INTERVIEW: "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" Star, Michelle Yeoh
by Anthony Kaufman/indieWIRE
Question: The film has been called a feminist martial arts film. Can you talk about the role of women in these pictures?
Michelle Yeoh: If you read a lot of Chinese literature, there has always been very strong women figures — warriors, swordswomen — who defended honor and loyalty with the men. So it’s not new to our culture, it’s always been very much a part of it. It’s good that now the Western audience would have a different image of the Chinese women. Where for a while, it was very stereotypical — the demure, very quiet, strong in a very silent way.
Q: You were the most experienced actor on the set, in terms of the martial arts; did you have to help the others?
Yeoh: It was a huge burden. Because when the director says to you, I’m depending on you to do this for me, it was a big responsibility to bear. Martial arts is something you can learn or pick up and think you could do really well. Yes, with camera movements and stunt doubles, it helps. But if you have experience, it makes a major difference. The power, the sense of timing.
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The real task is when you’re on set. You’re given new movements to learn practically right away and you have to execute them with precision, the strength, the power. It’s very demanding on Ziyi and Chang Chen who don’t have the experience of doing an action movie before. The good thing about Chow [Yun Fat] — I think when you’re a true artist, there should never be any ego about how do you do this. He practiced so hard and from the movie, you can see. Ang was very clever, though, because he made him fight in such a way, it was about his persona. It’s not like a Jet Li — “ha ya ha” [makes karate moves], you need years of training to be able to do that. And for Chow, he’s so charismatic. When you watch him, you’ll be mesmerized, so he keeps it minimal, keeps the movements abrupt, quick, to the point, that’s all you need.
Q: How is this film difference from all the other martial films you’ve done?
Yeoh: The emotional element, the dramatic side of it. Some of the martial arts films, the motivation is about martial arts. That’s where it’s coming from. It is a visual, commercial film, to showcase the next stunt, the biggest thing. And character development becomes a side thing. The action scenes are bigger than life; they overtake the whole movie. The reason why I’m doing this with Ang is because he is a dramatic, sensitive director where he’s not going to let that overrun the movie. And when we fight, every action sequence has a different emotion. And that’s how it should be. And that was so fulfilling. Previously, all I had to do was remember my stunts, remember the movements.
Q: Did you ever wonder whether he could pull this off?
Yeoh: I had never any doubt that he could pull this off. I met him for the first time, probably 5-6 years ago when I had a retrospective of my Asian films and he came especially to say hello, with his wife Jay who I actually molded the character after. That was the first time I met him. I knew his work, from “Pushing Hands” to “Wedding Banquet” to “Sense and Sensibility, “so I have followed and admired all his work. After talking about it with him, I could see in his eyes that this is his dream, that this is something that’s lived in his mind and his heart and I wanted to be a part of that. This is his first martial arts film, which I think is very exciting.
THREE CONVERSATIONS about “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”