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Why Oscar Wins For 'Everything Everywhere All at Once' Would Feel So Good (The Asian Edition)

Three people who appear to be Asian stand in a living room looking surprised and scared. One, a woman who appears to be in her 60s, looks ready to fight as she holds back the other two, a younger man and woman.
Stephanie Hsu, Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan are all nominated for their performances in "Everything Everywhere All at Once."
(Courtesy A24)
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  • Everything Everywhere All At Once took home seven Oscars, including best picture, best director, best original screenplay, best editing and three of the four acting awards for Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Fans of Everything Everywhere All at Once love how the film gives a middle finger to convention and mashes up a family dramedy with a multiverse romp. How it noisily explores life's endless possibilities while finding beauty in the quiet and mundane.

It's for all those reasons Jacky Shu has cherished the film since she first saw it in the theater upon its release in March 2022 — and got an arm tattoo of a googly-eyed rock to signify her devotion.

A photo of a tattooed arm with the focus on a black and white tattoo of a googly-eyed rock featured in the film Everything Everywhere All At Once
Jacky Shu got inked with a googly-eyed rock featured in the film Everything Everywhere All At Once from tattoo artist Michelle Truong at Mezzanine Tattoo Studio.
(Jacky Shu)
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But the film hit on another level for Shu, who is Chinese American, and many other children of immigrants. Amid the frenetic fight scenes and "verse-jumping," it was the still moments between laundromat owner Evelyn Wang, who emigrated to the U.S. as an adult, and her queer American-born daughter Joy that brings Shu to tears every time she watches the film (which she estimates is monthly.)

Their fraught mother-daughter relationship — which Shu said resembles hers with her mother — explodes into epic battles between their alternate selves in other universes. After a lifetime of driving Joy away with her disapproval, Evelyn finally draws her daughter near, confiding: "I will always, always, want to be here with you."

"As wild as the movie is, it ends up grounding me because it means there are people out there that are experiencing the exact same thing," Shu said.

History could be made

Shu's favorite film is now considered by many to be the front-runner for Best Picture at Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, which could turn out to be a historic one for Asian Americans.

Not only is the film up for multiple Oscars, so are three of its stars: Malaysian-born lead Michelle Yeoh, along with Ke Huy Quan and Stephanie Hsu, Asian American actors raised in Southern California.

Hsu is in the running for Best Supporting Actress with Hong Chau (The Whale) — the first instance of two Asian American actors nominated in that category in the same year. That brings the total number of actors of Asian descent nominated to four — a record.

If Yeoh wins for Best Actress, she will be the first woman of Asian descent to collect that trophy and the first woman of color to win since Halle Berry's 2002 victory for her role in Monster’s Ball.

Oscar history: Michelle Yeoh Isn’t The First Asian Woman Nominated For Best Actress — That Would Be Merle Oberon

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Watershed moments

Three people who appear Asian are dressed in formal wear, from left in a business suit and tie, in the middle in a one-sleeve lace embroidered gown in pink and green and at right in a purple satin shirt and black suit jacket, carrying a clutch.
Director Ang Lee (l), Michelle Yeoh (m), and Cheng Pei Pei (r) at a screening 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' during the closing of the 38th New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center in New York on Oct. 9, 2000.
(Scott Gries/Getty Images
Hulton Archive)

Shu, who owns a movie trailer production company, doesn't need the Oscars to validate the film's worth. But she still hoped Everything Everywhere All at Once clinches wins because that would entice more people to watch and convince Hollywood executives to take chances on movies like it.

Similarly, Ada Tseng said Oscar wins don't change her perception of the film or its filmmakers the Daniels, whose careers she has been following since their music video-making days.

But she added its been satisfying, if a little bewildering, to watch an Asian-led film sweep award shows and veteran actors like Michelle Yeoh get their due.

It would be fitting if Yeoh becomes the first Asian Best Actress winner. She’s been part of every watershed moment in Asian and Asian American cinema in recent decades, thanks to roles in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Crazy Rich Asians and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

“She seems a little bit like the glue that holds everything together, this secret weapon,” said Tseng, who co-hosts the podcast Saturday School, which focuses on Asian American films.

For Tseng, a big part of the film’s appeal is watching characters traverse different universes and adopt a range of personas that aren’t available to many Asian American actors trying to make it in an industry that pigeonholes them in stereotypical roles.

“I think that's what's really exciting for Asian Americans watching it,” said Tseng, who also writes about the film industry as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, “We're still used to seeing ourselves on-screen very limited and boxed-in.”

A young Asian woman wearing a white, glittery Elvis-style jumpsuit, shiny confetti in the air around her as she walks through a nondescript institutional building hallway, a door on the right and a bulletin board on the wall behind.
The "evil" that came to be is Joy being pushed beyond her limits to become Jobu.

The film’s arrival in the middle of a pandemic that saw Asians accused of spreading COVID-19 and getting physically attacked because of it couldn’t have been timed better, Tseng said.

“I feel like we spent so long feeling so small and feeling so helpless, feeling kind of angry,” she said.

The film “reminded us of who we really are, and who we’re allowed to be — and all the possibilities that are ours,” Tseng added.

Photo editor Susanica Tam was pleasantly surprised that a film so deeply meaningful to her was getting such award season love and, perhaps, Oscar wins that would score the film a bigger platform she says it deserves.

Tam said she has never seen herself reflected on the big screen like this before — not just by actors with Asian faces but by the way they sounded. Dialogue flowed seamlessly from English to Mandarin to Cantonese — just like in her household growing up. The film also captures Joy's struggle to find the right Chinese words to communicate with her mother and grandfather, another way she is a source of disappointment.

"I've spoken to some other Asian friends about how when you are first-gen or second-gen here in the US, you have to make the sacrifice of [your elders] worth it," Tam said. "You have to perform at a level that exceeds every expectation."

Because no other film embodies her life as much as this one, it pains Tam to hear detractors say "the time travel was confusing, or it just was kind of too much going on."

"If you don't understand why I love this, then maybe you actually don't understand me," Tam said. "This is me."

Have a question about Southern California's Asian American communities?
Josie Huang reports on the intersection of being Asian and American and the impact of those growing communities in Southern California.

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