3 Subtle But Amazing Ways Michelle Yeoh Transformed Crazy Rich Asians

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1. The Character

(Photo: Facebook / Michelle Yeoh)

This probably comes as no surprise to readers of the book, but the character of Eleanor Young is markedly different in the movie.

As someone who appreciates a well-written antagonist, I adored the multi-faceted Eleanor in the movie: imperious and regal at one minute, terrifying at another (that staircase scene!) and even vulnerable and sympathetic when she has to deal with barbs from her own mother-in-law. All of this is thanks to Michelle Yeoh, who played Eleanor brilliantly and also campaigned hard for her to be portrayed differently than she is in the book.

In the past, Michelle has had no fear of turning down roles if they perpetuated stereotypes, and she did the same in Crazy Rich Asians, telling director Jon M. Chu that she would only accept the role of Eleanor if she was allowed to play the character as she wanted.

Jon M. Chu and Michelle Yeoh on set. Photo: (Instagram / @jonmchu)

“She said, ‘I read the book, and if you want me to be a villain, I’m not going to do the film,” Jon told GQ. “I have to defend our cultural ideas and thoughts to the best of my ability, and I wouldn’t be able to go home if I just played a villain tiger mom.’”

The result is a character that isn’t a campy, one-dimensional villain who is evil just for the sake of being so, but a mother whose sometimes questionable actions come selflessly from love, insecurities, and motivations that almost any Asian family would understand. And I can’t tell you how much I respect her for that.

“I would have felt it’s such a lost opportunity not to really show what family is to the Asians, what it means to us,” Michelle told Harper’s Bazaar, in a marvelous dissection of her character. In a different interview with the L.A. Times, Michelle stressed why proper representation matters to minorities.

“We want to be included, not just as a token, but really with flesh and blood, with heart, with passion and with the storytelling that deserves to be told,” she said.

You go, Michelle.

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