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  • Ella Wu

Films – Everything, Everywhere All at Once

Warning: possible spoilers ahead! Available in cinemas on March 25th


On behalf of The Universal Asian, I had the privilege of attending an early screening of A24’s latest offering: "Everything, Everywhere All at Once," written and directed by the dynamic duo known as Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert). Starring Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong, Stephanie Hsu, and Jamie Lee Curtis, this frenetic film is nothing short of brilliant insanity. Previously known for "Swiss Army Man," Daniels have crafted a film that truly manages to be everything, everywhere all at once. It encompasses every genre, every tone imaginable all while offering a kaleidoscopic commentary on family, intergenerational trauma, and existential ennui.


Michelle Yeoh is inimitable as Evelyn Wang, an exhaustedly numb Chinese immigrant everywoman, as she tries to juggle a tax audit, her emotional distance from her daughter (Joy [Stephanie Hsu]), her father’s perpetual disapproval of her life choices, and a mission to save the multiverse—unceremoniously dropped into her lap by an alternate version of her mild-mannered husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). As she pinballs between versions of herself, she slowly pieces together a realization that family, simultaneously enduring and dysfunctional, is the answer to everything and nothing at all.


“She is just absolutely incredible in this role,” says Ke Huy Quan. “Michelle Yeoh, the person, the actress, is very glamorous and beautiful, and for her to so willingly shed all of that and get into this humble, middle-aged woman who is struggling to keep a family together and to finish her taxes at the same time, to see her deliver that performance is amazing to watch, and I’m just in total awe of her talent.”


“[This movie] shows the depth of her talent,” James Hong, esteemed veteran actor, adds. He plays Evelyn’s austere father with surgical precision, able to cut into Evelyn’s most vulnerable parts with a single word, in a way only family is capable of. “She’s not just a kung fu artist, as they cast her in a lot of other movies. She is truly a brilliant actress. I think people will see the different dimensions of her.”

Photo: Courtesy of A24

In my conversation with Ke Huy Quan, it is surprising to learn that this is his first major role in decades. The resurgent actor delivers his performance with a sweet sincerity, completely natural and believable.


“I don’t think I could have done this character had it been given to me 10-15 years ago,” Ke admits. “I was really nervous when the role was offered to me because I hadn’t done it for so long. So, I hired myself an acting coach, a dialogue coach, [and] a voice coach so the [versions] of Waymond could sound slightly different, and most importantly—and more interestingly too—a body movement coach. I wanted the audience to be able to tell which Waymond you’re looking at just by the way he stands and the way he walks and the way he moves.”


His hard work most assuredly paid off, giving us three solid facets of Waymond Wang. In a glittering world of entertainment industry success for Evelyn—which takes inspiration from Michelle Yeoh’s own phenomenal career—and corporate success for Waymond, Ke Huy Quan channels the slick vulnerability of a heartbroken ex-lover against a backdrop awash with a sumptuously saturated color palette straight out of Wong Kar-wai’s "In the Mood for Love." In another universe, Alpha-Waymond is a fighting force to be reckoned with in a jaw-dropping fanny pack sequence. But, my favorite version of Waymond is the one in “our” universe, an unfailingly kind, empathetic, nurturing soul with an endearingly meek physicality. He is the backbone of the film, a steady reminder that sometimes strength is not found in battle, but in surrender. It is Waymond who breaks the cycle of trauma in his family with a desperate plea for peace.

Photo: Courtesy of A24

“I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to go there emotionally when we did that scene,” Ke Huy Quan reflects. “It was in front of so many people. [But] once I stepped in front of the camera and I started speaking—the first word out of my mouth—it began to hit me. What this character means and what it represents. I’m glad I was able to go there, to give the performance the Daniels wanted. I’ll let the audience decide, and hopefully I don’t disappoint them.”


“I wanted it more than anything on the planet when this was presented to me,” he continues, recalling the audition process. “And I’m so grateful to [Daniels] for offering me the opportunity to play this kind human being that believes in empathy and love and respect for each other. And to do this with Michelle and James Hong and Stephanie, and of course the great Jamie Lee Curtis, was just a dream come true.”


“The two Daniel guys, they’re crazy,” James Hong says with a chuckle. “In [writing] this movie and directing it. Of course, the producers did a very good job and A24 took a chance in distributing it. I hope it’s a success. I sit here and I wonder, will the people like it? Will they understand what this movie is about?”


Amidst the chaos that is "Everything, Everywhere," it’s difficult to hold onto the idea of a single narrative, theme, or message. To me, that is exactly the point. This film is a massively ambitious attempt at a theory of everything, and not in the sense of theoretical or quantum physics. The film swings wildly between existentialism and nihilism. It proposes a meaningless universe in conjunction with a directive to find meaning as a mode of survival. In other words, the world is what you make of it, nothing or everything.


Perforated throughout the film is a recurring discussion of the complexity of family and the movement of trauma down and alongside the generations. “There’s a great valley of difference between the two generations,” James Hong acknowledges. The Minneapolis-born actor is a son of immigrants himself. “The old generation from a foreign land, between that group and the one that is born here into rock and roll and jazz and all that modern stuff.”


It is this valley that’s slowly and steadily crossed in "Everything, Everywhere." There is a tangible divide between Evelyn and her father, which leads to a jagged edge between Evelyn and her daughter. The friction between the three characters sends sparks flying in a particularly tense scene when Evelyn balks at her father’s seemingly cruel order to kill her daughter to keep them all safe. And, in the background of the multiversal madness, Evelyn struggles to balance her support of her daughter’s sexuality and her fear of her father’s reaction to it. There is something precious in the imperfection of Evelyn’s character, a monument to the somewhat hypocritical nuance of humanity.

 

Cover photo: Courtesy of A24

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