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Michelle Yeoh is a Chinese actress and dancer known for her roles in Hong Kong action and martial arts films and for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
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Michelle Yeoh was born in Ipoh, Malaysia, on August 6, 1962. She studied at London's Royal Academy of Dance and was crowned Miss Malaysia of 1983. A commercial role with Jackie Chan sparked her film career and Yeoh became one of Hong Kong's biggest action stars. She's known to western audiences for her roles in Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies.
"If we stick to this very stereotype and we endorse those kinds of characters then, yes, the audience will think 'yes, the Chinese girls are like that' or 'the Japanese girls are delicate little butterflies.' We are delicate, but we are silk and steel. Put it that way."
"I prefer to be kicked four or five times well, you know, hard, than 20 or 25 times not so good."
Born Yeoh Chu-Kheng in Ipoh, Malaysia, on August 6, 1962, Michelle Yeoh's parents are both of Chinese ethnicity. Malay and English were her first languages, followed only later by Cantonese and Mandarin. Yeoh would later be known as the Queen of Martial Arts, but her first passion was for dance. She began formal training as a ballerina at the age of four. When she was fifteen, she moved to England to study at London's Royal Academy of Dance. Her dreams of becoming a prima ballerina were cut short when she suffered a spinal cord injury, however. Despite the setback, Yeoh finished her bachelor's degree in London, focusing on choreography and drama.
In 1983, the former ballerina got her first taste of fame when she was crowned Miss Malaysia at the age of 21. Soon after, she would compete for, and eventually win, the title of Miss Moomba, a beauty pageant in Australia. Her stint as a beauty queen led quickly to television, where she was cast alongside stars Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-Fat in a series of commercials. These appearances led to a multi-film contract with D&B Productions, a company headed by her future husband Dickson Poon.
While Yeoh's first role in a major film was more damsel-in-distress than martial arts superstar, she did find inspiration in the on-screen fights and action sequences on the set of The Owl vs. Dumbo in 1984. Before her next movie, she trained more than 10 hours a day to get into fighting shape for more physical roles, for which she would soon become famous. Over her next four films, Yeoh laid the groundwork for her storied action movie career, performing her own stunts and putting her body to the test.
In 1988, she married Poon, a billionaire, and briefly retired from acting. Though Yeoh and Poon divorced three years later, the two remained friends.
In 1992, Yeoh made her comeback in Jackie Chan's Police Story III: Supercop. This box office hit cemented her place as Asia's top female action star. In order to get ready for her powerhouse roles, Yeoh had to learn kung-fu, karate and other forms of hand-to-hand combat. When asked about the challenges of taking kicks and punches for a living, she replied, "I prefer to be kicked four or five times well, you know, hard, than 20 or 25 times not so good."
Yeoh's career as an action hero off was off to the races and she soon became the highest paid actress in Asia. She continued to make movies at a breakneck pace, often working alongside superstars such as Chan and Jet Li. She made her first foray into the West in 1997 when she starred with Pierce Brosnan in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies.
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Action movie stars are the heroes and heroines who get our adrenaline pumping. Early action stars include Douglas Fairbanks, the swashbuckling adventurer of the 1920s and '30s; John Wayne, the famous gunslinger of the 1940s and '50s; and Sean Connery, who played the debonair spy Bond—James Bond—in the 1960s. By the 1970s, however, a new maverick action star had hit the silver screen, with rogue cops played by Steve McQueen in Bullitt and Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry, as well as the military mercenary Rambo (Sylvester Stallone). By the 1980s, action movies were literally exploding on screen, with big budgets and big stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator) and Bruce Willis (Die Hard), leading to today's action-packed blockbusters. Here's a look at some of Hollywood's most famous action movie stars, who have kicked some major butt on the big screen.
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