Michelle Yeoh on Sunday became the first Asian woman to win best actress at the Academy Awards – but an Australian broadcaster has since unearthed archival footage of the actor at a beauty pageant at a Melbourne community festival in 1984.
Yeoh, who was born in Malaysia, was studying at London’s Royal Academy of Dance in the early 1980s when a spinal injury forced her to return home.
Yeoh told UK talkshow host Graham Norton this year that, upon her return, her mother entered her in the Miss World Malaysia beauty pageant and she reluctantly competed to “shut her up”.
After winning the pageant, she competed in the Miss World pageant in London (where she reportedly placed 18th) and then took part in the Moomba festival’s international beauty competition in Melbourne, Australia, in March 1984. She was crowned Miss Moomba International, where a float carrying contestants was pulled by a large red tractor.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation uncovered footage from her win.
According to reports, the Moomba win may have placed Yeoh in the eyeline of action movie star Jackie Chan, whose parents lived in Australia from the 1960s.
Though there is no direct evidence to support this theory, Yeoh’s first on-screen appearance was in Australia alongside Chan – in a Guy Laroche luxury watch commercial.
“My first working job was a commercial, and of all things, with Jackie Chan,” Yeoh told an interviewer last year.
In the ad, Yeoh rides past Chan on a scooter. She catches his eye, causing him to fall off his bicycle.
A startup production company in Hong Kong saw the ad and cast Yeoh in her first film roles – first as a damsel-in-distress, and then as an action hero, drawing upon Yeoh’s ballet skills.
“Because of the years of training as a ballerina, as a dancer, I was able to learn movements in a very short period of time,” Yeoh said.
Yeoh and Chan’s on-screen partnership would go on to span 15 films and the pair remain good friends.