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Michelle Yeoh’s 5 best Hollywood performances

There are only two types of people: Those who know that Michelle Yeoh is one of the greatest living actresses, and those who have yet to discover it. For many casual movie fans, Yeoh’s prominence may seem like a recent phenomenon. Although she’s recently reappeared in Hollywood, Yeoh’s career has been long. She shows up in movies like Crazy Rich Asians and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and whenever she’s on the screen, it’s difficult to focus on anything else. She’s starred in martial arts epics, worked in a wide variety of languages, and proved consistently that there is no one in the constellation of stars more consistently excellent and committed than she is.

Her work in Hollywood may not be as extensive as her work in China and Hong Kong, but Yeoh has nonetheless turned in a number of incredible performances in major Hollywood productions. Now, as Everything, Everywhere All at Once once again shows Yeoh’s remarkable talent, here’s a look back at her five best Hollywood roles up to this point.

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Memoirs of a Geisha
54 %
7.3/10
146m
Genre Drama, Romance, History
Stars Zhang Ziyi, Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh
Directed by Rob Marshall
In spite of his Oscar accolades for Chicago, Rob Marshall is not a great director. In adapting the epic Memoirs of a Geisha for the big screen, though, Marshall did one crucial thing very right: He cast Yeoh as Mameha, the character who serves as Chiyo’s mentor through much of the story. Yeoh is outstanding in the role, and brings an essential steeliness that is one of her trademarks as an actor. Yeoh’s skill, though, is in showing the cracks in her character’s carefully created facade, and although the material can feel a little rote at times, Mameha never feels anything less than human. Memoirs of a Geisha may not be the most beloved entry in Yeoh’s filmography, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t excellent in it.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Tomorrow Never Dies
52 %
6.5/10
119m
Genre Adventure, Action, Thriller
Stars Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode
Casting Michelle Yeoh as James Bond’s equal was a great call, and it’s part of the reason that Tomorrow Never Dies largely works in spite of its flaws. There’s plenty of action, and while it’s not stunningly directed, watching Yeoh kick butt right alongside Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond is one of the chief joys of the film. The film, which follows Bond as he teams up with Yeoh to take down a media mogul who has pit Russia and China against one another, feels more relevant than ever 25 years after its release. Yeoh doesn’t exactly get a deep character to play here, but she’s more than able to keep up with Brosnan’s charisma in the central role. James Bond is at his best when he’s surrounded by interesting characters, and that’s what Yeoh provides in Tomorrow Never Dies.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
71 %
7.5/10
132m
Genre Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Stars Simu Liu, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Awkwafina
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton
Yeoh’s role in Shang-Chi is not massive, but she does as much as possible with every minute of screen time she has. Playing Shang-Chi’s aunt in the film, Yeoh is crucial to the movie’s third act, and also to Shang-Chi’s larger journey in the film. This is another action-oriented role in Yeoh’s Hollywood filmography, with the exception of a single quiet scene, and her character shows Shang-Chi how much he still has to learn to become a master of the skills he already has.

Sunshine (2007)

Sunshine
64 %
7.2/10
107m
Genre Science Fiction, Thriller, Horror
Stars Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Chris Evans
Directed by Danny Boyle
Sunshine has one of the best international ensemble casts in movie history, and Yeoh is just one piece of the puzzle. She plays Corazon, the ship’s resident botanist, and while she doesn’t make it all the way to the film’s climax, she makes an impact while she’s on screen. Sunshine can feel like a movie that’s almost impossible to explain, but it’s that spiritual quality that Yeoh is so in tune with. Every character in Sunshine is reckoning with something they don’t understand, but Corazon is always working to keep her feet on the ground.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Crazy Rich Asians
74 %
6.9/10
121m
Genre Comedy, Drama, Romance
Stars Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh
Directed by Jon M. Chu
Undoubtedly the defining performance of her Hollywood career thus far, Yeoh is simply stunning in Crazy Rich Asians. Playing an absurdly wealthy matriarch who is fiercely protective of her family and her son, Yeoh never feels as cruel or petty as she should. That’s because, in every scene she has, Yeoh is careful to make Eleanor into a real person with a real history. She has prejudices that she needs to overcome, but she’s not a bad person, and thanks to Yeoh, you know that from her first moments on screen.

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