Everything Everywhere All At Once
How a movie about multiple parallel universes drove me to tears and laughter, at times simultaneously.
From the moment this movie premiered, it piqued my interest. I'm a nerd for all things fantastical and outrageous, not to mention I grew up in the same country as the movie's leading star, Michelle Yeoh.
Wedged between Thailand and Singapore, geographic-wise, Malaysia sometimes feels like the neglected middle child where our neighbours' are more well-known. We're just the pit stop, the layover, to get to the final tropical holiday destination (or Europe, for my fellow Aussies reading this). That is why anywhere you go in this world, Malaysians feel a natural kinship with other fellow Malaysian when they're away from home.
Yet, for one reason or another, Everything Everywhere All at Once (known as EEAAO from this point forward) sat on my Amazon Prime watch list for a couple of months. I finally watched it over the weekend, curious how an action/comedy/drama/sci-fi movie became the black horse of the award circuit this year. I didn't expect to be blown away entirely by fantastic acting, fast-paced storytelling and a combination of many genres. It was chaotic, but it was chaotically good. I didn't expect to be ugly crying 30 minutes into the movie and again at the end.
EEOAO tells the story of Evelyn Yang, a middle-aged Chinese immigrant, owner of a laundromat facing a tax audit, aging father and gay daughter. She is swept up into an insane adventure in which she alone can save existence by exploring other universes and connecting with the lives she could have led. Through the multiple possible lives Evelyn could have shown, the movie explores the melancholy and longing of the road not taken. In that sense, I felt connected to the character Evelyn.
I left my home country, Malaysia, in 2009 and met my now-husband, and I stayed in Australia for love. There are times in life when I wonder: what if I hadn't left back in the days? What would my life be like? However, unlike Evelyn, I do not possess some superpower to tap into my past. Yet, if I do, I know I would've fallen in love with my husband in every universe, and I would move heaven and earth for my son.
I wonder if Michelle Yeoh, the actress, felt forlornness and curiosity about an alternate life, the life that could've been when she played Evelyn's story? Like the character, Michelle has also taken the road less chosen and left her comfort zone in Malaysia, traversed to become an action star in her rights in Hong Kong before landing her feet and working her way in Hollywood.
My curiosity aside, I am so proud of Michelle Yeoh for her landslide victory in this year's award season. It felt like a win not just for her but every Asian, particularly Asian women, to not only have forged a step forward in breaking the glass — and bamboo — ceiling.
Yeoh delivered an impeccable performance in EEAAO worthy of an Oscar. It was exhilarating watching her action moves, a nostalgic moment for me watching her in the heydays of Hong Kong movies such as Police Story 3. Outrageous and absurd moments (think googly-eyes and hot-dog fingers), she reminded me of the heydays of Stephen Chow comedies. However, Yeoh's earnest emotional deliverance as a mother, daughter and wife had me in tears. She brought the complex nuance of being an Asian woman and mother into her character. I sense her regrets and resignation at the movie's start, following her transformation and determination to save her daughter. The entire ensemble, including Stephanie Hsu and Ke Huy Quan, delivered a big-hearted and incredible performance in the movie.
It is no wonder EEOAO, an avant-garde Oscar choice, was officially the most-awarded movie. The movie concept was absurd, but the entire cast, production and writers delivered a story that touched many hearts everywhere and all at once.