Tag Archives: Bond girl

Michelle Yeoh – Ballet World’s Loss is Moviedom’s Gain

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By See Foon Chan-Koppen

With 36 movies to her credit, asking Ipoh’s own celebrity Superstar Michelle Yeoh which was her favourite role is like asking a mother which is her favourite child. “Each role is different, with its own set of challenges, its own unique set of circumstances, its own environment. It’s like our circle of friends, some are more cheerful, others passionate, some pessimistic and some melodramatic.  And yet we love them all don’t we?” she said recently at her home in Ipoh.

Michelle Yeoh did not grow up aspiring to become a martial arts master or a movie star. Instead, her dream was to become a part of the world of ballet.

I caught up with Michelle recently when she was home for the Chinese New Year celebrations. Warm, vivacious and without the slightest trace of haughtiness that one would expect of a celebrity of her fame and stature, we sat down to chat like childhood girlfriends.

Born to Dato’ Yeoh Kian Teik (IE100 Anak Perak) and Datin Janet Yeoh in Ipoh in 1962, Michelle’s childhood was spent swimming and diving with her friends at the Ipoh Swimming Club.

Michelle was a tomboy and loved many sports. As a teenager, she represented Malaysia at national level for swimming, diving, and squash. She was the Perak state representative for squash and once the Malaysian Junior Squash Champion.

However, her real passion was in dance, particularly – ballet. Her mother, Datin Janet, recalls that Michelle started to dance before she could even walk, and later from age 15, the London Royal Academy of Dance honed her talent.

Michelle’s dream of being a prima ballerina was abruptly cut short by a spinal injury which she suffered at her college and consequently she had to switch her focus away from dance to choreography and other arts. In 1982, Michelle received a B.A. degree in Creative Arts with a minor in Drama and continued her graduate study in England.

Miss Malaysia and Movie Debut

When Datin Janet secretly entered her for the Miss Malaysia competition in 1983, Michelle complied to please her mother and the then still self-confessed tomboy went ahead with the rest of the competition. She was subsequently crowned Miss Malaysia at the age of 21.

Modelling and commercial contracts in Hong Kong followed at the end of her term as Miss Malaysia and a film contract by Dickson Poon in his newly founded film production company, D&B Films launched her film career.

Michelle’s first movie role in Sammo Hung’s action comedy, The Owl vs Dumbo (1984) marked her movie debut.

Birth of Action Star

A brief marriage to billionaire Dickson Poon in 1988 saw Michelle take a respite from acting but in 1992, she was warmly greeted by the Hong Kong film industry in her comeback role in the third instalment of Jackie Chan’s Police Story series, Police Story III: Supercop, where Michelle stole every scene she was in and easily matched him fight by fight, stunt by stunt. The film broke the box record in Asia and a female Action Star was born.

The High Price

But Action has its downsides and Michelle had to pay a high price in blood, sweat, tears and pain for the accolades as one of the highest paid actresses in Asia where she is known for doing her own fights and stunts. A dislocated shoulder, burns, and a ruptured artery in her leg were some of the injuries she collected along the way.

It was while in recuperation that Michelle decided to turn her talents to other roles which resulted in her nomination for Best Supporting Actress (Hong Kong Film Award) for her remarkable performance in Mabel Cheung’s historic drama The Soong Sisters – her first non-action movie.

International Star

Of the handful of female action actresses who came to prominence in Hong Kong films, Michelle was the first to make significant inroads into the West. Her first American release was Supercop. Michelle’s Colonel Wai Lin role in the 18th James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) definitely put her in the global spotlight.

The rest as they say is history. She went on to win many awards including being named International Star of the Year at ShoWest, the world’s largest motion picture industry convention. She has since become a film producer with her own film production company “Mythical Films” (Hong Kong) and launched, together with producer Terence Chang and Taiwanese journalist David Tang, a talent management company, “Stellar Entertainment Ltd.”, in 2008.

 

At Datin Janet Yeoh’s 70th birthday bash in Ipoh last year, with friends and Datuk Jimmy Choo celebrity shoe designer

Celebrity Philanthropist

Between films, Michelle keeps very busy with many charity projects to which she devotes her time and energy. “It is amazing how much clout celebrity status lends to a project. I am happiest when I am working for a good cause and if my star status can help to push the envelope then I give it my best effort,” she says with enthusiasm.

Her devotion to innumerable causes is legendary as is her indefatigable energy. From Aids Research, to raising funds for Cancer, to helping kids in Inner Mongolia and the poor in India; from the plight of the orang-utans, to being Ambassador for Mercy Malaysia.

Since 2007, Michelle Yeoh has been the global ambassador for the Make Roads Safe campaign. Her eyes light up as she describes the role she plays in this campaign. She has travelled to different regions in Asia, Africa and Latin America to promote global road safety in developing countries. ‘Turning Point – A Journey on the World’s Killer Roads’, the documentary Michelle made for the campaign, premiered in Rome in May 2009, during the launch of the ‘Make Roads Safe: A decade of Action for Road Safety’. In June 2009, Michelle filmed a documentary on orang-utans rescue in Malaysia for the National Geographic Channel, ‘Among the Great Apes with Michelle Yeoh’. For all these projects, Michelle works for free, a reflection of the generous spirit she embodies. “I get such a sense of fulfilment and happiness working for causes,” she modestly declares.

Michelle as Aung San Suu Kyi in 'The Lady'

Weighty Question

Michelle’s latest movie is a biopic on the Burmese democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. For this movie, ‘The Lady’, which will be released in the fall this year, Michelle had to get her weight down to 41kg from her usual 47kg. This meant cutting down on her meals from six to four. “Six meals a day?” I asked incredulous to which she replied, “Yes I have a very high metabolic rate plus I exercise every day. I love food especially the food here in Ipoh. So I am very diligent about my exercise. Even if I have to wake up at 4.30 to be ready for work at 6.30, I will factor in that minimum one hour for my workout.”

Coming Home to Ipoh

So what’s on the cards for Michelle? When I asked if marriage plans are imminent, Michelle who is engaged to Jean Todt, previous general manager and CEO of Ferrari and now president of the FIA, waved the question aside with a light-hearted, “Let’s keep my private life aside shall we?”

As for the question of where her main home is, she replied with alacrity, “Ipoh is my main home. This house is where I come home to.”

Come home often Michelle Yeoh – Ipoh is extremely proud of you!

Michelle Yeoh fans can get every bit of trivia, minutiae and details on her films, her life from any number of websites on the Internet. One of the most current and constantly updated is: http://michelleyeoh.info/.

Dato’ Yeoh Kian Teik – Legal Stalwart and Transport Mogul

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By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen

When one of your 18 children is an international superstar, you have every reason to rest on your laurels but not Dato’ Yeoh Kian Teik, father of Bond girl Datuk Michelle Yeoh and one of Ipoh’s most loyal residents. Where his six other siblings have flourished elsewhere, Kian Teik remained behind in Ipoh, carrying on his father’s transportation business and becoming a transportation mogul in his own right.

Kian Teik is a second-generation Yeoh to call St Michael’s Institution his alma mater, his whole family from his father to all his five brothers being alumni. From high school, Kian Teik went on to study law at Lincoln’s Inn in the UK, returning to Ipoh to start his legal practice and continue in the transport industry in which his father was a founding member in 1937 and responsible for setting up of the town bus. He remained as a Director on the three transport companies, the General Omnibus, Kinta Omnibus and Reliance Omnibus for many years. Kian Teik set up Sri Maju, an executive coach service, in 1975 with the Ipoh-Singapore routing. Today Sri Maju plies the highways from Haadyai, Thailand, in the north to Singapore in the south with many stops at major cities and towns in between.

Less Hectic Lifestyle

In a career that spans almost sixty years, Kian Teik who is now 84, can still be seen at his desk at the Sri Maju’s office in Jalan Bendahara taking care of business as his staff walk in and out demanding his attention on various matters. His law firm is now in the hands of one of his daughters and Kian Teik who was Chairman of the Perak Bar Association on and off for many years, says he doesn’t miss practicing law and now prefers a less hectic lifestyle, working mornings and spending his afternoons on leisure activities which may include playing mahjong and hobbies around fish, whether sea fishing or breeding and watching aquarium fish.

“The only thing I miss about my law practice is the legal fights I used to have with the Seenivasagam brothers, be it in court or in the political arena”, he admitted. “It was thoroughly enjoyable – total no-holds-barred-battles – and we would remain good friends in and out of the courts”, he added.

Computer Savvy

The day I visited Kian Teik in his office, he was sitting at his desk peering into his computer. “No fear of technology for this 84 year-old” I thought to myself, and went on to discover that this is his way of staying in touch with his pan-global family of 18 children and 39 grandchildren, the fruit of a colourful personal life. “I started using a computer when I bought a computer for one of my grandsons who was six years old at the time. He became my computer coach and today I communicate with my extended family, aside from family gatherings, through email and Skype.”

Significant Moments

When asked about significant moments in his long and illustrious career as one of the legal stalwarts of Ipoh, Kian Teik proudly pointed to a framed photograph on the wall beside him and said, “meeting with Tunku Abdul Rahman in 1970”, further identifying Tun Sambanthan and Tun Razak and Tun Ismail in the same picture.
He was active in the MCA for many years adding that “in those days, we had to take money out of our own pockets to support the party”. He was also a Member of the Senate from 1959 till 1969.  Kian Teik is particularly proud of his role in ensuring that nomination papers for both State and general elections were always properly filled out and no seats were ever lost in Perak, unlike what happened in some other states, owing to faulty nomination papers. This was a responsibility he fulfilled till 1995 and to date the untarnished record still exists as testimony to his meticulous stewardship.

Humble Homily

When questioned on the oft touted topic of his influence on the career of his celebrity daughter Michelle Yeoh, he modestly demurred and said, “Her talent speaks for itself. All I have ever emphasised to her is to be humble and friendly. That no matter how successful she becomes on the world stage, to remember that we’re all born equal and there is no need to be high and mighty. I teach all my children this same homily”. And judging by the few exchanges I’ve had with Michelle Yeoh, I can certainly vouch for the efficacy of Kian Teik’s teaching to his daughter for she is without doubt one of the most down-to-earth superstars one could ever have the pleasure of meeting. An abiding legacy from one of Ipoh’s living legends.