Michelle Yeoh: I’m still proud to be a Bond Girl
Genevieve Sarah Loh
December 11, 2015
SINGAPORE — By Michelle Yeoh’s reckoning, she has been a geisha, an astronaut and a reindeer herder. And as of last weekend, you can now add “cinema legend” to that eclectic list of roles — just don’t make such a big deal out of the “legend” bit because it “makes me feel so old!”.
The 53-year-old Malaysia-born superstar was in town last weekend to receive the recently concluded Singapore International Film Festival’s first Cinema Legend Award. But despite all that she has done — including playing a Bond Girl in Tomorrow Never Dies, an expert martial artist-warrior in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Aung San Suu Kyi in The Lady — she doesn’t think she deserves the accolade.
“You start thinking whether you’ve done enough to justify the award,” Yeoh said. “I never think I’ve done enough. Every time I’m given an award, I’m like, ‘No, I don’t deserve it. I think somebody else should be getting it.”
That said, the action star from Ipoh said she’s very grateful and thankful that people see her in that light. “The title (of cinema legend) is such an honour and you hope when they are giving it to you, you can inspire somebody else,” said Yeoh, who’s also appearing in the second season of the Netflix period drama Marco Polo.
“Fortunately our roles can be an inspiration to young film-makers and young people. For us, that’s the best reward. So I think it’s because I feel there is so much more to learn, I don’t think that I’m coming to the end of my journey. It’s the journey, not the destination and that’s the extraordinary part of it. So I hope it never ends. Every twist, every corner, every downhill… that’s the exciting part of it. I don’t think I’ve done enough yet. I’m still learning my craft.”
For a South-east Asian actress who has arguably managed to circumvent Hollywood and its infamous racial and gender stereotypes of Asians and women, does the former ballerina-turned-Miss Malaysia beauty queen feel she is as strong as the characters she plays in real life?
“I think that I’m not weak. I think I’m quite hardworking when I need to be and then I’m extremely lazy when I have the chance,” she said with a laugh. “I think I’m very passionate. And when you have passion, then a lot of other things fall into place as well. Then you have conviction. And when you have conviction, you have a certain strength that comes with it.”
The actress-producer admitted she can also be laidback. “I also believe in not pursing the matter for the sake of pursing the matter,” she said. “It’s like, sometimes, you just have to let things slide. And it’s not a sign of weakness.”
After breaking the mould by being the first Asian actress to take on a prominent role in the Bond franchise, Yeoh shows no signs of stopping.
And it’s especially evident in the trailer for the follow-up to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Set to be released early next year, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend sees Yeoh reprising her character Yu Shu Lien. This time, she’ll be acting alongside Donnie Yen. Her original co-stars Zhang Ziyi, Chow Yun Fat and Chang Chen are not taking part in the sequel; neither is director Lee Ang. “I’m the only one remaining!” she quipped.
For Yeoh, the question of age has never been an issue. “People will say, ‘Wah, how come you are still doing action? Aren’t you already…?’ But it doesn’t matter. You can be 15 or 16 years old and not be able to do anything. It’s really about not putting yourself in boxes.”
But even when she finds herself in one, such as being a Bond Girl, Yeoh said she takes it in her stride.
“I’m still proud to be a Bond Girl. I mean, you’re part of a legacy that’s been around for 53 years, what is there to be embarrassed about?” she said. “Especially my Bond Girl. I thought she was pretty cool, right?”