[Review] Everything Everywhere All At Once And Asian Identity

I won’t be spoiling anything in this review. I love the movie too much to spoil anything major about it.

I haven’t been to theaters in a long while. So, when COVID-19 restrictions eased and theaters re-opened, I went back to watch a movie of an emotionally torn protagonist jumping through universes to find purpose and meaning in the chaos of an ever-shifting reality. That movie was Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness and it was okay. However, I found myself slightly underwhelmed as I exited the theater.

Afterward, I saw a trailer for Everything Everywhere All At Once. I thought to myself, “Holy shit, it’s “Into The Yeohverse”, and I was so intrigued by the concept. Multiverses and all that wacky timeline stuff are suddenly a big thing. The MCU, the upcoming Flash movie, and even isekai anime is doing multiversal crossovers in recent years.

also just okay.

I went to look for movie tickets, and lo and behold, the Philippines was not airing the movie anymore, apparently. Thankfully, the movie had a recent reshowing, and I finally had the opportunity to watch it. After watching it, I immediately felt cheated that I didn’t see this gorgeous movie immediately. It is a brilliantly messy and heartfelt cinematic experience, and I can’t quite put into words how much I love the ambition and creativity that went into making the movie.

The Actors

So, this is like, easily Michelle Yeoh’s best movie I’ve seen her in, and that is insane. Seriously, Michelle Yeoh has been in some absolute bangers throughout the years. She’s practically a real-life Chun-Li, a true femme fatale martial artist. She’s pushing 60 in this movie, and not only does she look stunning, but she’s also kicking ass with people half her age.

But outside of the amazing action scenes, Michelle Yeoh perfectly plays the role of a very stressed-out Asian immigrant mother in the twilight of her years, overwhelmed with the stress of daily life and so realistically flawed because of it. I really love how she sways from sympathetic to mean to badass at the drop of a hat. This movie would not have worked as well as it did for me if it hadn’t been Michelle Yeoh at the forefront of the experience.

Of course, without a strong supporting cast, the movie would not have been effective either. Ke Huy Quan acts as the perfect mild-mannered, kind yet surprisingly strong-willed husband to Michelle Yeoh’s character. Stephanie Hsu perfectly portrays an Asian-American daughter who has “gone native” in America and the fiery dynamic that entails with her mom.

Jamie Lee Curtis and James Hong provide a lot of comic relief throughout the movie, and at the same time, pull out an emotional response from you out of nowhere. Everybody had a fantastic dynamic, and it really helped solidify an intentionally fractured narrative.

The Aesthetic

Everything Everywhere All at Once, despite how ambitiously high concept the premise is, has a shockingly moderate budget of $25 million. However, the movie made great use of that budget exactly where it was needed. The directors are a pair known as the Daniels (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), who is most famous for directing Swiss Army Man and the Turn Down For What music video. Most shockingly, the VFX team for this movie was done by only 9 people, which is insane for a movie with this heady concept.

The fun part about the universes we see in the movie is that they all work towards a singular narrative. That being, the world that the “main” Michelle Yeoh lives in. Her world is constantly moving, without a second’s break to even relax. Even in times of “quiet”, the rooms are filled with disheveled furniture, random paperwork, and frame Michelle Yeoh front and center, completely overwhelmed by the stress of it all. At the same time though, everything looks so bright and striking in an intentionally pleasing way and just goes to show that life is really how you perceive it.

When the multiversal plot kicks in, the visuals are often fractured, vivid and surreal. At the same time though, there is still the anchor of the reality that the movie had made its audiences comfortable in. The movie made good use of many practical effects wherever possible, and it really helped sell each universe as its own continuity.

The most consistent visual language used in the movie, however, is what we’ll be discussing in the next section.

Asian Identity

The action scenes in this movie act as the glue that holds the drama and multiversal shenanigans together into a tight package by the climax. The movie is very meta in a subtle way, especially about Asian identity and how it defines us. As an Asian myself, it was really refreshing to see an honest portrayal of Asian culture, both its strengths and flaws.

One of the obvious strengths is absolutely sick fight scenes. The movie was choreographed primarily by two self-taught martial artists known as the Le Brothers. Michelle Yeoh, herself a martial artist, was impressed by the brothers and their commitment to the project.

Using martial arts as the movie’s connective tissue makes it a meta-movie as well. Many of the universes make references to Michelle Yeoh’s expansive body of work, most of which were iconic martial arts movies. It is telling how in many of the universes where she is “successful”, it is in professions that are traditionally associated with Asian culture.

It is a double-edged sword in the movie. Without spoiling too much, the focus on Asian culture as a pillar of strength is told without words to the audience. However, it is also a subtle indictment of how Asian immigrants are forced to conform to the expectations of a society that has imposed its own biases on them.

It does not make out using Asian culture as a crutch, but it does show how difficult the transition is into a completely foreign culture. There’s a lot I can’t get into for spoiler reasons, but I personally believe this movie is one of the best representations of the Asian-American experience by a western team ever, and I don’t say that lightly.

Conclusion

Everything Everywhere All at Once is one of the best movies I have seen in the past decade. It may have a few minor plot threads here and there that go unresolved, perhaps the pacing can get too chaotic at times, but all that mess is part of the experience. When taken in as a whole, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a beautifully resonant movie about the Asian-American experience told through wacky multiversal shenanigans and sick as fuck action scenes. I’m gonna go rewatch it now.

-Lumi

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