Michelle Yeoh Choo-Kheng: A Miss and Bond Girl on a Quest for World Peace

Saving the world from the scourge of war: Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh Choo-Kheng, of Tomorrow Never Dies fame, aims high.

Earlier this year, the former Miss Malaysia put her obligatory desire for world peace to work as she attended the United Nations High-Level Meeting on Peace Building and Sustaining in New York, where she told participants of her experiences as a roving UNDP goodwill ambassador. She has met people displaced by war and civil strife, and warning those present in New York that, unless something changes, by 2030 more than half of the world’s poor will be living in countries plagued by conflict.

Choo-Kheng emphasised that the reactive approach to war – dousing the flames after societies are set alight – no longer suffices. “In the future, our efforts should be directed at preventing the outbreak of war,” she says. “This will save lives and billions of dollars in damage.” The actress was pleased to note that the UN has already begun to shift its attention from peacekeeping to war-prevention, and welcomed its renewed interest in the role of women in conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

For her work on and off screen, Choo-Kheng has been showered with awards and honours. At home, the actress hasn’t been that fortunate. The former Bond girl was reminded in the media of the praise she bestowed on now-disgraced Prime Minister Najib Razak. She has since distanced herself from the toxic political scene and commended the authors of the book Billion Dollar Whale for their thorough investigation of Jho Low, the unassuming and mild-mannered man whose financial manipulations brought down Razak in what FBI agents called one of the biggest heists in history.

How is a girl to know? Indeed, Choo-Kheng has displayed a commendable dedication to her work as UNDP goodwill ambassador, promoting preventative diplomacy as a way to avoid conflict and get the world talking, not just about conflict but also the set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that aim to eradicate poverty by 2030. The actress points out that dialogue is not just confined to the big screen and must, indeed, be used as a tool to mitigate conflict and eliminate misunderstanding across cultures. “We all talk, but seldom listen,” she says, suggesting that an exchange between different cultures is an excellent starting point for increased co-operation on a global scale.

Of late, Choo-Kheng has been on a public quest to find an outfit that is fully sustainable, as in fashion that causes no harm to the planet. Partnering with Italian designer Tiziano Guardini, she made a short documentary film – Made In Forests – about her successful attempt to create durable and elegant garments from certifiably sustainable wood fibres. Choo-Kheng noted that people don’t usually think twice about the provenance of their clothes: “If it looks good and is not too expensive, we buy it without giving a second thought to the environmental impact.”

Olga Algayerova, Executive Secretary of the UN’s Economic Commission for Europe, warned in New York that fashion’s ecological footprint now borders an environmental emergency. According to Algayerova, the industry needs to shift gears and take inspiration from natural, renewable resources. The current prevalence of cotton and polyester is no longer sustainable: the former needs large amounts of pesticides, insecticides, and water; the latter is made from fossil fuels and releases plastic microfibres that taint the global food chain.
With Made In Forests, Choo-Kheng has embraced a new cause she is particularly well suited to. Starring in the hit romcom Crazy Rich Asians, Choo-Kheng knows all too well what money can and cannot buy. Having been married for four years to billionaire Hong Kong business tycoon Dickson Poon also helped her to chart the flow and impact of excessive wealth.

However crazy rich Choo-Kheng may have become, she has never lost touch with her audience – or, indeed, her social conscience. Playing the overly discerning Eleanor in Crazy Rich Asians, Choo-Kheng reminds viewers – in between the excessive bling – that even the über-rich prioritise family life and love over material wealth. That sentiment is no different from the one found across all society’s strata – a message to remember as she battles for world peace.

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