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Ang Lee on ‘Tough’ ‘Crouching Tiger’ Shoot After Michelle Yeoh Injury: ‘That Was Supposed to Be Her Strength’

Former ballerina turned martial arts icon Yeoh tore a knee ligament while filming the Oscar-winning classic, complicating the production.

CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, (aka WO HU CANG LONG), Michelle Yeoh, 2000. ©Sony Pictures Classics/courtesy Everett Collection

“Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”

©Sony Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Ahead of her new film “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Michelle Yeoh reflected on filming Ang Lee’s martial arts drama “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” in a New York Times interview, and revealed two major mishaps behind the scenes. Neither Yeoh nor co-star Chow Yun-Fat spoke Mandarin fluently, and so learning the script proved to be a challenge; both stars opted to learn their lines phonetically instead. But the physical component of “Crouching Tiger” proved to be the hardest skill to master.

The “Supercop” star previously did her own stunts in Hong Kong-based action films, but Yeoh was unfamiliar with the traditional style Lee had in mind for “Crouching Tiger,” which blended influences from Peking Opera and acrobatics. Soon after production started, Yeoh tore a knee ligament while filming the pivotal courtyard scene.

“It was really tough,” Lee said. “That was supposed to be her strength.”

Per NYT, the “Everything Everywhere All at Once” actress had one shot remaining for the sequence, which was supposed to be her running toward the camera. Instead, Lee directed Yeoh to be in a wheelbarrow and be pushed toward the camera, filming her from the waist up while Yeoh mimicked running in place.

Former ballerina Yeoh later underwent surgery and endured a weeks-long recovery before returning to set in a brace. The climax of the film proved to mirror Yeoh’s physical endurance.

“I knew those were real tears,” Lee said of Yeoh filming a tearful goodbye scene. “A lot of pressures gushing out, months of repression, and perhaps a lifetime of hopeful thinking. All that effort comes up.”

After witnessing Yeoh’s performance on set, Lee said he had to excuse himself to cry in private for 15 minutes. “In Chinese, we call it xiang you xin sheng — your countenance, when the way you look comes from the heart,” Lee added.

Yeoh told The Hollywood Reporter that she almost broke her back while filming 1996’s “The Stunt Woman.” The accident even forced Yeoh to question her path as an actress.

“Why am I doing this? Is it worth it? If I really got hurt, then what?” Yeoh recalled.

It was Yeoh’s experience with a stunt coordinator on James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies” in 1997 that helped clarify her career. Yeoh remembered director Roger Spottiswoode advising her not to do her own stunts, saying, “Yes, you have extra skill, which I hope we can incorporate in your work, but you should be confident that you are here as an actress.”

And 25 years later Yeoh is still an action star, proving it as the kickass protagonist in Daniels’ 2022 SXSW breakout hit, “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which opens in theaters March 25.

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