Actress Michelle Yeoh was born in Malaysia on August 6, 1942. She grew up speaking Malay and English before Chinese. Having started studied ballet when very young, she later went to London to study at the Royal Academy of Dance, but an injury ended her potential career as a ballerina. After returning to Asia, she won the Miss Malaysia beauty pageant in 1983 at age 21. Soon after she began appearing in commercials, then in films. I believe her first real starring role was as police inspector Ng in Yes, Madam (1985), which also starred Cynthia Rothrock. In some of those early appearances, such as In the Line of Duty in 1985, she was credited as Michelle Khan. She "retired" from films while married to producer Dickson Poon from February, 1988 until their divorce in 1992, at which time she returned to the movies with a vengeance.
Ms Yeoh gained fame as an action film actress, one who could and did do her own incredible stunts. She proved herself in the same league as Jackie Chan when she costarred with him in Police Story 3: Super Cop. Ms Yeoh became widely known to general western audiences when she starred opposite Pierce Brosnan in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). Now I like Brosnan's Bond films, but it was soooo totally clear that she could kick his Bond butt. And I must say that to refer to her as a "Bond girl" -- as some have -- is a travesty and totally disrespectful.
Other notable films she has starred in that are well-known in the West include Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Rob Marshall's Memoirs of a Geisha, and Danny Boyle's Sunshine. In John Woo and Su Chao-Pin's Reign of Assassins (China, 2010), set to be shown, albeit out-of-competition, at the 67th Venice Film Festival, she stars as Zeng Jing, who is tasked with returning the remains of a holy Buddhist monk to its rightful resting place and encounters a group of assassins who try to get the remains because they are believed to possess "an ancient power-wielding secret." (Plot summary from IMDb.) The Weinstein Company has acquired the North and South American rights to the film, so I'm hoping for a theatrical release later this year or early in 2011. Worst-case scenario would be a Region 1 DVD/Blu-Ray release only.
So, best AsianCineFest wishes for a most happy and wonderful birthday, Michelle Yeoh, and for many healthy, happy, and cinematically productive years to come.