Quentin Tarantino Kept Michelle Yeoh From Quitting Acting

Of all the possible universes that may or may not be in existence, let's all be grateful that we're living in one where Michelle Yeoh continues to kick ass and take names. First getting her start in the 1980s Hong Kong movie scene, the martial arts star quickly rose to prominence and helped pioneer the country's emerging trend of women in leading roles for action flicks. Western audiences would soon find out for themselves about Yeoh's tremendous screen presence and fierce commitment to doing as many of her own stunts as possible, putting her among the ranks of successful male stars like Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Of course, it's one thing for a nobody like me to heap that sort of praise upon her well after the fact. It's another thing entirely when such compliments are paid by industry figures like Quentin Tarantino, back when the trajectory of her career was still at a crucial turning point.

In a new profile for The Hollywood Reporter (via IndieWire), Yeoh opened up about the path she found herself embarking on that would ultimately end up with her leading the upcoming Daniels film (that's the shared title of co-directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) "Everything Everywhere All At Once," a genre-defying, multiverse-hopping fever dream that recently held its premiere at the South By Southwest Film Festival. /Film's own Jacob Hall called the film "a mind-melting masterpiece" in his review, setting expectations even higher for the latest effort by the "Swiss Army Man" directors and, specifically, for Yeoh's performance in it.

But this may never have happened if it weren't for a chance meeting with director Quentin Tarantino at particularly bleak moment in Yeoh's life. Yeoh revealed that during filming for "The Stunt Woman" in 1996, she suffered a debilitating back injury that had her questioning whether she even wanted to continue acting or not. With friends urging her to think about what's best for her, Yeoh spoke frankly about her depressive thoughts at this point: "Why am I doing this? Is it worth it? If I really got hurt, then what?"

Luckily for Yeoh and the rest of us who have come to love and appreciate her contributions to the art, that all changed when Tarantino paid her a visit.

'That was a turning point'

While Yeoh was laid up in bed, unable to move, Quentin Tarantino happened to be in Hong Kong with the intention of meeting just three individuals: Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Michelle Yeoh. Though initially resistant (THR describes Tarantino's stubborn insistence to meet with her as a success, but only after "much wheedling from the American"), Yeoh finally agreed to a brief conversation with the famous director. That, as it turned out, turned into a much, much longer one. Enthusiastically telling Yeoh that "I've watched all your movies" and going on to break down all his favorite action sequences to a molecular level, Yeoh gradually came out of her existential funk. As she put it:

"The next thing I knew, we were talking and I was coming back to life. I'll never forget it. It was like, 'I do love what I do.' And that was a turning point where I felt, 'I've paid my dues.'"

The rest, as they say, is history. Her next big break after that came with 1997's "Tomorrow Never Dies," as her scene-stealing appearance in the James Bond film firmly landed her on the map in Hollywood for good. She soon followed that up with Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," a movie where her undeniably charismatic performance convinced the director to back off his initial plans to dub over her voice. As Lee remembers, "The way she performs, you cannot duplicate that. And of course, the good news is she's a very good actress."

That talent would drive Yeoh's next decade of work, ultimately culminating with her supporting role in "Star Trek: Discovery," a long-overdue victory lap in Marvel's "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," and, of course, what seems like her finest role to date with "Everything Everywhere All at Once." How fitting is it that this story comes out ahead of the release of a movie that, according to Jacob Hall's review, begins with Yeoh's character at a low point where she's "despondent, bored, and prone to distraction, her life an endless cycle of disappointment." As much as life tends to imitate art, sometimes it feels even more rewarding when it's the other way around.

"Everything Everywhere All At Once" comes to theaters on March 25, 2022.