Michelle Yeoh's Oscar win has bolstered the Asian community's confidence in Hollywood, but why has it taken so long?
If you’ve been following Resonate for a while, you’ll have noticed we’ve fallen a bit silent on the website-front. Whilst we’ve been busy focusing our efforts on the social media content, we thought we’d come out of the woodwork to pay homage to the one and only Michelle Yeoh.
But before we get carried away, a little rant first. Yeoh’s Best Actress win marks the first Asian to ever win the award. This is certainly a historic win, but also a frustrating one. A quick scroll on social media will expose you to Asians around the world championing Yeoh’s achievement, and rightly so; we did it too. However, the sceptical among us are questioning why it’s taken this long for Asian respresentation, and curiously, why this film? This wasn’t Yeoh’s best performance.
Before you pick up your pitchforks, no, we’re not about to shit all over Everything Everywhere All at Once; it was a spectacular film. No, the statement is more of a reflection on Yeoh’s formidable career, hence, this tribute to her.
At 60-years-old, Yeoh’s heartwarming Oscars speech telling “ladies” not to “let anybody tell you you are ever past your prime” was certainly aspiring. Throughout the entirity of Everything Everywhere All at Once, Yeoh showcased her vibrant athleticism, compelling acting, and comedic talent. It served as a convenient package to commend the Malaysian actress for her diverse skill set… for anyone who hasn’t seen the rest of her works. Those that are more familiar with her filmography will attest that younger Yeoh excelled to a higher level.
To date, Yeoh has appeared in 51 films and 6 television shows. Whilst we don’t have the capacity to detail all of her films, there are a handful worth revisiting:
The 90’s Asian action scene was dominated by Jackie Chan. Especially from a western perspective. However, Supercop saw Chan and Yeoh work alongside, and arguably marked one of the few times Chan was overshadowed in terms of martial arts and general bad-ass-ery.
It’s also known among Yeoh fans as the film that almost killed her, after a stunt went awry. If you thought 60-year-old Yeoh was a force to be reckoned with, just take a look at what 29-year-old Yeoh could do.
Tai Chi Master (1993)
Jet Li is a better martial artist than Jackie Chan. Change our mind. Whilst it’s rather mysognisitic to define movies based on the male actor’s lead, it was the unfortunate norm of the 90s. Just as Supercop was primarily regarded as a Jackie Chan film, Tai Chi Master was a Jet Li film.
Mysogny aside, because Tai Chi Master was a Jet Li movie rather than a Jackie Chan action comedy, the film was centred in more serious martial arts and action. As a result, Yeoh’s martial arts talents are displayed to an even higher level in Tai Chi Master than Supercop.
Yes, Madam (1985)
Yeoh is gifted with a unique tinge of comedy. Not allowing it to define her career like Jackie Chan’s kung fu clown career, Yeoh deployed her comedic talent reservedly and tastefully.
Yes, Madam is an awfully silly movie but even among the absurdity, Yeoh delivers a refined performance that showcases her wit and martial arts in equal measure.
The Lady (2011)
Probably her most powerful performance yet. Portraying Aung San Sun Kyi, the political leader of Burma who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights, Yeoh delivers her most serious role, and she smashes it.
Touching upon a wide array of political issues and state sensitivity, Yeoh holds nothing back in this epic drama. It’s sadly an overlooked film in Yeoh’s repetoire.
Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
The highly anticipated Asian-led film that was set to smash glass ceilings, disrupt Hollywood and effectively do what Everything Everywhere All at Once actually achieved. As disappointing as it was, Crazy Rich Asians nonetheless featured one of Yeoh’s best performances. Portraying the antagonist, Yeoh’s character as the unforgiving Tiger Mum was scarily relatble and visceral, and carried Crazy Rich Asians.
Constance Wu may have basked herself in the glory of the film, but Yeoh was the key ingrediant that saved Crazy Rich Asians from ridicule. Don’t believe us? Just watch the final face-off between Yeoh and Wu’s characters towards the end of the film to experience the vast difference in the calibre of acting. Crazy Rich Asians is worth watching for Yeoh alone.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
This film. Don’t tell us that Everything Everywhere All at Once is Yeoh’s greatest performance when this masterpiece existed 23 years ago. Despite its age, the CGI which was mindblowing at the time, still holds up. And like a fine wine, it’s a film that keeps on getting better with time.
The Ang Lee film won over 40 awards and was nominated for 10 Academy Awards in 2001. Among its wins are Best Foreign Language Film, Best Art Direction, Best Original Score, and Best Cinematography. It even received the most nominations ever for for a non-English-language film at the time.
Perhaps the film was already too segregated with nominations, but if there was any film Yeoh deserved an Oscar for, it was this. Yeoh was nominated for Best Performance by an Actress at the BAFTAs that year, but shockingly did not win.