By Lee Hyo-won
BUSAN _ Megastar Michelle Yeoh sent a buzz throughout this port city when she finally made a public appearance in a press conference at the 12th Pusan (Busan) International Film Festival (PIFF). Returning to the festival for the first time in six years, the star of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" emphasized the importance of cooperation among Asian filmmakers to make great movies, in order to provide a market for Asian actors who can no longer wait for Hollywood to come calling.
"Gamsahamnida", she thanked everyone in the room in Korean. The press meeting had initially been set to be a small group interview, but was switched to the grand ballroom of a Busan hotel to accomodate the press that trailed the high-profile actress of Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon".
"It's unbelievable what's happening in Busan" she said, adding that PIFF is endorsing an international vision, providing a platform for not only Korean but Asian filmmakers and actors to make great works together.
"This feels like the Cannes Film Festival of Asia", she said, saying that the festival truly embraces Asian filmmakers, not just Korean filmmakers. "It stems from festivals like this. I think it's pan-Asian, that we all work together: As united, we stand, but divided we're small, so let us be one big happy family", she said.
She also said that making great Asian movies is important for breaking stereotypes, espeically of Asian women, as caricatural dragon ladies or "femme fatales" and Suzie Wong types. "It's a battle that we still fight today", she said, emphasizing that Asian filmmakers can beat this battle by making great works that do not endorse these stereotypes.
Yeoh has been in the public eye for over two decades, but time only seems to do justice for the 45-year-old beauty, amplifying her grace and charismatic energy. Yeoh seemed brighter and more energetic than ever with her signature long, silky hair and nicely toned figure. (Her secrets behind her youthful beauty? A healthy lifestyle, being positive and exercise everyday, she said).
Yeoh probably needs no introduction as one of the highest-paid female leads in Asia, well known for her killer kicks as much as her fatally attactive looks. The former Miss Malaysia debuted in a 1985 commercial with Jackie Chan
, and has since fought her way to the top to reign as "queen of martial arts" in the male-dominated genre. But she is also well know for being one of the few female actresses whom Jackie Chan
allows to do their own stunts.
Surprisingly, however, Yeoh has never received formal martial arts training _ she relies on her dance moves, having trained at the Royal Academy of Dance in London since a young age.
The Malaysian native has topped her long acting career with phenomenal international hits like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and more recently "Memoirs of a Geisha". She is also unforgettable as one of the few Asian Bond girls in "Tomorrow Never Dies".
The secret behind her success? It seems simple but very important: "Work very, very hard", she said, but also adding that luck cannot be ignored. However, "when the opportunity does arise, you have to be prepared". Yeoh said she owes much of her success to her longtime manager Terrance Chang and director John Woo, who paved the way for her.
"Today it's still very tough" for Asian actors to succeed in Hollywood, a market that is very inward-focused. Fortunately, times have changed, and the U.S. is now looking more outward, as the profit margin from abroad can no longer be ignored.
She said she is ecstatic now that there are "bridges" for Asian actors to be recognized abroad, like Korean actors Kim Yunjin
and Daniel Dae Kim
in "Lost", and Jeon Do-yeon
recently having won the award for Best Actress at Cannes. "I was so proud because it was a great representation of Asian artists", she said.
Despite enjoying a long peak in her career, Yeoh said "it is a learning process. God forbid when there comes a time when there's nothing to learn _ then that's time to retire... At the end of the day it's sheer determination and hard work".
Yeoh delivered a very important message about her deep desire to work with Asian filmmakers. "These are my roots, this is where I'm from. We cannot wait for Hollywood to come calling", she said. The actress also added that she was "dying to make a kick-ass martial arts movies", saying she would love to work with great Korean filmmakers and actors.
"We have to work from this side to provide a platform for our artists", she said.