When Michelle Yeoh won an Oscar earlier this year, she made Hollywood history.
At 60 years old, she had already had a long-established and iconic career, best known for starring in Hong Kong action films. But when she nabbed the Oscar for Best Actress, she became the first Asian woman — and only the second woman of color — to do so in the award show’s near-century-long history.
This recognition has long been deserved, with Yeoh being one of the most prominent Asian figures in Hollywood. A vocal advocate for Asian representation in Hollywood, she famously turned down roles that reinforced harmful Asian stereotypes. This social consciousness, as well as her skill and distinct presence, has resulted in one of the most prolific filmographies. Here, we rank the best of her movies.
In 1992’s Hong Kong action film Supercop, Yeoh stars alongside Jackie Chan to play undercover agents trying to infiltrate a drug cartel.
It’s a fast-paced, light-humored flick, embodying the best of Hong Kong’s vibrant film industry and made even more dynamic thanks to Yeoh and Chan’s unique chemistry. The most remarkable aspect of the film, however, is seeing all the stunts Yeoh did herself, with Supercop being lauded by Quentin Tarantino as having some of the greatest stunts ever done on film.
In it, we see Yeoh hanging by the side of a truck and riding a motorcycle onto a moving train. But one, in particular, nearly killed her as she was supposed to roll off the roof of a truck and onto a convertible driven by Chan. But when the windshield didn’t break as planned, Yeoh was left with nothing to grab onto. It was only Chan grabbing her by the shirt that saved her life. Attesting to Yeoh’s professionalism, she immediately insisted on retaking the scene.
The film’s significance is largely driven by its star power. But with its lighthearted comedy and meticulously choreographed fight scenes and stunts, it’s the perfect film for a spike of adrenaline.
4. Memoirs of a Geisha
2005’s Memoirs of a Geisha saw Yeoh deviating from the typical martial arts roles that she frequently played. Whereas her previous roles often expressed toughness physically, in this film, she embodies strength in more subdued ways. She plays Mameha, a senior geisha who takes the lead character, Chiyo, under her wing as the latter undergoes geisha training.
In it, Yeoh is cunning and assertive, embodying concealed strength in a story that explores the disadvantages of women in Japan in the early 1900s. And with geishas being relegated to mere entertainment, we see Yeoh’s Mameha and the rest of the characters navigating the politics of the geisha house.
The film is visually stunning, tense, and alluring. And it is a delight seeing Yeoh command the screen even with much less movement than her roles often have, interrogating the nature of femininity in such a complex setting.
3. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Yeoh solidified her status in Hollywood as a martial arts film star in 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon — one of the most loved wuxia movies worldwide — which shows her deep in her element. Here, she plays Shu Lien, a renowned warrior who is approached by Li Mu Bai, the man she has long had feelings for, to transport his sword Green Destiny. But when it is stolen, the characters are led on a journey to recover it.
The movie is astounding, with a setting and storyline strongly steeped in Chinese culture. In it, Yeoh is regal, poised, and precise, channeling just enough enigma to convey the long history of Shu Lien. Because of this, she perfectly immerses the viewers into the world she occupies. And though Shu Lien is for the most part subdued, Yeoh plays her so masterfully and so magnetically, resulting in a dynamic portrayal of the warrior.
With a scale so grand and a creative direction so reminiscent of ‘90s Hong Kong Films, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon makes for a marvelous watch for those who want to be transported to a different world for just a few hours.
2. Crazy Rich Asians
When it came out in 2018, Crazy Rich Asians was unlike anything that Hollywood had seen before — exploring not only Asian family dynamics, cultures, values, and class differences, but showing the peak of its glamor, as well.
When Michelle Yeoh spoke to Variety, she said that being one of the first films in 25 years to feature an all-Asian cast, the film opened the door for many of her castmates. But there was much riding on its success, and Yeoh worried that many Asian leading roles would not have been green lit if it flopped.
But Crazy Rich Asians was a roaring success, and it radically challenged the stiff and formulaic roles that limited Asian actors. Its storytelling and characters were three-dimensional without sacrificing any of its entertainment value — thanks to the glitziest displays of extravagance and the inclusion of comedy greats like Ken Jeong in the cast.
Yeoh, in particular, shines in the movie. She plays Eleanor, the matriarch of the Young family, whose son the unassuming central character falls for. In the film, Yeoh is regal and old-fashioned, embodying glamor itself. But even with so much hidden behind a stony facade, she generates so much of the film’s emotional force, contending with motherhood, class politics, and status.
As a result, Crazy Rich Asians was one of the freshest romantic comedies to come out in the past decade.
1. Everything Everywhere All at Once
Although Yeoh’s decades-long filmography boasts incredible range and skill, it’s no surprise that Everything Everywhere All at Once gave her the recognition that she deserves.
The movie’s premise, of a middle-aged Chinese-American laundromat owner being launched into a multiversal war pitched by the daughter she has hurt in every dimension is, to say the least, novel. It’s hilarious, relentlessly paced, and clever — and it’s an assault on the senses.
Even at its emotional crux, the film doesn’t tone down on its crack humor (if anything, it cranks it up). But it all serves to embody exactly what the title wants us to witness: everything, everywhere, all at once. And at the heart of it is Michelle Yeoh, embodying Evelyn across worlds.
Unlike most of the roles she has had, the movie sees Yeoh channeling a frustrated, panicked, and tactless main character. But she and the rest of Everything Everywhere’s cast manage to perfectly inhabit their characters across multiple dimensions with multiple personalities, effectively amping up the tension in the film. And although the entire journey is whimsical and overloaded, it nevertheless makes poignant explorations of its main themes, which, as Yeoh describes to ELLE, are about self-sacrifice and intergenerational trauma — common struggles in many Asian families.
With the scale and attention devoted to telling this story, and considering that the directors tailor-made the role for Yeoh, the film feels like a triumph on so many levels. Yeoh is hilarious and moving, and it’s a delight seeing her wield her martial arts prowess in a film that just seemed to bend to her strengths.