Michelle Yeoh Retired From the Film Industry For 4 Years Before Returning in ‘Supercop’
Most of the widespread acclaim for the new movie Everything Everywhere All at Once has been targeted toward the performance of actor Michelle Yeoh. She’s brilliant in the movie, displaying every facet of Evelyn’s humanity as she goes from a world-weary laundromat owner to a woman with a much deeper understanding of her life, her family, and what makes life so special.
But some of the praise is also loaded with the knowledge of Yeoh’s career up to this point. Yeoh’s starred in several beloved movies before this, and her status as an action star began 30 years ago in one of Jackie Chan’s signature franchises.
Why did Yeoh leave the film industry for four years?
Yeoh appeared in six movies between 1984 and 1987 but initially decided to retire after marrying Hong Kong businessman Dickson Poon. Her plan was to be a doting wife and mother, but fertility issues kept that from happening.
“I love kids,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “I really, really wanted to have a family, but unfortunately that did not smile upon me.” She and Poon divorced after three years, and Yeoh returned to acting in Supercop, the third installment in Jackie Chan’s Police Story series.
“It was important to remind my audiences “hey, I’m still here, and I’m still what you loved before,” she said in a GQ video about her most iconic roles. “And then I was getting to work with Stanley Tong, who I met when he was a stuntman. And so he came to me and said ‘I have a Jackie Chan movie and I want you to be a part of it, like his counterpart, OK?'”
Being put on a similar footing with a superstar leading man meant a lot to her.
“It was like playing with James Bond, opposite them as their equal. That was a very huge statement on every level. For me, it was a great privilege, for the women, it was like “Yes!”
Her performance in ‘Supercop’ was revelatory
In Supercop, Yeoh plays Inspector Jessica Yang, who teams up with Chan to go undercover and take down the drug lord Chaibat. As you can see in the video above, the film features some of the best action set pieces ever shot.
Yeoh did all her own stunts, and while the final product is better for it, she nearly died during a scene where she slides off the top of a van and onto Chan’s convertible in pursuit.
“So I took the roll, [and] everything went wrong. The windscreen did not shatter, the things that were supposed to make it [explode] didn’t work, so Jackie couldn’t get a handle on me … When you watch the outtakes, he scrambled over the windscreen and tried to hold onto me. Luckily, he grabbed a bit of my shirt as I was sliding off the car. He saved my life, I think. But don’t tell him that. As I rolled off, if he didn’t give me that little extra jerk, I would’ve landed on my head first., and that would’ve been the disaster of my life.”
Barely escaping a life-threatening accident wasn’t enough to shake Yeoh’s confidence, so the production continued to go as scheduled. Her appetite for stuntwork also led to some ego-related problems with Chan, but they worked them out in the end.
“It’s not fair for me to suddenly go ‘look at me.’ So we had to have a little bit of balance. And I think we managed to do that quite well at the end of the day,” she concluded. “So that’s why we’re still great friends.”
Three decades after its release, Supercop is still remembered as one of the best action movies ever made. Quentin Tarantino once called it one of his favorite movies ever.
Yeoh is an all too rare sort of action star
Yeoh’s brilliance as an onscreen fighter entertains audiences and makes it clear that women are just as capable of being action stars as men.
The international reception for Supercop led to her first Hollywood movie was in Tomorrow Never Dies as Wai Lin, a Chinese spy and ally to James Bond. But the biggest film of her career up to this point is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. She also received acclaim for her performance in Reign of Assassins.
Yeoh has regularly performed in Chinese and Hong Kong movies, but has leaned more into Western projects in recent years. She was part of the fantastic ensemble in Crazy Rich Asians and played a small role in Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Her next big role is in Avatar: The Way of Water, the first of four(!) sequels planned by James Cameron.