Michelle Yeoh might have been acting since the 1990s, but it was only recently that she won her much-deserved Academy Award under the Best Actress category for her performance as Evelyn Wang in Everything Everywhere All At Once. What makes this Malaysian actress unique is the fact that she is one of the best martial arts and action film actors ever. From Yes, Madam to the Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies and Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Michelle Yeoh is known for her ability to do her own stunts. In relation to her performances outside the martial arts and the action genres, Yeoh has only been involved with a limited number of films. Perhaps, it is the fact that Yeoh finds herself amidst the thrill-filled films where she is able to showcase her phenomenal energy.
It is obvious that Yeoh thrives in the action genre. However, it is not because of her ability to take up physically-challenging roles, as she did a wonderful job in portraying a mother in Everything Everywhere All At Once. Nonetheless, the non-action films that Yeoh took over might not have become major hits like her action films, but the success they have garnered has a lot to do with the inclusion of Yeoh and her acting skills.
10 The School for Good and Evil (2022)
Perhaps one of the most absurd roles Yeoh has taken over, Prof. Emma Anemone, the beautification teacher at the School for Good and Evil, might not be everyone’s favorite. In fact, at one point, we see her failing Agatha (Sofia Wylie) for being a “bad smiler”. This particular character is, thus, all about looks. Yeoh is definitely breathtaking in this role, but it is hard to ignore how ridiculous the character of Prof. Emma is. Even if she is not a main character, there is one scene where she portrays her disapproval of her position in the most humorous way possible as she goes to say, “Do I look like I give a sh*t about smiling?!”. Yeoh does a brilliant job in being the grumpy woman who was demoted from her job.
9 The Children of Huang Shi (2008)
The fact that Michelle Yeoh is able to shift from contrasting roles like Prof. Emma to Mrs. Wang is one key reason why she is one of the best actresses ever. The Children of Huang Shi is a historical war drama film by Roger Spottiswoode. Even if Mrs. Wang is not a key character, Yeoh is able to capture her elegance as well as her sympathetic nature perfectly. Mrs. Wang plays a key role in assisting George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) in achieving his goal of helping the orphans.
8 The Lady (2011)
Michelle Yeoh takes over the role of the well-known Burmese politician, Aung San Suu Kyi, in Luc Besson’s The Lady. The film focuses on Suu Kyi’s life from the role of a young girl to a housewife, then a politician and activist. As Richard Corliss states, Yeoh’s excellency in martial arts gives her the ability to perfectly capture Suu Kyi’s calmness and stillness, in turn, making her ideal for the role. Even if The Lady is the polar opposite of Yeoh’e usual action-packed films, her ability to reflect on and embody Suu Kyi’s patience makes the movie a success amidst the political themes.
7 Last Christmas (2019)
Strict but good-natured; that is one way to describe Yeoh’s character of “Santa” in Last Christmas. “Santa” is the self-acclaimed name of the Chinese owner of the shop where Kate (Emilia Clarke) works. This particular character definitely lights up the film with her subtle humor. She also resembles the immigrant community that attempts to adjust to Western society by changing their names to make it convenient for others.
6 Final Recipe (2013)
This South Korean-Thai drama film by Gina Kim might seem like a movie about Master Chef, but in reality, it explores the Asian community’s family values and how each generation wishes the younger generation surpasses them. Yeoh takes over the role of Julia, the contest producer, who is reminded of her husband’s cooking when she tastes the protagonist, Mark’s (Henry Lau) cooking.
5 Far North (2007)
Far North is a film about survival and a curse that haunts the protagonist, Saiva, played by Michelle Yeoh. It is definitely refreshing to see strong female characters like Saiva and Anja (Michelle Krusiec) but it is no easy watch as it takes a disturbing turn at the end. What starts as love becomes obsession as Saiva ends up hurting Anja, the only person she has loved so far. Even if the film begins with Saiva and Anja’s story of survival, when a third person, Loki (Sean Bean) enters the relationship, everything changes. The story focuses on the idea of change and how change can be challenging for certain people.
4 Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
It might be weird to see Yeoh as a villain, but in Jon M. Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians, Yeoh takes over the role of a mother who is firmly against her son’s relationship simply because of the class hierarchy. Yeoh is Eleanor Sung-Young, Nick’s (Henry Golding) domineering mother who is against Rachel Wu (Constance Wu) as she believes she does not fit into their high-class status. Interestingly, Eleanor was disapproved of by her husband’s mother when she first entered their household. In a way, Eleanor is the character that represents domineering Asian parents who are obsessed with the class status that they are willing to risk their children’s happiness for its sake. Yeoh does a brilliant job of ensuring the viewers despise her.
3 The Soong Sisters (1997)
This historical drama film is based on the lives of the infamous Soong sisters, who come from a wealthy family in China and went on to marry historically important figures. Yeoh takes over the role of Soong Ai-ling, who married K’ung Hsiang-hsi, the richest man during the early 20th Century of China. The film focuses on the husbands’ influence on the lives of the sisters and the crumbling relationship between them.
2 Sunshine (2007)
During an interview with Empire, Yeoh praised the film and called it “fabulous”. Even if Yeoh did not play the role of a protagonist, Corazon, the biologist of the spaceship, plays a prominent role as she is in charge of the oxygen levels. Sunshine is different from other sci-fi psychological thrillers as it focuses more on humans’ need for survival based on the sun’s existence. Thus, it takes a more humane approach. Corazon is the much-needed Asian knowledge, as “she’s always constantly surrounded by organic things – she’s very grounded and more down-to-earth.”
1 Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)
Perhaps, the main reason why Rob Marshall’s Memoirs of a Geisha is still popular is due to Yeoh’s performance of Mameha. Yeoh went on to gain much recognition after this particular performance, and that is why it ranks first on this list. Revisiting the film, Yeoh stated that Mameha is “very feminine, but she was very tough inside”. While Yeoh has played strong female leads before this particular film, Mameha stands out simply because she does not use her physical strength to showcase her toughness. Mameha’s character is looked up to and praised by many characters within the film. She is also the reason behind Sayuri’s (Ziyi Zhang) success. One place in which you can note Mameha’s strength is when she reveals that Sayuri’s biggest bidder was her own danna, Chairman Ken Iwamura (Ken Watanabe), to whom she is seemingly attracted to. Nonetheless, Mameha continues to support Sayuri and hide her pain.