caught on internationally.
The next couple years would be spent toiling away in forgettable martial arts features that nonetheless underscored exactly what Yeoh was capable of. A brief marriage to the Hong Kong business magnate Dickson Poon, from 1988 to 1992, resulted in a five-year hiatus from acting. But when she came back, in 1992, as the co-headliner of Police Story 3: Super Cop, in which she acted alongside the paragon of the Hong Kong action movie, Jackie Chan, Yeoh didn’t just come back. She also underlyingly asserted that she had simply put her domination on hold back at the beginning of ‘88.
Her return came with a bang. In 1993, Yeoh starred in an astounding six movies, as if to make up for lost time. The ensuing years resulted in plenty more leading parts in action movies; she was so prolific, it didn’t feel as though she’d ever left in the first place.
It was in 1997 that Yeoh reached the pinnacle of her domination. She dabbled in the dramatic with the well-received family melodrama The Soong Sisters, for which she received a Hong Kong Film Award for Best Supporting Actress nomination, and then she starred in Tomorrow Never Dies, the 18th entry in the ongoing James Bond series.
As is the case with so many of Yeoh’s vehicles, Tomorrow Never Dies is an effective action product. But it is Yeoh, so commanding of our attention, whom we remember the most. The movie itself is jovial and expertly crafted — as are even the worst extensions of the 007 brand — but undeniably formulaic. Yet Yeoh, so electric and perhaps even more game to get down and dirty than the primary headliner, Pierce Brosnan, deceives us, at least temporarily, into thinking that the feature is among the greatest in the series. In the days after our initial viewing of the movie, though, it becomes clear that it isn’t the movie that’s so terrific per se. It’s all Yeoh.
In the film, she is Colonel Wai Lin, a Chinese spy who teams up with the dashing agent Bond to put a stop to the madness of the archfiend Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), a mogul who intends to use a limitless encoder to start a war between the United Kingdom and China. Licking his lips, Carver tells our leading characters that this in-the-making melee will result in him getting the ability to get rid of the Chinese government and allow him to have exclusive broadcasting rights internationally. A dated premise, certainly: A money-famished capitalist who wishes to manipulate the media in a way that tickles his fancy is so five minutes ago in 2018.
But like all the Brosnan-starring Bond features, Tomorrow Never Dies characterizes itself as overblown and, frankly, ludicrous, so quickly that it doesn’t matter that realism turns out to not be as much the name of the game as the presenting of impossibly daring pulp. The storyline’s a farce — an amalgam of action operatics and seen-it-all-before Bond tropes. But it’s elevated by the expertly staged action sequences (the best being a physics-defying motorcycle chase, during which Yeoh and Brosnan are handcuffed together) and, of course, Yeoh’s prowess. The movie is by the numbers, sure, but it also isn’t every day that we get a Bond girl who’s our favorite British spy’s equal. And it isn’t every day that we see an internationally legendary action heroine getting her due.
Joe Don Baker
1 Hr., 59 Mins.
Tomorrow Never Dies / True Legend
y the time the 1990s came to a close, the Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh wasn’t just a staple in the action genre — she was also, arguably, its queen bee. From the moment her career began in the mid-1980s, she’d proven herself inclined to align herself with the category. Her first acting role, though a small one, was in The Owl vs. Bombo, a 1984 action thriller. In no time, Yeoh, who for a time went by Michelle Khan, was headlining her own features. By 1985, she found her name atop scores of marquees with Yes, Madam, a Cynthia Rothrock co-starrer that
June 19, 2018
1 Hr., 55 Mins.
ollowing the one-two punch of Tomorrow Never Dies and 2000’s esteemed wuxia film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the latter of which found Yeoh soaring, the actress’s all-important presence in the action genre has undeservedly diminished. Although she’s maintained a partiality toward working prolifically, the aughts and beyond have mostly seen Yeoh taking on a supporting role — a legend gracing us with her presence just to remind us of the greatness of her past. (Two thousand ten’s high-flying Reign of Assassins, which saw many comparisons to Crouching Tiger, made for an exception to this trend, though.)
One such example comes in the form of 2010’s intermittently excellent True Legend, a frenetic revenge film that kicks off as an airtight, authoritatively fantastical feature that eventually is fattened by a capped-on, 40-minute-long second ending that does little to justify its existence.
Here, Yeoh is demoted to acting as a wizened herb specialist and wine maker who comes into our protagonist’s life while he’s in the throes of agony. She is second fiddle, and arguably ancillary, to the main plot, which mostly circles about a years-in-the-making family feud and its bloody repercussions. The feature predominantly follows Su (Vincent Zhao), a general seeking vengeance after his wan, embittered stepbrother, Xiao (Zhou Xun), leaves him for dead following a brutal fist fight. (Yeoh comes in to save the day right after Su is, you know, left for dead.)
Take away the final act and True Legend is a convincing, terse foray in the revenge movie genre, replete with as many masterly fight sequences as discomfiting instances of slow-motion editing and discounted computer-generated imagery. For about 80 minutes, the film is an economic, entertaining crisis fest. But then another ending comes about — in which we see Su and his young son struggling to live following the completion of the movie-long revenge story — and then tedium becomes more a mainstay than the intricate ‘do Su sports for the feature’s earlier part. Such is what you get when you underutilize the always-spectacular Yeoh, I suppose.
But even in spite of how sporadically she’s come to be smartly directed, Yeoh has had a decent late-2010s. She starred in the long-awaited sequel to Crouching Tiger —Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny — in 2016; made a memorable cameo in the 2017 Guardians of the Galaxy sequel; and will prominently be featured in the upcoming, highly anticipated romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians. But one thinks about her eventful 1990s and wonders: Will Yeoh ever command the action genre quite so powerfully again? Movies like Tomorrow Never Dies make us hope so; films akin to True Legend underscore worry.
Tomorrow Never Dies B+
True Legend C+