Meniscus Magazine asks Michelle Yeoh about…stunts

 

She suffers from stage fright.

She studied drama in college and balked at all the spoken lines.

She was advised by doctors to abandon her dance career following a serious back injury, only to proceed with an ever-growing acting repertoire during which she broke nearly every bone performing stunts in action movies.

Oh, and she also has a fear of heights.

However, for Michelle Yeoh, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Life is sort of a learning process,” Yeoh explained at a question-and-answer session held in her honor on the final day of the 2015 Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF).  “It has to challenge you.  I think in that way, you learn to be better.  You improve yourself.  I don’t think I will ever come to a point where I think I know [it all] because then it would be really boring.  In this way, I challenge myself to do things that I know I am terrible at, or I’m not good at, in the hopes that I will get better at it.”

It is that go-getter attitude that earned Yeoh the inaugural Cinema Legend Award given by the SGIFF as part of their annual Silver Screen Awards.  The Malaysian actress overcame her fears and a forced career change, parlaying her dance background into a career in Hong Kong action films that has since spanned more than three decades and expanded into other types of roles, such as Soon Ai-Ling in “The Soong Sisters” (1997, Mabel Cheung) and Aung San Suu Kyi in the 2011 Luc Besson film “The Lady.”

I asked Yeoh about the stunts of today versus yesteryear, and how she felt about her previous work when she had to perform these all on her own.

Yuan-Kwan Chan: Given all the changes over the years in terms of safety standards on sets, CG and technology – particularly looking back at your earlier work in Hong Kong – are there any stunts that you would have done differently knowing what we have now, or maybe not done at all?

Michelle Yeoh: Okay, let me tell you a very funny story [about] “Supercop,” the movie I did with Jackie Chan, when it was re-dubbed and taken to America.  You know, we do Q&As after the movie, and I remember that the audience was going, ‘Wow, I thought CG was not so amazing in Hong Kong films, but the CG in your movie is fantastic!’  Jackie and I looked at each other. ‘You did CG?  How come I didn’t?’  They thought the train – everything we did on the train – was all CG.

I do welcome – actually, we all welcome – the CG part because it has made our lives a lot safer.  When we did the stunts in the old days, there was a lot of risk in it.  And I remember when I was dubbing “Supercop,” I was going, ‘Ow!  Ouaaah!  What was I thinking at that time?!’  Because if you look at the outtakes, I could have been very, very seriously injured.  I could have cracked my head open, especially that one time where I rolled off the van and the glass didn’t break, and I just slipped off the car.  So if we had CG, we would not have put ourselves in that position.

But I must also admit, at that point, Hong Kong filmmaking: they took stunts to that level.  They didn’t have the luxury of CG, but they had the luxury of incredible stunt people who were willing – who were crazy enough, I must say, I’m sorry to say – to take those kinds of risks so that the audience would get that, ‘Whoa!  My God!  Did they really do that?’  Jackie, Sammo [Hung], Yuen Biao – they were the ones who put all these kinds of things out there.

Today?  No way would I do something like that.  And I’m very grateful for the fact that we don’t have to do this.  Like with my stunt team, they understand exactly what you are capable of.  Safety now, I’m very happy to say, is the most important thing.  It should have always been like that.  In fact, the movie I did called “The Stuntwoman” – The Story of Ah Kam [1996, directed by Ann Hui] – was also to tell the story of the unsung heroes.  The people who [you] don’t see their faces because whenever they’re on the screen, they’re always blocked.  You see their back, you see their side, but you never see their faces.  But actually, it’s them that makes us look so amazing.

Photos: In Conversation With: Michelle Yeoh – Marina Bay Sands, Dec. 6, 2015 – Singapore International Film Festival
all photos by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine

 

Video: In Conversation With: Michelle Yeoh (excerpt) – Marina Bay Sands, Dec. 6, 2015 – Singapore International Film Festival
video by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine

A fan uploaded some of the outtakes in “Supercop” that Yeoh talked about at the panel.

Video: Michelle Yeoh – Cinema Legend Award honoree, 2015 Silver Screen Awards – Marina Bay Sands, Dec. 5, 2015 – Singapore International Film Festival
video by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine