Age is just a number for some. Just look at Asian film icon Michelle Yeoh, who at 48 is still flashing martial arts moves with the best of them.
Ten years after arguably her most memorable role in Ang Lee’s modern classic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, she returns to the genre in the new movie Reign of Assassinsand says she is still enjoying making such action-packed films.
“I’m very selective, and I find it very interesting: whenever I do a martial arts film, people ask me ‘Aren’t you going to do a drama?’ When I do a drama, they ask ‘Aren’t you going to do martial arts films?’”
“For martial arts films, when the time comes (when I can no longer do them), it will come – gradually. But right now, I’m having a great time.”
On the set of the film, Yeoh had to live up to her reputation as a veteran action star.
“It was very challenging for me because my stunt coordinator had a whole group of young, 20-something stunt people, and he would say, ‘You know Michelle, she can do this’ – thank you very much – and then everybody’s looking at me like, ‘Ok, show us what you can do!’”
Producer and co-director John Woo, who has been a factor in Yeoh’s career for many years – she said he used to cook for her regularly when they were both in Hollywood – gave a rave review of her performance here.
“I think Michelle gave her best performance ever, even better than Crouching Tiger! Ang Lee is a good friend of mine, he’ll understand,” he laughed.
“But I must say Michelle gave her all in this movie, that’s why it’s touched so many people. She’s still a great fighter, she insists on doing 95% of all the action shots herself – incredible.”
In the film, Yeoh’s character is an assassin who assumes a new identity in order to escape from her criminal past. She also falls in love with a man who is not who he appears to be, even going so far as proposing to her beau.
Asked how much life imitates art, Yeoh, who is currently engaged to motor-racing supremo Frenchman Jean Todt, said she would not act like her character.
“I’m not very aggressive, which I think is the wrong word, but I would prefer if the gentleman would come and talk to me first. And I would never propose.
“When you watch the movie, you’ll understand why my character is like, ‘Ok, I have to do it!’ Fortunately, I haven’t gotten to such a stage!”
Yeoh, who despite being in good shape doubted she would still be in action films in ten years’ time, explained that her long hiatus from martial arts films was due to the acclaim Crouching Tiger received.
“It has been placed on such a pedestal that if I did another martial arts film soon after, it would have been such a burden on everybody. Even ten years later, people still make comparisons.
“But I’ve been extremely happy to have heard (reviews saying) that this is the best martial arts film since Crouching Tiger. I hope it doesn’t take another ten years.
“That’s why we had a happy ending in this film – so that we can do Part Two soon!”