Michelle Yeoh says she felt director Ang Lee’s idea for a battle scene in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a joke at first. Yeoh is a well-known personality in the world of action cinema, having been in films like Tomorrow Never Dies, Gunpowder Milkshake, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and, most recently, Everything Everywhere All At Once, opposite Jackie Chan. However, Yu Shu Lien in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon from 2000 is one of Yeoh’s most remembered portrayals.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon depicts the narrative of Master Li (Chow Yun-Fat) and Shu Lien’s journey to regain Green Destiny, a mythical warrior’s sword, directed by Lee, who would shortly go on to direct Hulk starring Eric Bana. The film is known for its wuxia style and intricate and outstanding combat choreography in action movie aficionados. Yeoh would reprise his role as Shu Lien in the Netflix sequel Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, which was released in 2016, however, the film was widely seen as falling short of the original’s expectations.
Yeoh recalls her experience on the set of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in a new career retrospective film for GQ, noting that she initially assumed Lee was joking when he detailed one particular combat scene to her. Yeoh faces up against Jiao Long in a room lined with rows of various bladed weapons along the walls in the sequence in question, which is a highlight of the film. Check out the rest of Yeoh’s reply below:
“[Lee] was so fascinated, he wanted to try out every single form of martial arts and every weapon there was. I thought he was kidding me when I first walked into where he was prepping for all the research he was doing, I seriously thought he was kidding until I walked onto the set on the final sequence and all the weapons were there and he said, ‘I want you to use all of them.’ I’m like, ‘You’re kidding, right?’ But he was not. He never jokes around with things like that.”
The battle sequence is one of the most iconic and carefully choreographed in the entire film, and it is noted for the sheer quantity of weapons used by Yeoh. Yeoh begins with a sword, but after her opponent breaks it, she progresses to a spear, then a variety of other bladed weapons, until eventually, Yeoh’s character triumphs. The scene demonstrates Yeoh’s ability to perform the many combat methods demanded of her, as well as Lee’s ability to capture the action and drama so effectively.
Yeoh is one of the most well-known action stars of the previous thirty years, ranking among the greats like Chan. During the filming of Supercop 2, Chan said that Yeoh’s stunts were overshadowing his own and that he had to continually try to outdo what she was doing. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon remains one of the all-time great martial arts films and a perfect illustration of Yeoh’s amazing aptitude for fight choreography, despite the fact that the sequel didn’t quite measure up to the high standard set by the first.