The trailer for the much-anticipated follow-up to 2000’s Oscar-winning wuxia drama Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has just been unveiled. Internet debates are raging about the use of computer graphics and whether the new work has the spirit of Lee Ang’s original.
But last Sunday, just before the trailer’s release, Michelle Yeoh would not be drawn into speaking about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend, due for release early next year, nor about her part in the second season of the Netflix period drama Marco Polo, shot at the Pinewood Malaysia Studios in Johor.
“I’m the only one remaining,” is all the 53-year-old actress will say about the second Crouching Tiger, in which she reprises her Yu Shu Lien swordswoman character, without the support of characters played in the first movie by Zhang Ziyi, Chow Yun Fat and Chang Chen. The new film features Donnie Yen and Jason Scott Lee, among others.
“If we talk about it now and we come back later, you won’t have any more questions to ask me,” she complains theatrically.
She was in Singapore to receive the Singapore International Film Festival’s first Cinema Legend Award and spoke to the media after an hour-long question-and-answer session with fans.
It is clear from the Crouching trailer that she has yet to put her action movie days behind her. “I’ve never been one to let a number dictate. They will say, ‘Wah, how come you are still doing action? Aren’t you already…'” she says, trailing off.
“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,” says the Ipoh-born actress, who broke into movies during the heyday of 1980s Hong Kong martial arts cinema, after an injury cut short her dream of a ballet career in London.
During the Q and A, she talked about how she volunteered to perform her own stunts, in particular in films with actor-director Sammo Hung.
“Girls were damsels in distress waiting to be rescued. I watched the action and thought how it’s so similar to dance. There is choreography and rhythm,” she says.
The producers were sceptical, but she persisted. “It worked out quite well, but there was a lot of bruising along the way,” she admits.
While action is not a barrier, nor heights, despite her admitted phobia of high places, she says she has always had one no-go zone. “Nudity. There are too many little ones out there. And my parents, I don’t think they would like to see me do that,” says Yeoh, whose fiance is French motor sport executive Jean Todt.
Her ban on showing skin proved no barrier to her being cast as Chinese secret agent Wai Lin in the Bond flick Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). She credits director Roger Spottiswoode and producer Barbara Broccoli for backing the idea of the character’s toughness, a trait that stands in contrast to most of the Bond girls that had come before.
“Everyone was saying that Bond was a misogynist. The usual suspect is a femme fatale, a beautiful Russian girl. I was blessed that in the writers’ room, there were a couple of them who asked, ‘How about making her kick a**?'” she says.
Being thought of as a “Bond girl” never hurt her in her career or otherwise.
“It’s cool to be a Bond girl. I’m proud to be a Bond girl. When you’re in London and tell people you’re a Bond girl, they go ‘Oh really?'” she says, mimicking a look of admiration and surprise.
A version of this story was originally published in The Straits Times on December 8, 2015. For more stories like this, head to www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle.