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Michelle Yeoh brings kicks and poise to "Mummy"

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Not many actresses have given strong, emotional performances and kicked major butt in the same film, but fortunately for fans of the “Mummy” movies, Michelle Yeoh is one.

Cast member Michelle Yeoh attends the premiere of the film "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" in Los Angeles July 27, 2008. REUTERS/Phil McCarten

Yeoh, 45, stars in “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” which opened in theaters on Friday, the third in a series of box office hits about adventurer Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) who seems to always run afoul of power-hungry mummies.

In this newest version, Yeoh portrays a Chinese sorceress, Zi Yuan, who puts a curse on an ancient emperor only to see him rise from the dead after 2,000 years to seek vengeance.

Zi is one of a group of people, including O’Connell, who must put the emperor back in his grave, and she uses not only her fists, but her wits and poise, as well.

“It’s a small, but important role,” Yeoh told Reuters. “She was so much about being one with the world and Mother Nature, and there was a certain amount of understanding in her that you could see behind her eyes.”

In the world of martial arts movies, there are few actresses who let fists fly as well as Yeoh, and even fewer who have earned respect in Hollywood as a top actress.

Yeoh rose to prominence in Hong Kong action flicks, and she gained wide recognition from U.S. audiences as a Bond girl in 1997’s 007 spy flick, “Tomorrow Never Dies.”

She then displayed both her acting and her fighting skills in Ang Lee’s Oscar winner “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” In recent years, she has taken straight acting roles in dramas “Memoirs of a Geisha” and science fiction flick “Sunshine.”

“I don’t plan to go out and do action or not do action,” she said. “(My choices) are about the right director or the right character.”

Yeoh said that as she grows older, she understands her body will not be able to do what it once did with kick boxing and stunts. She also no longer thinks about specific training regimens for any particular role, as much as she makes exercise and stretching part of her daily routine.

“When you’re a teenager you could do a lot more crazy things and your body recovers faster,” she said. “But the sense of endurance and protecting your body is not there. So, you just learn to deal with it.”

Yeoh has also taken on more challenging roles and plumbed ever deeper parts. In “Memoirs,” she played an older geisha who mentors a younger woman in a role that required a great sense of understanding of human nature.

Her ability to move beyond roles as an action heroine seems to have paid off because while this third “Mummy” movie has failed to win over many critics -- it scores a poor 11 percent positive on film review Web site -- Yeoh’s performance has been seen as one of its few bright spots.

“Best of all is Michelle Yeoh, who radiates integrity in every role she takes on and who holds our attention as a powerful sorceress,” wrote Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan.

Editing by Jill Serjeant and Todd Eastham