Mathew Scott (Email: email@example.com)
NO ESCAPING actress Michelle Yeoh Choo Kheng. She
seems to be everywhere you look these days. Her steely
eyes glare at you from movie posters plastered all over
the city. Her smile greets you from the pages of daily
newspapers and beams out from television talk shows
almost every hour.
The 39-year-old Malaysian-born actress is the talk of
the town - and no wonder. After years in front of the
camera, Yeoh has branched out. In her latest film,
The Touch - which is released today - she has
added the producer's role to that of star for the first
time in her career.
It is a gamble for both the actress and her newly
formed company, Mythical Films, which co-produced the
movie with Han Entertainment. It's Yeoh's first role
since the enormous critical acclaim she gained playing
opposite Chow Yun-fat in director Ang Lee's
Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
(2000). The Touch, which features an
international cast brought together at a budget of about
$150 million, was bought for United States distribution
by Miramax Pictures as early as the script stage, so big
things are expected.
''Every time you do a movie it's important for your
career, your reputation,'' says Yeoh during a break in
the conference room of Mythical Films' North Point
office. ''A lot is riding on this, obviously, because
it's the first time I have produced a film.
''You never know whether the subject matter will
click with the audience at that particular time. I wish
there was a formula, you know, that plus that equals
success. So the only thing we can hope is that the
audience knows that with this person or that company
involved you are assured of quality, there is passion
there and there is something original there.''
The rush to get The Touch ready for today's
general release is evident all around the Mythical Films
office. Boxes lie scattered around, workmen come and go
in a seemingly constant stream and the conference-room
table is littered with half-filled coffee cups, film
posters and chairs arranged every which way.
Yeoh, though, doesn't seem affected by all the chaos
around her. It is a calmness she has brought to roles
throughout a career that has taken her from Hong Kong to
Hollywood. It is also something she hopes to bring to
the role of circus acrobat Yin in The Touch.
The film follows Yin as she is drawn towards a
mysterious medallion by an ex-boyfriend (Ben Chaplin
from The Thin Red Line). The medallion, in turn,
leads her to Tibet, where it can allow access to a holy
relic - and only Yin and her brother (Brandon Chang
Tsoek-nam) have the necessary skills to get to it. The
film also stars Australian Richard Roxburgh (Moulin
Rouge and Mission Impossible 2).
The story was conceived by Yeoh and her partner,
Thomas Chung Choi-sze. Yeoh says that after Crouching
Tiger, she was keen to find a role that would free
her emotions up but allow her to retain her natural
strength. ''I didn't want to play a cop and I didn't
want to play a character that was as serious as the one
I played in Crouching Tiger. I thought that I'd
had enough of that for a while. So this one I wanted to
be a bit more fun loving.''
Wanting a more international flavour to the film,
Yeoh and Chung originally tested the waters with
American scriptwriters but found they didn't grab the
''essence of the Chinese culture''. So it was back to
Hong Kong and to the French scriptwriting pair of Julien
Carbon and Laurent Courtiaud (co-writers of 1999's
Running Out Of Time).
''We have invested more in this film but the risk is
less because we are appealing to a larger audience,''
says Yeoh. ''Even before we started production of the
movie we had US distribution rights, so in that way we
started with more confidence.
''That all came just from the scripts and then the
rest of it was my reputation, Thomas' reputation,
[director] Peter's [Pau Tak-hei] reputation - that we
would deliver something better than the script. So that
was a great vote of confidence for us.''
The film is also a move of sorts for Pau, winner of
the Oscar for his outstanding work behind the camera on
Crouching Tiger. Pau had not directed in 10 years
before he took on The Touch, but Yeoh says she
knew exactly what she wanted.
''Thomas also had experience working with Peter and
we were thinking about starting Mythical Films. This was
before the Oscars, the awards and all that stuff,'' Yeoh
explains. ''Peter is very clear when it comes to what he
does. He won't just do things because it's a job; he's
very passionate about his work.
''We knew it was going to involve action so the
easiest thing would have been to hire an action
director. But then you know just how the picture is
going to be - it will be an 'action' movie. But with
someone like Peter, you are able to get something that
has the feel of an epic.''
There are plenty more projects in store for Mythical
Films - the company has four scripts in the pipeline -
but Yeoh is adamant she won't take the final step and
head behind the camera. ''No, never,'' she says. ''It's
not something I've ever had any interest in doing. I
think I'm very honest with myself; I know what I like to
do and what I don't want to do.
''As an actress you know there are limitations on
what you can do creatively. So I thought how would I be
able to expand on this and for me the natural course was
to become a producer, where you have more access to
things. The beauty about being a producer is you sit
there and you explore ideas which become a passion which
slowly becomes a reality.''
The Touch opens today.