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The Unexpected Way Michelle Yeoh Showed A Disrespectful Costar Who's Boss — Without Saying A Single Word

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Images of Michelle Yeoh

There's just no way to put it—Oscar nominee Michelle Yeoh is the definition of "bada-s," known all over the world for her martial arts prowess.

The 60-year-old Malaysian performer is also that rare combination of female action star and prestige actress, equally renowned for Hong Kong martial arts movies and Oscar-nominated films like Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

And she's now an Academy Award nominee herself, competing in the Best Actress category for last year's "Everything Everywhere All At Once" at this year's Oscars on March 12.

But unsurprisingly, as a woman in the entertainment industry, and a minority one at that, Yeoh hasn't always been given the respect she now commands.

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Michelle Yeoh used her martial arts skills to deal with a conflict with a costar on the set of a James Bond film.

Yeoh's first major English-language film was the 1997 James Bond movie "Tomorrow Never Dies" starring Pierce Brosnan.

Director Roger Spottiswoode recently described, to The Telegraph, an incident that took place during filming in which Yeoh showed a disrespectful colleague that she was not to be underestimated.

One of Yeoh's "Tomorrow Never Dies" costars insulted her with racist comments.

The incident occurred during a costume fitting for Yeoh and one of Pierce Brosnan's body doubles.

For the scene in question, Yeoh's costume was a revealing silver-sequinned dress slit up the side, while the double was wearing 007's usual tuxedo. 

As Spottiswoode sized up how the two actors looked together, the body double began making inappropriate comments. 

Perhaps assuming Yeoh wouldn't understand him, the double joked to Spottiswoode, "She’s the girl from those Jackie-chickie-Chan films, then?”

But Yeoh's first languages are actually English and Malay—she didn't learn Cantonese or Mandarin until well into adulthood.

So Yeoh definitely understood the racist comments, a reference to the celebrated Hong Kong martial arts films of the 1990s in which Yeoh starred alongside actors like Jackie Chan.

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Yeoh's James Bond costar then doubled-down with a sexist comment.

“Nothing but high heels, this one, right?" he went on to say of Yeoh, one of several sexist comments he had made on the set. 

Yeoh calmly interjected, "Just high heels,” the quietly stepped to one side and demonstrated a 120-degree angle high kick right in front of the double's face.

The kick brought her stiletto heel mere millimeters from the double's eyeball with terrifying precision.

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According to Spottiswoode, the double immediately blanched after Yeoh nearly high-kicked him in the eye.

"I have never seen someone turn whiter faster," he told the UK's The Telegraph. 

"He had been talking over her head in the most dismissive, sneering way, and then he thought he was about to lose his sight."

After the incident, Spottiswoode pulled Yeoh aside and apologized to her, to which she replied, "Well, now we know the outfit will work."

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Yeoh has called out other costars for sexism in the past—including her good friend and frequent collaborator Jackie Chan.

Asked on "Late Night with David Letterman" in 1997 if Chan was the reason she got into action films, Yeoh did not mince words, as seen in the video below.

"No, actually he’s a male chauvinistic pig," she bluntly replied. "Jackie and I are very good friends, [but] he always believes that women should stay at home and cook."

But making her bada-s status clear even all the way back then, she told Letterman that Chan added, "'Except for Michelle now,' he said, because I would kick his butt."

Yeoh continues to be well aware of her legendary butt-kicking abilities to this day, of course. 

Accepting her Best Actress Golden Globe in January, she went viral for telling the conductor at the Golden Globes "I can beat you up" when he played music over her acceptance speech. 



Do not mess with Michelle Yeoh!

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Despite how she was treated on-set, Yeoh's performance in "Tomorrow Never Dies" made her a global star.

And it convinced director Ang Lee to cast her in the film that would introduce her to a whole other English-language audience, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

The film garnered 10 Academy Award nominations, and Yeoh was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Actress by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

She has since continued starring in major films in Asia, as well as English-language films like "Crazy Rich Asians" and "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," and TV shows like "Star Trek: Discovery."

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Michelle Yeoh's Academy Award nomination for "Everything Everywhere All At Once" makes her the first-ever Asian-identified Best Actress Oscar nominee.

Yeoh will make Oscars history on Sunday, March 12 if she ends up walking down the aisle of the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood to accept the Best Actress statuette.

Though Yeoh is technically the second Asian nominee—biracial actress Merle Oberon, who hid her mixed Sri Lankan and British ethnicity, was the first Asian nominee in 1935.



Competition for the Best Actress category is stiff this year, with Ana de Armas, Michelle Williams, Andrea Riseborough and Cate Blanchett rounding out the category.

And insiders believe the Best Actress race is too close to predict, with Yeoh and Blanchett the frontrunners following the latter's performance in Todd Field's "Tár," a contender for Best Picture.

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Yeoh's groundbreaking role as Evelyn Wang in "Everything Everywhere All At Once" almost didn't happen—it was offered to Jackie Chan first.

Directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert originally wrote the role for a man and offered it to Chan, before they and Chan mutually decided to part ways and refocus the film on Evelyn instead.

"I’m like, ‘thank you bro, you did me a huge favor'" Yeoh told her longtime friend and colleague of his decision to bow out.

The role allowed Yeoh to fulfill a creative goal—she wanted to play someone ordinary.

In 2022, Yeoh told NPR, "I felt that this was such a perfect opportunity to give a voice to the very ordinary mothers and housewife who are out there...doing the most mundane things and get so taken for granted."

Evelyn Wang may be ordinary, but Yeoh is now holds the decidedly extraordinary title of Oscar nominee. 

Not bad for a woman once dismissed as just a pair of high heels.

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.