academy Awards.

In her role as the much-put-upon laundromat owner Emily Wang in A24’s sci-fi and comedy arthouse hit Everything Everywhere All at Once, Yeoh beat out fellow nominees Michelle Williams (The Fabelmans), Ana de Armas (Blonde), Andrea Riseborough (To Leslie) and Cate Blanchett (Tar).

The movie also garnered Best Picture, Best Director for Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Best Supporting Actor for Ke Huy Quan and Best Supporting Actress for Jamie Lee Curtis.

Born in Kuala Lumpur, Yeoh, 60, made her mark by starring in action movies and martial arts thrillers in her native Malaysia and in Hong Kong. There’s a wealth of her filmography to dig into in case you’re wondering where the hell this kick-ass woman came from and what her previous roles looked like beyond the Oscar-winning multiverse dramedy.

Here are five that showcased her at her spectacular best, from HK wirework to dramatic fantasies, through the years.


‘SILVER Hawk’ (2004).


Silver Hawk (2004)

Yeoh here plays motorcycle-riding superhero Silver Hawk who fights crime around Polaris City, aka Hong Kong.

Behind the gaudy and shiny motor helmet that serves as her disguise she is Lulu Wong, a minor celebrity who’s graced some magazine covers. Silver Hawk herself is a trained martial artist with an appetite for busting criminals ala Batman.

It’s the early aughts, so while the plot and production here are obviously rip-offs of previous superhero movies, the action is genuinely authentic HK wirework with choreography that’s been lavished with TLC for maximum aesthetics, from your garden-variety tumbling and kicking acrobatics, motorcycle high jumps and hairsbreadth avoidance of collisions, to one-on-one duels with rote villains.

The Stunt Woman (1996)

This is one of those meta “inside the industry” movies where Yeoh plays the role of Ah Kam, a young stunt woman from mainland China who’s trying to break into the Hong Kong film industry as, you guessed it, a stunt woman.

Yeoh was joined by HK action’s big names like Sammo Hung and Michael Lam in this cult classic, the most famous scene of which sees Ah Kam falling dramatically off a bridge on to a movie truck. Yeoh also seriously got injured doing the stunt.

That topnotch, gritty stunt work is still amazing to behold, since it’s in the days of analog where such dangerous work was performed by real people and not through CGI.


‘YeS, Madam!’ (1985) with Cynthia Rothrock.


Yes, Madam! (1985)

What’s better than one female action star kicking butt? Why, two of course!

And much better if it’s Michelle Yeoh and Caucasian martial arts Viking Cynthia Rothrock playing Inspector Ng and Inspector Carrie Morris of the Central Intelligence Division of the Hong Kong Metro Police, respectively — despite the movie’s cringy title.

These two girls with guns — but who are just as deadly unarmed

— go through tons of gangsters and bad guys in a duel choreography that’s both brutal and artful. “Yes, Madam!” threadbare criminal investigation story is just an excuse to move its fierce leads from one battle set piece to the next.


‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny’ (2016).


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016)

Netflix tried to make a cash grab 16 years after the initial magic of Ang Lee’s acclaimed opus. The magic was indeed gone, if it weren’t for the dedication to astounding stunt work by Yeoh and Donnie Yen.

It’s been 18 years since Shu Lien (Yeoh) retired from fighting, but she has to come out of retirement to give new upstart villains the kind of ass-kicking they need if they think they can possess The Green Destiny, Li Mu Bai’s legendary sword from the first movie.

The movie is greatly marred by weird creative decisions — like too much integration of CGI and attempts to be hip with the soundtrack — but Yeoh and Yen still absolutely shine when they’re set free to execute their martial arts wizardry.

‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ (2000).


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

A hands-down classic. From writing to production, under the masterful baton of Ang Lee, this movie has not only aged well, it kicks the behind of many CGI- and tech-heavy action franchises these days.

A big part of that was how the leads, from Chow Yun Fat’s Master Li Mu Bai to Michelle Yeoh’s warrior swordstress Yu Shu Lien, were firing on all cylinders with their acting and stunt work to tell a magnificent story about ancient warriors on an emotive journey to possess the mythical, powerful sword Green Destiny.

There’s a reason the close quarters sword duel between Yeoh’s Lien and Zhang Ziyi’s Jen Yu has become iconic. Ditto with the fight and chase scene among the bamboo trees where Yu battles Fat’s Master Li Mu Bai.

This may be an eastern fantasy epic, but the glorious action sequences also become the context for the inner journeys of its characters. How often can you say that of martial arts flicks?

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