"I've been lucky in my career as my male peers have always regarded me as an equal. I hope that I have earned that respect due to an uncompromising to acting and performing my own stunts. I have played strong female characters in my movies and I think that partly reflects my own personality."
Michelle Yeoh (raised as Yeoh Choo-Kheng) was born in Malaysia in 1962. As a teenager, she excelled at many sports but her heart was in ballet, which she went to study at the Royal Academy of Dance in London, where she also received a degree in Creative Arts. Upon returning to Malaysia (where she wanted to become a ballet teacher), she entered and won the 1983 Miss Malaysia pageant. This attracted the attention of several important people in HK, including Jackie Chan, who invited her to Hong Kong to make a commercial with him. It was at this point that she became interested in martial arts. Though she doesn't consider himself a martial artist per se, she saw that she could combine the techniques along with her ballet training in films.
By 1985, Yeoh (then going under the stage name Michelle Khan) signed with D&B Films and had her debut in Owl vs. Dumbo. Her first starring role came in 1987's Yes! Madam, after which she became one of Asia's biggest stars, establishing herself as a credible action star (like many HK actors, she performs most of her own stunts). Even though she was gaining massive popularity, she shocked many of her fans (and people in the film industry) by marrying producer Dickson Poon and seemingly retiring from films.
However, after a few years, she divorced Poon and (now under the name Michelle Yeoh) and made a stunning return to movies with 1992's Police Story 3: Supercop, which teamed Yeoh with Jackie Chan. Supercop was a huge success, becoming Asia's top-grossing movie of the year and gaining Yeoh star status all over the world as she held her own (some would even say surpassed) her male co-star. Yeoh continued working on films in HK, producing classic works such as Heroic Trio and Wing Chun. Upon Supercop's release (and success) in the US, Yeoh was asked to appear in the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, where once again she shined in a male-dominated film. She so impressed the producers that they considered having her return in the next Bond movie or spinning off her character into her own film, a first for any "Bond girl." While the new Bond movie deal did not go through, Yeoh continues to work in both the East and West. Her work in Ang Lee's new film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is drawing rave reviews from throughout the world (there are rumors that she turned down Lucy Liu's role in Charlie's Angels to do the film) and she may be working with John Woo in a US movie in the future.