Michelle Yeoh wins as best actress, makes Oscar history

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Chinese-Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh took home Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance, becoming the first Asian woman to win an Oscar in the category. [Photo/VCG]

Michelle Yeoh, an iconic name in Chinese cinema, made history on Sunday night by becoming the first Asian woman to win the Academy Award for best actress.

The Malaysian-born actress defeated formidable contenders, including two-time winner Cate Blanchett and five-time nominee Michelle Williams, to take home the prestigious award for her extraordinary performance in the multiversal comedy Everything Everywhere All at Once.

The film, where Yeoh plays a struggling laundromat owner who ends up being the savior of the multiverse, swept the Oscars with a total of seven awards, including for best picture and best director, making it the biggest winner of the night.

"For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibility," the actress said in her acceptance speech in Los Angeles, California, the United States, to emphasize that one must dream big as dreams do come true. "And ladies, don't let anyone ever tell you (that) you're past your prime," the 60-year-old added.

The actress also used her speech to honor her 84-year-old mother, Janet Yeoh. "I have to dedicate this to my mom and all the moms in the world because they are really the superheroes, and without them none of us would be here tonight," she said.

After carving a niche for herself in kung fu cinema in Hong Kong, Yeoh made her Hollywood debut in the 1997 James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies. She gained international recognition for her role as a swordswoman in Ang Lee's iconic film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which won three Oscars in 2001.

Yeoh has been heavily in demand since her role as a controlling matriarch in Crazy Rich Asians (2018). She has become one of the most influential stars of Chinese descent globally, said Sha Dan, a veteran critic and curator of the Beijing International Film Festival.

Calling the actress "a female Jackie Chan", Sha said that Yeoh is the film industry's darling for not only her jaw-dropping stunts in action blockbusters, but also her multifaceted performance in artistic works such as Memoirs of a Geisha and The Children of Huang Shi.

Everything Everywhere All at Once seems to be specifically crafted for Yeoh because the movie reflects her decades-long efforts to raise the cultural significance of Asian-themed films worldwide, Sha added.

Yeoh's historic win has caused a stir among her Chinese fans, with the news hashtag garnering over 430 million views on the popular microblogging platform Sina Weibo in just three hours.

Netizens said they were inspired by the hardworking actress' battle to rise to the top in the global film industry. Many called her a role model for demonstrating how a woman's ambitions is not limited by age.

Jonathan Shen, a veteran filmmaker and producer of the TV show World Film Report, recalled the first time he and his team interviewed Yeoh, after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won three Oscars in 2001.

"She is a charming star who enjoys a great reputation in the Chinese movie industry. Her fame is not only because of her acting skills, but also her humble and friendly personality," he said.

Shen had the opportunity to meet the actress again in 2002 when her film, The Touch, won the best co-production title at the 8th Huabiao Awards, the annual awards ceremony for Chinese cinema in Beijing.

"Yeoh said her father taught her from a young age, 'You are of Chinese descent. China is your ancestral land.' So, she felt proud to receive an award in China and be recognized by the country. Despite her Mandarin not being very good, you can see her trying to speak the language on a lot of occasions," Shen said.

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