In celebration of our 52nd year of independence, we're taking the time to recognize the Malaysians who have carried our name far and wide. From a woman who took on James Bond to a man who flew out of this world. This Merdeka Day MSN Entertainment salutes our favourite, world famous Malaysians.
DATO’ MICHELLE YEOH
Dato’ Michelle Yeoh is arguably Malaysia’s biggest and most successful movie export. She first gained stardom appearing alongside international action star Jackie Chan, in the highly-acclaimed 1992 film The Police Story 3. In fact, the tough-as-nut Dato’ Michelle is only one of a handful of female stars whom Jackie lets do her own stunts.
Since that stint, she has appeared in several big-budget Hong Kong and Hollywood films, notably Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Mummy 3, Memoirs of a Geisha and Babylon A.D., just to name a few. Another notable highlight of Dato’ Michelle’s movie career was playing a Bond girl alongside Pierce Brosnan, in Tomorrow Never Dies.
From the provocative to the poignant, her roles have broken many barriers for Asian actresses in Hong Kong and Hollywood. A great lady of the screen who has made it easier for Malaysian-born talent to dream.
DATO’ JIMMY CHOO OBE
Shyne and Ashanti recorded his theme song and he has been mentioned countless times on shows like The Sopranos and Gossip Girl. When your name has become a rap staple with everyone from Lil’ Kim to Jay-Z giving you a mention, that’s when you know you’ve made it big. Dato’ Jimmy Choo has become such a towering figure in the world of luxury footwear that the mere mention of ‘Choos’ incites gleeful looks from women the world over.
Born in Penang the son of a shoemaker, Choo crafted his first pair when he was only 11 years old. He graduated from the London College of Fashion in 1983 and opened his own shoe shop in Hackney three years later. He quickly became known for his fabulous designs.
By the time British Vogue came knocking at his door in 1988, Choo had already honed his craft. The fashion mag gave the designer an 8 page spread, prominently featuring Choo's collection. Everyone suddenly wanted a pair of Jimmy Choos: fashionistas, celebrities and even royalty. The Queen of Denmark is a loyal client of his and so was the late Princess Diana.
Although Choo sold his 50% stake in the eponymous brand by 2001, it had already made a mint and turned him into a household name by that time. He is still probably the most talked about Malaysian out there and we're huge fans of Uncle Jimmy and his ‘Choos’
Malaysia’s premier diva has been steadily conquering the international market over the past 20 years and continues to do so. She was one of the first Malaysian recording artists to break the Indonesian market and she even won the Indonesian BASF award for Best Female Artist in 1986, which was never before won by a non-Indonesian. Majid also has a wide following in Japan and remains the first and only Malaysian artist to successfully infiltrate the Japanese market.
Dubbed Malaysia's Queen of Jazz, Majid has collaborated with some of the world’s best musicians, including American bassist Nathan East and Japanese violinist Aska Kaneko. In 1996, Majid performed a sold out show at the Royalty Theatre in London’s West End. She later returned to London that same year to perform at the jazz Mecca of music, Ronnie Scott’s. In recent years, Sheila Majid has continued to be one of the most notable Malaysian names in music.
While we think Sheila leans more to pop than jazz, there's no denying the beauty in her phrasing and the way her instrument moves with ease around a melody. She is, indeed, a national treasure.
You might not know this face or the name to which it belongs, but Ling Tan has made a big splash in the international modelling world. She has one of the most sought after Asian faces in fashion
Ling was discovered first in a small fashion show, and a Tiger Beer commercial gave her some success in Malaysia. After just a year of modelling on home ground, she went to New York where she was snapped up by one of the most influential modelling agencies in the world, IMG.
Since then Ling has worked with the world’s top designers including Karl Lagerfeld, Jean Paul Gaultier, Valentino and Donna Karan. She has been photographed by giants like Mario Testino (for a Gucci campaign), Patrick Demarchlier and Richard Avedon.
Ling has also appeared in every major fashion magazine you can think of, from Vogue to Elle. She even popped up in an episode of “Sex and the City” as herself and was featured in a George Michael music video for the track “Fast Love”.
Tyra may ask her girls if they, "Wanna be on top?" But none of even Banks' recruits have achieved the level of success Ling has in high-fashion. Meet the world's new top model!
Malaysia’s most well-loved supermodel, Amber Chia, began her modelling career at the age of 17. The modest-but-gorgeous Amber gained international stardom after she won the 2004 Guess Watches Timeless Beauty Contest – a global model search for a Guess Watch brand ambassador. Amber made Malaysia proud by becoming the first Asian model to win a top global, professional modelling contest.
The win kick-started Amber’s blossoming career. She was named Model of the Year by the Malaysian International Fashion Awards in 2004 and 2005. She became the ambassador for brands like Sony and L’Oreal, starred in several local and regional movies and she also created Malaysia's first modelling reality show "I Wanna Be A Model". Do we see a Malaysian Tyra Banks in the making?
Nicholas Teo is making us proud 2,000 miles away from home. Teo was only 21 when he won the Astro Talent Quest in 2002. He got his recording career off the ground with First Album in 2004. Thanks to his vocal skills and boyish charm, the album sold more than 30,000 copies in Taiwan alone within a month of its release – a feat that could rival some of Taiwan’s biggest pop stars.
Due to his rising popularity, Nicholas was roped in to star in the highly-rated Taiwanese drama “Smiling Pasta” – a move that put him on the map internationally. He has become Malaysia’s biggest export in the Chinese entertainment market, going further than any local pop star has in the past. And to think it all started on Wah Lai Toi.
DATO’ SITI NURHALIZA
If someone were to ask who Malaysia’s biggest pop singer is, only one name would come to mind: Dato’ Siti Nurhaliza. Dato’ Siti started out as a talented youngster who caught the attention of the public when she won the 1995 RTM Juara Bintang competition at the tender age of 16.
She got her first international accolade when she won the ‘Gold Award’ in the 1999 Shanghai Music Festival. That same year she won the South Pacific International Song and Singing Competition. In 2004, the much-loved songstress made history when she became the first non-Chinese entertainer invited to perform at the 15th Golden Melody Awards in Taiwan, singing a duet with Wang Lee-hom.
Aside from being a Malaysian artist with one of the biggest followings in Indonesia, in 2005, Dato’ Siti held a successful solo concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, with the British media dubbing her ‘Asia’s Celine Dion’.
Malaysia continues their love affair with the pop diva as she plans to release another album, later this year. We look forward to more from Dato' Siti Nurhaliza.
DATUK DR. SHEIKH MUSZAPHAR SHUKOR
This Malaysian didn’t just make it on the international front. His achievements took him out of this world. Literally! He is the first Malaysian man to make it into space. Not only that, he was the first Muslim to have observed Ramadhan in space as well as celebrate Eid out of the earth’s atmosphere.
On October 10th, 2007, Datuk Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar, an orthopaedic surgeon by profession, blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for a voyage to the International Space Station with two other astronauts from Russia and the USA. He spent nine days in the space station where he conducted a series of scientific experiments. While he was in space, Datuk Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar celebrated Hari Raya in true blue Malaysian fashion, by sharing satay and Raya cookies with his fellow astronauts.
As far as famous Malaysians go, it'll be hard to top that. Datuk, you did us proud!