A multiverse of appeal

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In Michelle Yeoh's words, Everything Everywhere All at Once is "a crazy movie".

"It's big, it's fun, it's exciting, and it's colorful." What she didn't mention is that it is also a very touching story, in the sense that it roots for love despite its nihilistic philosophical approach and hilarious twists.

Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert-collectively known as "the Daniels"-the multiverse-themed sci-fi film opened on March 11 at the 2022 South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, the United States. It tells the story of a mother from a Chinese immigrant family who, after jumping across infinite universes trying to defeat evil and save her family, finally finds a new perspective on life and love.

South by Southwest, or SXSW, is a long-running tech, film, comedy and music festival, and ran in the Texas state capital until Sunday with in-person events taking place for the first time since the pandemic forced the event's closure in 2020.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is yet another US-made film that features a predominantly Asian cast, following the runaway successes of Crazy Rich Asian in 2018 and the Marvel blockbuster Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings in 2021.

Michelle Yeoh, widely regarded as an Asian movie legend, and who stars in all of the aforementioned films, says that she's glad to see an increase of such films in the US.

"We all have stories that need to be told. There is a difference between diversity and representation and just paying lip service. You don't want there to be just stereotypical stories we see too many of. I hope that filmmakers give us the proper respect and show it in the proper light," Yeoh tells China Daily.

With this film, Yeoh says it's relatable to all immigrant families. "It's about the disparity, the dysfunction of the family with your daughter and child because this generation doesn't understand that generation. There are many points here."

Playing the husband of Yeoh's character in the movie, actor Ke Huy Quan says that the rising visibility of Asian Americans on the big screen is the reason why he started acting again after 20 years. Quan, probably best known as Harrison Ford's young sidekick Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in the 1980s, stepped away from acting two decades ago because so few roles were available for Asian Americans.

"It's Michelle's 2018 movie that got me to think about acting again. Never in a million years did I think I'd land this role," Quan says, adding if it was a choice between winning the lottery and getting the job, he would have chosen the latter, stating: "It's a dream come true."

Quan says that, since his return to the profession, he has noticed that there are a lot more Asian actors getting leading roles in feature films. "What's been happening in the last few years with Asian representation is really inspiring, and I am very optimistic about it going forward."

Calling this movie "an indie film with blockbuster ambition", director Kwan says he's keen to give Asians more screen time. "My parents emigrated here before I was born, so it's very easy for us to imagine how to write this."

He adds that while there are many people who can relate to that, the goal was to reflect what life was like for the cast.

However, the theme is a universal one, according to the other director, Scheinert. "The multiverse is a fun concept, but when you take it to a logical conclusion, when you take it to infinity, stories break down, the whole movie falls apart, what if we did a multiverse but the movie is distorted?"

"Can you make a movie about meaninglessness?" interjects Kwan. "Can we bring it back and make it something awesome?"

Scheinert retorts: "We have to try."

Judging by the warm reception the movie received on its opening night, the Daniels have succeeded.

One audience member told the cast that he found the movie "incredibly insane and fun" and will watch it again. Another festival attendee said, "I cried and I laughed a lot", because it "transcends generational trauma" and "draws out such a painful thing into such a beautiful story".

The Daniels credit the crew for its success, especially with two iconic Hollywood leading ladies, Jamie Lee Curtis and Michelle Yeoh, joining the team.

Calling Yeoh a goddess, Curtis says she accepted the role purely because "I got to act the opposite of Michelle Yeoh, all of my scenes are with her".

Yeoh adds that Curtis empowered her "to be fearless and to do crazy things", noting that "the two of us had a really, really good time".

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