Michelle Yeoh, Martial Arts and the Multiverse: Inside the Wildest Movie of the Year | Movie

There’s a line Michelle Yeoh delivers in Everything Everywhere All at Once, which certainly resonates with everyone at this time: “Very busy today – no time to help you.”

The internet has shattered us. Flooded with information (and misinformation) we are overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted. Notifications ring all the time, the scroll never ends. We do not seek comfort in others, but in our devices – portals to our selected bubbles of content and community.

“There’s something about modern life that feels resonant with a multiverse story,” says Daniel Scheinart, half of the director duo known as Daniels. “Everyone is in their own little universes. We all log on to social media and discover these subcultures that are sometimes really beautiful and fascinating, sometimes nightmarish and conspiracy-filled. It is a very confusing experience. ”

That confusion is the basis of Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All at Once, which already inspires a madness of shortness of breath praise: It was hailed as the first major film of the year and almost instantly became Letterbox’s highest-rated film ever from its limited release (not to mention ticket numbers and sold-out theater engagements rarely seen since before Covid).

The hurried laundry owner Evelyn (Yeoh, in a career-defining role) is at the bottom, with her relationship with her husband (Ke Huy Quan, in a brilliant return to the film) and daughter (Stephanie Hsu) frayed almost insurmountably, as a dreaded encounter with a ruthless IRS agent (Jamie Lee Curtis) reveals the existence of an endangered multiverse that only Evelyn might be able to save. Such a summary does not do much for a manic, insane film packed with pop culture references, crooked body humor and heartbreaking kung fu choreography that also manages to be truly moving, inspiring a heartbreaking optimism that reaffirms the primacy of kindness and human connection in the light of an all-bagel black hole of nihilism. All to say, as many have, delivers the title.

After their 2016 flatulence- and erection-driven Swiss army man, Scheinert and Daniel Kwan set their sights on making their version of The Matrix. In both of their traits, human bodies manage to transcend their realistic mortal forms and become vessels to something much larger than what they can do in real life. It stems from the directors’ shared love of dance and physical comedy, which became a valuable vocabulary between the couple, who started as music video directors, telling stories without dialogue.

Via Zoom, Kwan keeps a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1973 Breakfast of Champions novel, which explores the premise of true free will: “When we started directing, I really hated the job. I felt like I was just controlling these people and forcing them to recreate something in my head. ” Like the Swiss Army Man, where a corpse turns out to be a Swiss Army knife of tools for the protagonist, Daniels ‘video for Foster the People’s Houdini embodies a similar anxiety, where record company mates manipulate band members’ corpses in front of a jubilant crowd. But Kwan notices that they have begun to move away from this guilt over emerging towards something more optimistic. “Instead of vessels without autonomy to be controlled, what a beautiful gift to have all the opportunity, to be a vessel to accommodate anything.”

Including hot dog fingers that Evelyn is horrified to find herself saddled with in one universe. “We wanted to play an empathy game with our audience and come up with a universe that Evelyn really would not be in – one that is visually gross, where she’s in love with her least favorite person – and then see if we can make it the audience and our protagonist see the beauty in it, ”Scheinert explains, laughing that this is how they talked Curtis and Yeoh into the scenes where the actors expressed skepticism.

Scheinert and Kwan, the director duo known as Daniels. Photo: Jack Plunkett / Invision / AP

Much of the film is told through the eyes of first-generation immigrants trying to understand this country, navigate bureaucracy, make taxes, try to socialize, and do business with other Americans. Kwan originally did not intend to show such a prominent Chinese-American immigrant family, but it followed naturally given the genre: among their favorite films were those of Jackie Chan, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and, of course, The Matrix, which placed Hong Kong action choreography front and center. When they saw a martial art through line, they realized they could cast Asians as protagonists. “How exciting would that be?” Kwan remembers to think. From there, they began to write what he knew. His father’s family emigrated from Hong Kong and opened laundries in New York; he remembers his grandparents’ apartment just above their laundry.

Everything Everywhere draws heavily on the heyday of Hong Kong cinema, which both Daniels are so fond of. After the first draft, Scheinert saw how much Stephen Chow’s junk brand of slapstick had influenced their writing. “He was one of the first Asian filmmakers I fell in love with and who really combined tones in a shocking way,” he says, recalling the impact of Shaolin Soccer from 2001. “Those films are so outrageous and brutal right after being hysterically funny like Looney Tunes. “

Not to mention Jackie Chan and his trademark, playful combat sequences involving the use of everyday objects as weapons. “Who did not love Jackie Chan in the ’90s?” Kwan notes, while Scheinert points out, “Everyone fell in love with him, and then Hollywood did not learn its lesson on how to make action clear and precise and funny and funny. It’s so wild that his work did so much here and was so rewarding, and yet that style of action just disappeared. “

When Daniels began writing Everything Everywhere, a story centered on an Asian-American family was far from a recipe for Hollywood success. Yeoh first met with them two weeks before the release of Crazy Rich Asians; no one was sure how it would be received. Kwan recalls that Yeoh then remarked, “You take a lot of risks with this movie. It’s very brave to center this big action movie around a Chinese family.”

Michelle Yeoh and Jing Li in Everything Everywhere All At Once
Michelle Yeoh and Jing Li. Photo: Allyson Riggs / AP

Five years ago, an Asian American in the industry reading their manuscript provided a colorful, Pokémon evolution-inspired metaphor that has remained with Kwan. “They said that Bulbasaurs of Asian-American films are like Joy Luck Club or The Wedding Banquet – important stories that no one told at the time about a very specific cultural narrative. Because of the previous films, we are now able to see things like Crazy Rich Asians and Shang-Chi, where Asian Americans star in our own genre films – they’s Ivysaurs of Asian American cinema. And our film is a Venusaur. “

Everything everywhere could only exist because of these predecessors, he maintains: “This film shows that Asian American film can be anything it wants to be.” And it happens to coincide with the recent releases of Kogonada’s After Yang and Domee Shis Turning Red. All three “repeat pretty much the same feeling,” Kwan says, “which is that we want to tell any story we want to tell.” In the end, Kwan has high hopes for the growing inclusiveness of American film: “I am very excited about the next five to 10 years. Hopefully, every marginalized society gets this opportunity to advertise themselves and say, ‘Look, I know the narrative is usually this, but there’s so much more in us.’

So far, Everything Everywhere has received such a resounding response that one suspects that there is something more at stake than just what is on screen. “The whole idea for the film came from watching everything get polarized and pushed in different directions,” Kwan says. “Everyone feels this stretch. And this film was an attempt to hold worlds together and imagine a place where everything actually belongs and exists for a reason – where things are not this chaotic, scary mess, but instead a beautiful mass. full of opportunities. I think people need to hear that right now. “

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