In Conversation with Michelle Yeoh

by Dominic Teo
December 8, 2015 by Dominic Teo

In Conversation with Michelle Yeoh

SGIFF has always been able to bring the best local and regional directors/actors down for the festival. But this year, the festival really out did itself by bringing multi-award winning actress Michelle Yeoh in for the festival. Michelle was invited down to receive the SGIFF Cinema Legend Award for her contributions to the region’s film industry and for paving the way for all Asian acts.

As part of her trip to Singapore, SGIFF also specially arranged an informal ‘In Conversation’ session for members of the media and public alike to get to know more about the typically private A-lister. As fans made their way into the picturesque Marina Bay Sands MasterCard Theatres where the event was held, you could make out from the indistinct chatter that a ton of excitement was surrounding her upcoming session. And she didn’t disappoint.

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Coming slightly later than the scheduled 11pm, the star apologised to the crowd for her tardiness, before thanking everyone for taking their time for coming down. From the moment she entered, you could tell there was something visibly different about the star. Though dressed casually in jeans and a t-shirt, Michelle was anything but ordinary and was still extraordinarily beautiful (though did you expect anything less from a former Bond girl?).

Often, opportunities to know your stars at an intimate level are hard to come by. Even when they do, most talk about generic work-life based questions that really just scratch the surface of the person. Yet, from the get-go, Michelle was more than willing to let us into her world. The session can be somewhat divided into 2 parts, the first was insight into her extensive 30 year film career and the second was an even rarer look at her life beyond film. She was more than happy to share little known facts about her, from her first foray into film, through the Hong Kong film industry and later her breakthrough into Hollywood. More interestingly, she talked about how she has managed to successfully avoid being typecast. She avoided the damsel in distress role by being one of the first women to do martial arts and action films and later broke out of her action star film persona by delving into more dramatic fare.

Michelle Yeoh giving us a rare look back at her 30 year film career!

Being that it was an interview at a film festival, it was undoubted that the questions would centre around her body of work.  Unexpectedly, the focus was on “The Lady” (rather than her more popular works including Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon), in which she played the role of Aung Sun Suu Kyi and received universal acclaim for her performance. She spoke passionately about playing the famous Burmese politician and Nobel Peace Prize Winner as she effortlessly went in-length and in-depth about the person she was playing as well as other facets of the individuals life beyond the script, from her time in England as a housewife all the way to the day she was released from house arrest. For a thespian who has been credited for over 50 roles, it was amazing to just see the level of investment Michelle had into each individual character she played, a reason why her performances have always been stellar.

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Beyond talking about film, she also spent a significant amount of time discussing life beyond film. She talked about her short hiatus (1988-1992) and why she chose to stop acting as she attempted to pursue an ordinary life as a wife. She also shared her experience as a jury member in numerous film festivals and as someone who has always been curious about how the winners are chosen, her insight was a huge welcome. For an action star and former Bond girl, she was rather different from her usual on-screen persona. She was someone with a conviction on how to live life, that is to live it always ready and willing to learn. She’s a world famous actress yet is someone who’s incredibly down-to-earth. She brought her 6 god-children with her and adorably informs us that she dragged them out of bed for this session.

Michelle Yeoh talks about Life Beyond Film!

We often look towards film stars as people who inspire us and many times they don’t really come through (just look at Charlie Sheen) but Michelle Yeoh is clearly not one of them. The entire hour felt incredibly short and she had the entire theatre mesmerised with her anecdotes and little snippets of wisdom from her many years in both film and in life. This was a session that was an absolute must for not only fans of Michelle Yeoh or even fans of film but especially people looking for a woman role model. Expectations are now high for SGIFF 2016!

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