Wednesday, August 06, 2008


As a jaded adult living in Los Angeles I like to think I’ve cultivated an ability to retain a reasonable amount of my dignity whenever I see a celebrity for whom I have affection or admiration. Part of that is just being a resident here—there’s an unspoken code that requires you to act like you don’t notice or, better yet, don’t care— ho-hum, not Tom Hanks again. I was blissfully unaware of this code in 1982 when I first visited the city. I got tickets for opening night of One from the Heart at the Plitt Century Plaza Cinemas (which no longer exists—it used to be right across from the Schubert Theater in the same outdoor mall immortalized in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes). And for some reason Francis Coppola, the entire cast of the movie, and dozens of Hollywood celebrities,, from Marilu Henner to Bette Midler to Arnold Schwarzenegger to Steven Spielberg were all in attendance and could be (were) spotted in the lobby. Seeing all those people in the same theater lobby was indeed exciting, but I really went all jelly-legged when I turned around and saw Shelley Duvall. I spent a good five minutes trying to decide whether or not to walk up and say hi, but I eventually chickened out and have regretted to this day that I didn’t take the time to tell her that she was, at the time, my favorite actress.

I actually did speak, albeit very briefly and in a public forum, to the only other actress I can think of capable of turning my admittedly already addled brain into high-octane Cream of Wheat. In 1998, Michelle Yeoh appeared at a Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention at the Shrine Auditorium shortly after the release of Tomorrow Never Dies. I was in the midst of a pretty dark time in my life, but the opportunity to see this woman, who I’d admired ever since seeing Police Story III: Supercop at the Kuo Hwa Theater in San Gabriel about five years earlier, was enough to momentarily shake me out of my stupor. She was every bit as glamorous and funny as I’d hoped, a perfect combination of toughness, dignity, beauty and brains, and one of the only movie stars I’ve met who actually lived up to the larger-than-life persona they project on the screen. I asked her some dumb question about the growing acceptance of Asian actors and films and whether the possibility existed that she would someday work with John Woo. Then she signed a picture for me that still decorates the wall in my office, and as she did so she said to me, “This is a pretty wild scene. Do you come here often?” To which I replied, “Nope, it’s my first time. You’re the only reason I would!” That got me a smile, some very nice direct eye contact-- gifts even better than the autograph-- and a memory of the actress than I’ll always cherish. And to this day, if I saw Michelle Yeoh on the street or in some crowded theater lobby I’d still go all hot-instant-cereal, to be sure. Though I wish she was getting better roles—being the best thing in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor isn’t quite worthy of the woman whole almost stole Supercop right out from underneath Jackie Chan, and who made Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon her own-- just knowing she's still out there making an impression in a world full of spineless cookie-cutter ingenues is its own comfort. Today is Michelle Yeoh’s 46th birthday, and if there was ever evidence of age and intelligence and screen presence and acting ability enhancing beauty, she’s making it with each new breath. Happy birthday, Michelle!


Beveridge D. Spenser said...

I just saw Butterfly Sword, which was a pretty standard 90's kung fu movie in a lot ways. BUT - Michelle Yeoh's in it, and that makes up for a lot.

Maybe because she's got a little age on her, but her beauty looks very honest. There's no glamour to it, it seems un-made-up and real.

Plus she can act, kick butt and sing.

Unknown said...

Recently, I thought she was fantastic in SUNSHINE even though she was part of an ensemble cast.

Todd Mason said...

In the sequence in SUNSHINE in which the cast is watching the transit of Mercury, the camera lingers sensibly on Yeoh and Rose Byrne, as they forget to breathe.

Perhaps the best bit of the film.

Anonymous said...

She is DREAMY!

Beauty, brains and she can kick my ass anytime!

Anonymous said...

If you haven't seen them, add The Soong Sisters andHeroic Trio to the rental queue.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Beveridge: That's the knock on women in general in the physical beauty department, isn't it, that they tend not to age as gracefully as men do, that a little gray in the temples and wrinkles around the eyes on a man are acceptable, but a woman has to pretend she's 25even when she's well past that age. Of course it helps when you start out looking like Michelle Yeoh, but I can think of many women-- Yeoh, Karen Allen, Elizabeth Pena, just to name three off the top of my head-- who have allowed themselves to age gracefully and visibly without resorting to the magic tricks of the nip and tuck, and the result is a deepening of their beauty, not a degradation of it. It just makes me sad to see someone like Jessica Lange alter her face and become an eerie mask version of her familiar self.

J.D., Todd: You're right. I thought Sunshine had problems, but casting was not one of them, and Yeoh was a real highlight there.

Peter: Heroic Trio was spectacularly weird, and Yeoh was excellent in it. How's the sequel, Executioners? I've had The Soong Sisters on DVD for years and have yet to see it. You have provided the inspiration for me to rectify that situation, and what better day than today? I'm also a big fan of her work in Wing Chun, and Tai Chi Master with Jet Li. And speaking of Jet Li, according to IMDb she was in Jet Li's Fearless but her scenes were cut. Any idea whether she's in the newly released version out on DVD that was approved by director Ronny Yu?

Chris said...

Michelle Yeoh has been my not-so-secret crush ever since seeing her in Supercop, much to my wife's chagrin. I've heard that she is indeed in the director-approved version of Fearless but haven't seen it yet to confirm.

And speaking of stealing the show, while all the press went to Gong Li and Ziyi Zhang for Memoirs of a Geisha, it was Michelle Yoeh I went to see.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Chris, I'm with you. When I met Yeoh my wife was there, and though she is very tolerant and understanding I felt I had to keep my swooning in check, which was good for everyone involved!

And I agree with you about Geisha. That was a pretty star-studded lineup, but Michelle Yeoh was definitely the standout, even amongst Zhang's beauty and Gong's wildly entertaining histrionics.

Thanks too for the info on Fearless. Just one more reason to revisit that fine movie.

Anonymous said...

I didn't like The Executioners as much as Heroic Trio. Still, the three best action actresses of their generation together in two films! You already know how I feel about Maggie Cheung, and I also carry a torch for the late, great Anita Mui.

I saw The Touch on an import DVD. Not bad, but that good either. Dane Cook was actually pretty funny.

Bob Westal said...

Michelle Yeoh is absolutely the greatest...and has the same birthday as my older sister (though she's born the same year as me).