Michelle Yeoh began ballet dancing at the age of four.
Inspired by the movie, Fame (1980), she enrolled in England's
Royal Academy of Dance, where she eventually earned a Bachelor
of Art degree in dancing. Michelle also excelled in athletic
events. During her teenage years, Michelle Yeoh enjoyed playing
squash and was also a national competitor in swimming and
diving. Yeoh was quite ambitious and was determined to gain a
master's in dancing. While she was living in England, Michelle
Yeohexplored contemporary, jazz and ballet dancing. Michelle's
dream of being a prima ballerina was abruptly cut short by a
spinal injury which she suffered during a ballet practicing
session at her college years. The doctor she consulted announced
that a rotated disk in her spine would not be able to stand the
daily intensive ballet workout. Michelle consequently had to
switch her focus away from dance to choreography and other arts.
Sadly, Michelle never did get a chance to perform ballet
professionally on stage. Instead, she alternately set her sights
on running her own school to teach ballet.
In 1983, Michelle Yeoh returned to her home country, Malaysia. It was at the age of 21 when Yeoh became the winner of the Miss Malaysia beauty pageant in 1983. From there, Yeoh appeared in a television commercial with Jackie Chan which caught the attention of a fledgling film production company called D&B Films.
Michelle Yeoh's career in Hong Kong started in modeling, where she appeared in a series of commercials for Charles Jourdan, opposite action movie heroes Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-Fat. The Charles Jourdan brand was handled by D&B Group in Hong Kong, and this is how Michelle Yeoh met her future husband, Dickson Poon. In 1988, she retired after marrying prominent Hong Kong tycoon, Dickson Poon of D&B Films. Three years later, the couple divorced, and Michelle Yeoh returned to acting in 1992. Her first movie after the comeback was Police Story 3, which was partly shot in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Despite having no formal martial arts training, Yeoh is best known for her roles in action and martial arts movies (notably The Heroic Trio in 1993, and the Yuen Woo-ping films The Tai-Chi Master and Wing Chun in 1994). Michelle relies on her dance training and instructors, and does many of her own stunts. She is one of the few women Jackie Chan allows to do her own stunts in his movies; they first worked together on a commercial in 1984.
Michelle Yeoh learned English and Malay before Chinese (Cantonese dialect), and still cannot read Chinese. In some of her early films, she recited her dialogue by rote.
Like many other Hong Kong stars, Michelle Yeoh has attempted to break into Hollywood. Despite starring in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) --garnering considerable praise as one of the genre's most popular Bond Girls-- and the popular Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), which also starred Zhang Ziyi, she has not won a mainstream audience in the English-speaking world as of yet. She could have gained that audience had she accepted the role of Seraph in the two Matrix sequels, but due to a scheduling conflict she was unable to accept them, so the Matrix writers changed Seraph into a male character and cast Colin Chou in the role. In 2002, she produced her first English movie, The Touch through her own production company, Mythical Films.
In early 2005, Michelle Yeoh finished the shooting of Memoirs of a Geisha, a Hollywood produced ensemble drama based on a story of Japanese geisha. The film was released on December 9, 2005.
In December 2004, Ferrari Formula One team principal Jean Todt announced his engagement to Yeoh at a news conference. "I proposed to her and we are now engaged," said the 58 year old Todt. However, a day later, Yeoh denied the engagement. During a phone interview with Chinese-language newspaper Oriental Daily News, Michelle Yeoh was asked about the engagement and she exclaimed, "What? How did that come about? I did not know about it?" When asked whether Todt had asked her to marry him, she said, "No, I have a lot of responsibilities and I've got a lot of work and projects to do. I think I'll get them done first." The marriage rumors began circulating when Yeoh brought Todt home to visit with her family in December 2004. "This is the first time I have brought Todt to see my parents. Everybody seems to like him and he has been accepted by family members, but we have not talked about marriage just yet," she said. When questioned about the beautiful blue diamond ring that she was wearing, she said it was not an engagement ring but just a present from Todt. Michelle stated that she was happy with the relationship as it was and that she would "inform everyone if she got married in the future." Todt and Yeoh met in June 2004 in a promotional event organized by Ferrari in Shanghai, China. They were introduced by Yeoh's former beau of four years, Hong Kong movie producer, Thomas Chung.
In 2001, Yeoh was given the title of Dato' by the Sultan of Perak, her home state. Dato is an honorary Malaysian title somewhat like a British knighthood, and it lies below the ranks of Dato' Seri, Tan Sri and Tun.
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