This article contains mild Everything Everywhere All at Once spoilers.
Michelle Yeoh has reigned as the undisputed queen of Kung Fu movies since the ‘90s and that’s no easy task. She’s worked under the greatest and most demanding fight choreographers in the industry, including Jackie Chan, Yuen Woo-Ping, Sammo Hung, and many others. After delivering dozens of high-octane fight scenes and stunts, she cemented her reputation as an action star of the highest caliber. And now, on the cusp of turning 60, Yeoh proves once again that she’s in no danger of being dethroned. In her latest tour de force, Everything Everywhere All at Once, Yeoh brings all her skills in drama, comedy, and of course action to the silver screen in a film like no other.
“It seems I’ve spent the last 37 years of my career working towards this film,” Yeoh said at the San Francisco premiere of the film.
And what a built it has been, because when it comes to the fight scenes in Everything Everywhere All at Once, over the top hardly describes it. From Waymond Wang’s (Ke Huy Quan) initial Bruceploitation fanny pack fight to Jenny Slate’s Pomeranian rope dart fight, to the penetrating “trophy” fight, Everything Everywhere All at Once takes us into outrageous multiverse melees, and the martial masters behind the magic are a team of brothers that have burst into the movies in the most unlikely way. Andy and Brian Le are self-taught martial artists who caught Hollywood’s attention as YouTube stars. Now when it comes to action, they are the ones to watch.
The Le Brothers and the Martial Club
When the Le family immigrated from Vietnam to Orange County, the brothers Le wanted to train in martial arts but their parents could not afford it. So they watched Kung Fu movies and copied what they saw. In 2011, they launched a YouTube channel with their mutual friend and fellow martial enthusiast, Daniel Ma. Their channel, the Martial Club, went viral and has accrued over 100 million views to date, eventually propelling the Le brothers into the movie stunt industry.
A few years later after that initial launch, Brian started doing stunts for TV shows, most notably this included being the stunt double for Nick Frost in AMC’s martial arts-based series, Into the Badlands. The brothers appeared together in the martial arts indie The Paper Tigers. Produced by Yuji Okumoto (Chozen from The Karate Kid Part II and Cobra Kai), this action comedy follows three middle-aged martial artists revisiting their glory days after the death of their master. Andy and Brian play Fu and Boi, some young punk martial artists that challenge them. Then Andy got hired as the martial arts trainer to prepare Simu Liu for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which led to him being cast in the film as the masked assassin Death Dealer.
Upon meeting the Le brothers and hearing their story, Yeoh was very impressed. She was honored to discover that they had learned their martial arts from watching films and told them that some of their moves seemed kind of familiar. The Le brothers quickly confessed to poaching some of their style from her films.
It was a dream come true for the Les to work with Michelle—one of their idols—on Everything Everywhere All at Once. The mind-blowing script from the writer/director duo Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (a.k.a. the Daniels) gave them the latitude to indulge their choreographic creativity like never before.
“The style of the action is inspired, an homage to the classic Hong Kong style which is Michelle’s forte,” Andy tells Den of Geek. “Real Hong Kong movie fans might notice the nods to the classics. The sequences are physical and theatrical almost like watching a live show. The Daniels trusted us with the choreography and gave us freedom when pre-vis-ing the fights. The weird situations that the Daniels put us in to fight really drove the story in the fights.”
Kicking Butt… Plugs
Despite a prolonged campaign to get recognition at the Academy Awards, fight choreographers and stunt people still don’t receive the credit they deserve. And in Everything Everywhere All at Once, the fight choreographers get reamed quite literally. Both appear in the film as Alpha Jumpers—followers of the mysterious villain Jobu Tupaki who jump into their alternate selves throughout the multiverse—but it’s in “the trophy fight” where they stick out most. Brian is credited as “Trophy” and Andy as “Bigger Trophy,” and given the context, it’s hard to say which is a more outstanding credit.
What were the trophies? Just look deeply at the googly eye-popping montage of the Everything Everywhere All at Once poster. In the four corners, you’ll see them—IRS awards turned into enormous butt plugs when the Alpha jumpers literally jump on them, rumps first.
“This movie, the most interesting, challenging one was the butt plugs,” Yeoh said laughingly. “In my entire life of 37 years of martial arts, I have never played with that.”
From the first day, Yeoh questioned a lot of the script. When she first read about the hot dog fingers, she hoped she could get that scene cut out because it just seemed too absurd to her. “When it got to the butt plugs, I was like ‘Are you kidding me?’”
However, the hot dog fingers and the butt plugs survived Yeoh’s editorial efforts, and she eventually recognized the “evil genius” of the Daniels, conceding it was all in good fun.
“I turn around and there is Brian, with a shirt and something [below]—doing!” Michelle recalled of the trophy fight, hardly able to contain her giggling. “I was like ‘I am a serious actor.’ I have done amazing movies. And I’m rolling around on the ground with a butt plug! So I must thank my directors for the most amazing first time experience.”
“Without giving away too much, let’s just the say situation of the butt plug fight scene was so weird and out of this world, that me, Brian, and Michelle couldn’t focus on shooting without laughing in between takes,” Andy adds while speaking to us later. “I hope the key word ‘butt plug’ leaves everyone curious enough.”
When Actors Don’t Know Kung Fu
Beyond Yeoh and the Le brothers, the other outstanding martial artist in the cast is Li Jing, who plays the Kung Fu Master. She is a world champion in Wushu, trained by Wu Bin, the legendary coach who produced Jet Li and China’s current reigning box office champion, Wu Jing, whilst heading the illustrious Beijing Wushu Team. But beyond them, the other lead actors had no martial arts training.
For Quan, the Fanny pack fight was incredibly challenging. It was an important scene because it’s the first major fight and establishes the high-octane tone of the choreography. “We went all out during the pre-vis playing with all the coolest moves we could think of with the Fanny pack while pushing the story,” Andy tells us.
Just prior to filming that scene, director Kwan pulled Quan aside and told him they didn’t have the luxury to do that many takes, so the pressure was on. Up until that point, Quan had not been able to perform one of the moves, a neck wrap ending in kicking the pack towards the camera. “Take two came,” Quan recalled at the premiere, “and I’m thinking, please, God, let me do this right. And I did it on the second take.”
According to the directors, Quan performs almost every one of the moves in that complicated fight scene except one where he uses a stunt double. “Ke was so devoted to his role,” says Andy, “he would practice so much with the Fanny pack. By the time we were shooting, Ke did most of the fight himself with a very limited stunt double, which I ended up jumping in to back Ke up.”
The Le brothers are the torchbearers for a new generation of action filmmakers—the YouTube generation. Their passion for the genre has launched them into a series of successful choreographer roles, and Everything Everywhere All at Once spotlights their rising talent in visionary ways. According to Andy, their work remains loyal to the films that they love.
“I guess you can say we were pretty full on in the movie doing multiple jobs and playing multiple roles in the film,” Andy says. “That in itself was a callback to Hong Kong action as the actors would all jump in to double for each other. Whatever it takes to get the film made…”
And if that means taking a trophy where the sun don’t shine, well, the Le brothers are willing to go the distance there too.
A24 has now opened Everything Everywhere All at Once everywhere.