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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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Yeoh was unable to perform her own stunts for insurance reasons, but insisted on doing her own fight scenes. Co-star Brosnan noted that unlike the typical Bond Girl, Yeoh reminded him more of a female Bond.
Yeoh's biggest success to date came in 2000 when she appeared in Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Besides being a critically acclaimed, box office smash, Yeoh felt the lushly artistic film was an important addition to the martial-arts oeuvre: "I really believe that this genre deserves more respect and dignity than it's ever been given. It's so steeped in our culture, it should have more depth to it."
As in her other films, the stunts in Crouching Tiger did not come without their difficulties. The gravity-defying nature of the film was as grueling to film as it was groundbreaking on screen. In the middle of shooting, Yeoh tore a tendon in her knee after scaling a wall and had to fly to the United States for surgery. Following an abbreviated rehab, she dove right back into her rigorous schedule of training and filming. In the end, it all paid off and Yeoh was thrilled with the final product. "Usually in martial arts films the action is the focus," she said, "but in this movie there is such a balance. It's emotional, it's dramatic, it transcends everything."
In 2002, she produced her first film, Touch, through her production company Mythical Films. Her next major Western role came when she played Mameha in the popular Memoirs of a Geisha. In this important role, she played the main character's mentor, responsible for introducing the ritualized routines and practices of a real geisha to the film's protagonist, as well as to the film's Western audience. Taught by Liza Dalby, the only Western geisha, Yeoh learned exactly what it takes to appear so effortless and fragile. When asked about how her training as a ballerina prepared her for the role, Yeoh said, "I don't think I would have been able to do the task per se without the training as a ballerina or the training as a martial artist." Referencing punishing routines and bleeding toes, she drew a clear parallel between the two arts.
In 2008, Yeoh starred in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, alongside Brendan Fraser and Jet Li. In her most recent project, Yeoh acts as the voice of The Soothsayer in Kung Fu Panda 2, to be released in 2011.
While Yeoh's career seems to have taken the exact opposite trajectory, she acknowledges the unique challenge Asian actresses must confront in the stereotype that Asian women are fragile. When asked how this impacts her acting philosophy, she says, "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."
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