Quentin Tarantino Had A Pretty Good Reason For Not Casting Michelle Yeoh In Kill Bill

Did Michelle Yeoh ever tell you about the time she broke her back and some upstart director gave her encouragement to get back on the cinematic saddle?

If you know martial arts action movies, you know Yeoh. In her earliest works, she went as Michelle Khan, but as she racked up credits in Hong Kong action movies during the '90s and starred as James Bond ally Wai Lin in the '97 spy flick "Tomorrow Never Dies" she would be credited with her proper surname. From 1984 onward, including notable works like Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Supercop" (a.k.a. "Police Story 3"), Yeoh continued to play characters with a staunch spirit and meticulous discipline, whether the role was that of a geisha or a crazy-rich Asian.

It was during the filming of Ann Hui's 1996 action picture "The Stunt Woman" that Yeoh, understandably doing her own stunts, suffered fractured vertebrae whilst jumping from a bridge onto a car driven by co-star Jackie Chan. The injury sent Yeoh into retirement – "I thought I broke my back," she tells Amy Nicholson. Nicholson's profile of the Malaysia-born actor for Town & Country chronicles Yeoh's recovery, which necessitated a leave from acting (for the second time — "Supercop" was a return of sorts in 1992), the use of a back brace, and few visitors.

Quentin Tarantino, meanwhile, was enjoying success as a filmmaker. The "Reservoir Dogs" writer-director had traveled to Hong Kong to screen his latest, some little thing called "Pulp Fiction," and requested an audience with Michelle Khan. In pain every time she drew breath, the former ballet dancer gave him five minutes.

He's got a point

"I must say, Quentin, he's persistent," Yeoh added, "He is who he is today because he's full of passion and love, so he wore me down." In his allotted time, Tarantino sat on a pillow before Yeoh and recounted her stunts, second by second. His animated passion and genuine admiration stirred the "Everything Everywhere All At Once" star, and provided some inspiration for Yeoh to return to work. The following year, she signed on as the first ethnic Chinese Bond girl Wai Lin in "Tomorrow Never Dies," opposite Pierce Brosnan's 007.

As for Tarantino, a decade later he would pay homage to Hong Kong martial arts action films (and blaxploitation, and spaghetti westerns, and samurai sagas...) with "Kill Bill:Vol 1" starring Uma Thurman as a left-for-dead bride who adopts Jules Winnfield's great vengeance and furious anger against the team of assassins who tried to kill her. One of her foes, half-Chinese-Japanese American O-Ren Ishii (played by Lucy Liu) at one point could have been Yeoh; why didn't it happen? Town & Country has Yeoh's response:

"I asked Quentin the same question. He's very smart. He said, 'Who would believe that Uma Thurman could kick your ass?'"

Indeed. That said, it's hard to believe that Uma Thurman could kick Gordon Liu's ass, he of essential Hong Kong kung fu flick and Wu-Tang Clan album inspiration "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin." In "Vol.1," he played Johnny Mo, the leader of the Crazy 88 Yakuza gang, but don't let the black Kato mask fool you – Beatrix Kiddo is incredibly lucky she caught Johnny Mo without his three-section staff.