Dato’ Michelle Yeoh Choo-Kheng (traditional Chinese: 楊紫瓊; simplified Chinese: 杨紫琼; pinyin: Yáng Zǐqióng; Cantonese (Yale romanization): yèuhng jí kìhng; born August 6, 1962) is a Chinese Malaysian actress and dancer, well known for performing her own stunts in the action films that brought her to fame in the early 1990s.
Born in Ipoh, Malaysia, she is based in Hong Kong and was chosen by People magazine as one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World in 1997.
She is credited as Michelle Khan in some of her earlier films.
Michelle Yeoh was born to an ethnic Chinese family in Ipoh, Malaysia on August 6, 1962. She was very sporty when she was young and had a passion in dance. She started to study ballet at the age of four years old. At the age 15, her parents accompanied her to England and enrolled her at a boarding school there. Later Yeoh entered London Royal Academy of Dance, majoring in Ballet. But a spinal injury ended her dream of being a prima ballerina, and she consequently had to switch her focus away from dance to choreography and other arts. She later received a B.A. degree in Creative Arts with a minor in Drama.
It was at the age of 21 when Yeoh became the winner of the Miss Malaysia beauty pageant in 1983. She was also Malaysia’s representative at the 1983 Miss World pageant in London. From there, she appeared in a television commercial with Jackie Chan which caught the attention of a fledgling film production company called D&B Films.
Yeoh’s career in Hong Kong started with a few commercials for Charles Jourdan, opposite action movie heroes Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-Fat before being offered a film contract. The Charles Jourdan brand was handled by D&B Group in Hong Kong, run by Yeoh’s future husband, Dickson Poon. In 1988, she retired from acting after marrying Poon. Three years later, the couple divorced, and Yeoh returned to acting in 1992. Her first movie after the comeback was Police Story 3, which was partly shot in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Yeoh started her film career acting in action and martial arts movies such as The Heroic Trio in 1993, and the Yuen Woo-ping films Tai Chi Master and Wing Chun in 1994. Yeoh has had no formal martial arts training and she relies on her dance training and instructors, and does many of her own stunts.
Yeoh learned English and Malay before Cantonese, and cannot read Chinese characters. As she does not speak Mandarin, she learned the lines for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon phonetically.
Like many other Hong Kong stars, Yeoh has attempted to break into Hollywood. She starred in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies as Wai Lin (1997) and the popular Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). Thereafter, she was offered the role of Seraph in the two sequels to The Matrix, and she could not accept due to a scheduling conflict (the Matrix writers then changed Seraph into a male character and cast Collin Chou in the role). In 2002, she produced her first English movie, The Touch through her own production company, Mythical Films.
In 2005, Yeoh starred as the graceful Mameha in the film adaptation of Memoirs of a Geisha, and she continued her English-language work in 2007 with Sunshine.