Her own personPictures by Kee Hua Chee
KEE HUA CHEE teed off with Datuk Michelle Yeoh as she co-launched the new Omega Double Eagle Constellation watch at the Omega Hong Kong Golf Tournament recently.
DATUK Michelle Yeoh’s arrival at the prestigious Hong Kong Golf Club speaks volumes of her stature.
Omega’s ambassadors QiQi, the supermodel, and her hubby Simon Yam are answering questions at the podium. Taiwanese pin-up Richie Ren, who stars in Michelle Yeoh’s new movie Silver Hawk, too is in the midst of a press conference. As the Bond Girl bounces in an hour late, surrounded by a battalion of minders, the TV crew and reporters abandon the trio to swarm around the international star.
Quite an entrance.
“Aiyah, no need to call me Datuk,” she says, waving a manicured hand laden with a new Omega Double Eagle watch and citrine bracelet. The other hand sports a double strand of rock crystals.
“I’m not wearing them (the semi-precious stones) for any other reason than the fact they look nice and I like coloured, semi-precious stones. Well, citrines are supposed to be wealth enhancers and we can all do with more money!” she quips.
Apart from the cash, is there anything she is particularly attached to which she cannot do without?
“Not really. I try not to be too attached to anything materialistic, as I would be chained to them. Apart from health and happiness, one shouldn’t be too dependent on physical objects, or they end up owning you. Sure, I have favourite clothing, shoes, jewellery and stuff like that but that’s because each has memories that are special to me.
“They need not be expensive and most of them are ordinary things that I bought or were given to me. I would rather be detached (from) rather than attached to my possessions! But wait a minute, I have a jumper from my college days given by my father, which I keep for sentimental reasons. I think we all go through phases of our life when we like certain things more than others.”
What about her favourite city?
“That’s a loaded question and very unfair!” she laughs half in jest. “I love Hong Kong next to Malaysia. Ipoh doesn’t count because it’s my hometown and will always be at the top of the list. My family lives there, and I go home often. I spend most of my time in Hong Kong and love to spend my break in London and New York.”
Born on Aug 6, 1963, the 41-year-old does not look a day past 30. When she was a teenager, she enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dance in England to pursue a career in ballet after having seen the movie Fame.
There, she pirouetted her way to a bachelor’s degree. However, a back injury dashed her ambition to become a ballerina.
In 1983, she returned to Kuala Lumpur and managed to win the Miss Malaysia title. Hong Kong beckoned after that, and she went. When she appeared in a television commercial with Jackie Chan, Yeoh caught the attention of a fledgling film production company called D&B, owned by the young tycoon Dickson Poon.
This secured her roles in forgettable movies – until a minor breakthrough in 1985 when she appeared in Yes, Madam opposite the high-kicking Cynthia Rothrock. From then on she started to do her own stunts and took lessons in kungfu, kickboxing and taekwando. Her dance background, coupled with her newly acquired martial art skills, soon made her one of Hong Kong’s biggest action stars.
While filming Magnificent Warriors in 1987, she married Poon and quit the movie scene soon after to concentrate on her marriage. It was not to be, and they divorced in 1992. Her comeback that same year after a five-year hiatus was a massive success.
Her jaw-dropping, show-stopping performance in Super Cop 2 made her one of Hong Kong’s highest paid actresses. The movie, shot in Kuala Lumpur, featured Jackie Chan making a death-defying leap from a tower to a rope ladder attached to a helicopter. Yeoh matched this with a high-speed motorcycle jump onto a moving train, a feat made all the more stunning considering she had learned how to ride a motorbike only one day before shooting the scene!
In those days, she went by the screen name of Michelle Khan. Why didn’t she use her real name?
“You have to ask the PR people at my former studio D&B,” she shrugs.
“It was not my choice but at that time, D&B was trying to sell HK-made films to Europe and they thought an European sounding name like Michelle Khan might go down better than an unfamiliar sounding name. They came up with a series of vaguely Westernised names hoping to appeal to as wide a range of Westerners as possible.
“At first they chose ‘King’ and I became Michelle King! Then they decided it sounded too Anglo-Saxon, so they opted for the more Pakistani sounding ‘Khan’ which could also be a Chinese version of ‘Kang’ or ‘Ran’.”
Yeoh’s insistence on doing her own stunts nearly proved fatal to her career. Her “rock ‘em, sock ‘em” attitude had already resulted in countless bruises, including a dislocated shoulder and broken rib, but the worst accident occurred in 1995 during the shooting of Ah Kam. Yeoh was required to jump off an 18-foot wall. It was a routine stunt, but things went horribly wrong.
“It was supposed to be an ‘easy’ stunt considering there was a pile of mattresses on the ground. I misjudged (however) and landed very badly with my head somehow stuck between the mattresses. My body and head took the whole impact and both my legs were so bent, they were almost in front of my face. I thought I had broken my back and would not walk again.
“There was a cracking sound which made matters worse. The journey to the hospital was truly terrible because no one knew what physical injuries I had sustained, and they didn’t even know how to position me to avoid further damage.
“I prayed to God my back would be spared and that I would be able to walk again. Luckily my spinal cord was intact. The rehabilitation took months and months. I was always very fit and strong, and this aided my recovery. You should always be in good shape as you never know what life might throw at you.”
Yeoh should know, from her earlier back injury in England.
“That was due to little injuries accumulated over time. Being so young, I simply ignored them until my back pain forced me to see the doctor. It seemed I had a gentle slip of the disc and my vertebrae had rotated slightly. That’s all behind me now – just look at me now!” laughs Yeoh.
When Super Cop 2 was released in the United States, Yeoh caught the attention of a certain producer and was soon cast as Wai Lin, the Chinese secret agent who gave as good as she got in the James Bond movie.
“As Tomorrow Never Dies was to be released internationally, I insisted on my real name. When I first used ‘Michelle Khan’, I had to assure my father and relatives that I had not married a Mr Khan. Anyway, Yeoh is so easy to pronounce and spell – just look at Arnold Schwarzenegger! You have to stop and think of the spelling. I am sure early in his career he was told to change, shorten or anglicise his name, but did he listen?” she smiles.
Today Yeoh very much her own person, and, in spite of all her successes – including being named MTV’s Best Actress of 2003/4 – remains, in her own words, “the easy-going type who laughs a lot and is happy-go-lucky.”
Emboldened by this revelation, I ask a rather personal question.
“This is an outrageous rumour but is it true . . .,” I began. But before I could finish, she raises a mocking eyebrow, saying, “If it’s a rumour, why do you bother asking?”
“Just so you can deny it,” I reply meekly and go on to finish my question: “Is it true you broke two of Dickson Poon’s ribs in a quarrel?”
“What a silly question! I can’t believe someone of your calibre would ask this sort of stupid question, so ridiculous it does not even deserve an answer!”
I take this to mean the rumour is not true.
Her feathers ruffled a little, I move on to something near and dear to her heart – her latest film Silver Hawk which is scheduled to be released during Chinese New Year. In it, our Datuk plays the titular character Silver Hawk, a mysterious vigilante in silver mask and spiffy outfit.
“I appear out of nowhere to dispense justice, comic-book style. Crooks hate me for obvious reasons but so do some cops who think I am interfering with their work even though the folks of Polaris City (where the story takes place) adore me.”
None but Mimi, her assistant, knows Silver Hawk’s real identity: Silver Hawk is none other than Lulu Wong, a high-profile socialite, tycoon and philanthropist.
As a child, she trained under Shaolin masters together with a certain boy. Years later he becomes the police superintendent entrusted to capture Silver Hawk and expose her identity!
Both accidentally meet one day, on board a plane and a tricky love situation develops. Meanwhile, the do-gooders must battle a nasty piece of work in the form of Alexander Wolfe, who is set on conquering the world by brainwashing everyone using handphones.
When Wolfe injures her, Silver Hawk enlists the superintendent’s help. “Sounds like a female version of Batman,” I observe.
“In a way, but being a lady, I get five costume changes!” grins Yeoh, who seems fascinated by the coincidence of two birds of prey featuring prominently side by side in today’s occasion.
“I am Silver Hawk in the movie, and am now in Hong Kong for the launch of Omega’s Double Eagle. Two related raptors – I take it as an auspicious sign of success !” W