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  • Amy Darwin

Michelle Yeoh, Queen of martial-arts movies

After 40 years of working in movies, Michelle Yeoh is finally took her moment in the spotlight after winning her first Golden Globe. The 60-year-old played Evelyn Wang, a Chinese immigrant who owns a failing laundromat. She beat Lesley Manville, Margot Robbie, Anya Taylor-Joy and Emma Thompson to the award. Asian community and Asian fans all shared the happiness, because Yeoh is the queen of martial-arts movies in their mind.

Ms Yeoh, whose showbiz career started in Hong Kong in the 1980s. She gained lots of Chinese fans in China through her efforts and characters she played. Then she chose to go to Hollywood to start from zero."I remember when I first came to Hollywood. It was a dream come true until I got here, because, look at this face. I came here and was told, 'You are a minority'." she continued in her speech." This is also for all the shoulders that I have (stood) on, all who came before me who look like me, and all who are going on this journey with me forward," she added.

Before Michelle Yeoh became a celebrated Hollywood star, she was an action star in the rough-and-tumble world of Hong Kong action movies. Yeoh returned to acting with Police Story 3: Super Cop (1992) after having divorced Poon. She appeared in The Heroic Trio (1993), and the Yuen Woo-ping films Tai Chi Master and Wing Chun in 1993 and 1994, respectively.

With Jackie Chan in “Police Story 3” (1992)

With Zhang Ziyi in “Memoirs of a Geisha” (2005)

But in her turn — as the multifaceted star of this April’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” a mind-expanding, idiosyncratic take on the superhero film — Yeoh draws from previously unknown emotional and comedic reserves, bringing the full force of her physicality to the portrayal of a middle-aged woman whose ordinariness makes her the focus of a grand, multiversal showdown. “The work she does,” Jamie Lee Curtis, who plays a supporting role in the film, told me over the phone, “it shows her incredible facility as an actor, the delicacy of her work as an actor, and her absolute beastly work as a physical martial artist.”

It’s also the first time audiences will see Yeoh play someone whose movements are uncertain, someone with abundant gray hairs, someone whose body struggles to do what she asks of it — and the first time she’s been called upon to loosen the elegance and poise that has defined her career so far and let her own electric, slightly neurotic personality slip through.

In “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (2022)

The film follows Evelyn Wang, a Chinese American immigrant mother who made a key decision decades ago to leave her judgmental father behind and follow her boyfriend, Waymond, to America. Years later, Evelyn is living out the underwhelming consequences of that decision: an unexceptional life taking place above the laundromat they operate at the margin of financial failure; a strained marriage to Waymond; a daughter whose Americanized feelings are illegible to her.

In 2022, Time names Yeoh its 2022 Icon of the Year. As a major star in Asia for decades—she was was a giant in the golden age of Hong Kong action cinema, top-lining dozens of films and earning a reputation for nailing daring stunts. This is the moment Yeoh has long been waiting for: a big, starring role, the kind that could make her a household name—the kind that many believe could win her an Oscar.


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