Doing a bit of a Hong Kong cinema marathon recently, I took time out from the usual Jet Li and Jackie Chan efforts and looked at a few of the best adventures from Miss Malaysia herself, Michelle Yeoh. Sometimes credited as Michelle Khan or Michelle Kheng I guess for the usual reasons of studio interference and overseas marketing, I wish there were more of them - as many of the ones she stars in as the lead are very good. She has the acting chops with enough screen charisma to match her male contemporaries, as well as doing plenty of her own stunt work. Her screen debut (as the lead) is typical of this, taking on gangsters with Cynthia Rothrock in Police Assassins aka Yes, Madam. It's a fun buddy cop feature with a lot of silly humour and painful looking stunts - a staple of the HK action genre - and would prove to be the first of various successful outings.
My favourite of these is Magnificent Warriors, a tongue in cheek adventure set in what appears to be somewhere in northern China in the 1930s - it lends the movie an Indiana Jones type vibe with their own take on the leather coat and whip combo making an appearance, as Yeoh and her companions (including the ever amusing Richard Ng) take on the typical fascist oppressors - Imperial Japan. The action beats are all pretty good as a variety of fighting styles and weapons are used, and there are some great set pieces leading up to a siege showdown. There is some incredibly repetitive music in this, the worst example being looped during a plane chase; but this is a minor complaint.
In the more traditional style martial arts movie Wing Chun, she also does a great job and her moves get showcased with the typically stylish fight choreography of director Yeun Woo Ping. Though the purile comedic elements are a little more over done it's still very entertaining and the menace of bandit raiders provides plenty of great fight sequences. Whether the fighting style which shares the title of the movie has anything to do with the events of the film is probably unlikely, but it makes for a solid if unremarkable entertainment.
Her central performance in the Ang Lee drama Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon would of course bring her international fame (besides making the best ever Bond girl in Tomorrow Never Dies) and it remains a strong addition to her filmography full of character depth and beautifully framed drama alongside all the fantasy styled ass kicking and sword battles. I don't think there are many other genre movies in this style that have this much emotive content which is a shame, since it adds to the wuxia magic in a unique way.
Elsewhere there are the likes of Police Story 3: Super Cop and Tai Chi Master, though they are mostly vehicles for their other stars they still have their moments - the former particularly having a few impressive stunt moments with Yeoh as an officer for the mainland Chinese government going undercover opposite Jackie Chan's Hong Kong detective. If only the DVD release was better - I have yet to get a good version with the original language, having to settle for a low quality non anamorphic release with poor subtitles or an edited cut. A pseudo follow up called Project S (also called Super Cop in some releases which is very misleading) was less than impressive personally and one for completists only, with far too much melodrama and tentative links to the Police Story series. To think that she was going to retire after getting married in the late 80s. Thank goodness for divorce eh?