In a past life, star Ke Huy Quan was a well-known actor. star Ke Huy Quan waited ‘more than 30 years’ for his role ‘Everything Everywhere’ All at Once, the most famous actor of the 1980s drew on his past roles.
Ke Huy Quan was always swinging around that stupid fanny pack. It was held up by a very long strap, and Quan swung it all around the house for several weeks. He swung it in the kitchen, while he was watching TV, and all over the house. “I broke a lot of things,” he says with a laugh. “I apologise.” I told her, “This didn’t go over well with my better half.” Quan was determined to improve his technique, though, because the fanny pack he wears in the main fight scene of Everything, Everywhere, All at Once is his weapon. Up until that point in the story, the movie had been mostly about a family, and Quan’s character, Waymond Wang, was a shy man with a quiet voice who owned a laundry and was a husband and father. He takes off the fanny pack he was wearing and spins it around with amazing skill, like a wushu rope dart, to stop a group of IRS security guards from talking. He does this when things get crazy all of a sudden.
Everything Everywhere turns out to be a sci-fi action-fantasy that jumps around in different universes and is mostly about life, family, and when different cultures meet. It is the second feature film by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who work together under the name Daniels. As the movie goes on, Quan’s performance explodes into many different characters, all of whom frantically circle Waymond’s wife, Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), a stressed-out Chinese immigrant who has just found out she may be the only one powerful enough to stop the forces of nihilism from destroying everything. Even though Evelyn is the main character, Waymond is the film’s heart in many ways.In fact, when you first meet Waymond, you might realise that you’ve seen Quan somewhere else. He looks a little bit older and a little bit more worn out, but everyone who was a child in the 1980s will never forget the image of his face: Quan was only 12 years old when he got the lead role in one of the most successful movies of the decade. In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which was directed by Steven Spielberg, he played Short Round, a street kid who told jokes. The movie was one of the most popular of the last ten years.
In 1984, the movie was a big hit, but it also caused a lot of trouble. It was criticised for having a lot of blood and for having an out-of-date plot about the strange cultures of Asia. Even though this was true, kids loved playing Short Round. We wanted to be like Short Round, the only child in a series we liked who was the main character. A year later, Quan gave a memorable performance as the young inventor and brave explorer Data in The Goonies, which was another hit movie made by Steven Spielberg. “When I was in middle school, there was a group of friends who were really into The Goonies. Every week, we would watch the movie. “I was the only Asian child in the group, so whenever we went outside to play make-believe, everyone looked to me to play Data,” Kwan explains. “I could do it better than anyone else.” “And I loved it so much. This person is very smart, brave, and strange all at the same time. “We didn’t have a lot of good models to follow.”
Ke Huy Quan, on the other hand, grew up over time. It didn’t take long for me to realise that there weren’t many roles for Asian men in Hollywood. A few of his movies were shot in countries in Asia. He stopped acting, went to film school, and then started working behind the scenes in the movie business. There were many decades. After seeing how well Crazy Rich Asians did in 2018, Quan finally gave himself permission to think about going back on stage. “I was used to working behind the camera, but I had the clear feeling that something was missing the whole time,” he says. “When those opportunities stopped coming my way, I spent a lot of time trying to convince myself that I no longer liked acting.” I waited until now to say goodbye because I didn’t want to give the impression that I left because there were no opportunities. I had been telling myself a lie.
He took a chance and hired a new agent. Within a few weeks, he was given the script for the movie Everything, Everywhere. He stayed up all night reading it, and his wife woke up to his shrieks of laughter. He said, “Tears were running down my cheeks.” I replied, “I think this part was written just for me!”
Even though it wasn’t, Quan’s parents, the Daniels, were very interested in the idea of him getting back into acting. Kwan said that the fact that the job required a lot of different skills was one of the hardest things about finding it. “He had to know how to talk to people in English, Cantonese, and Mandarin.” He had to know how to do martial arts. But he also had to play a mushy pushover in a way that was very convincing. The moviemakers wanted to make a character like Jackie Chan, who can make people laugh and feel good one minute and then do brave things for others the next. “One day, I was looking through my Twitter feed when I saw a picture of Ke Quan dressed as Short Round,” Kwan says. I kept wondering, “What is that person doing right now?”
On a windy and cold day in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, I meet Quan, who is now 50 years old. In 1979, when Ke was 8 years old, he and his parents and eight siblings came to the United States as refugees from Vietnam. He talks and moves around a lot as he shows me around the neighbourhood where his family lives. The family, whose roots are in both Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland, tried twice to leave Saigon. They were able to succeed because they kept their distance from each other. Ke’s mother and three of her children ran away to Malaysia. During the “Boat People” crisis in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Ke, his father, and the rest of Ke’s siblings got on a boat with hundreds of other people. This boat was one of the biggest ones involved in the problem. They were able to get to a Hong Kong refugee camp.
“It didn’t matter that much.” Quan said that the building was surrounded by a chain-link fence and that the only mattresses there were homemade ones put next to each other. There were security guards there to make sure we didn’t get away. He pauses. “I don’t think I’ve talked about any of this in the past 30 or 40 years.” I knew it would be hard, but I was ready for it. I was well aware that I didn’t belong there. I knew that we were leaving behind a house. I was aware of how much I missed my brother. I wanted to be with my mother. They couldn’t go anywhere for a whole year. He remembers very well how happy he was to get visas to enter the U.S. and travel to Los Angeles, where he could finally see his family again. It was Ke’s first flight, and it was the most important flight he ever took.
We go to Castelar Elementary, a well-known public school in Chinatown. This is where Mike Fenton, Spielberg’s casting director, first saw Ke perform in 1983. The team working on Temple of Doom looked everywhere, including Hong Kong, Singapore, London, and New York, for the perfect child to play the part of Short Round. But it was strange that they’d never been to Los Angeles. David, who is Ke’s younger brother, sent in their audition materials first. David had to audition first, so Ke had to wait. While he was waiting, he couldn’t help but give his brother some advice. Ke said, “I had no idea what the hell was going on.” It went something like this: “Hey, David, do this and that!” When he went to his first audition, his mother made him wear a three-piece suit “with a little gold chain hanging from the pocket,” he said with a laugh. Fenton asked Ke if he would also like to try it out. “I’d never seen Star Wars. I had never even heard of Raiders of the Lost Ark before this. When I walked into the room, there were only three grown men, all of whom had beards and moustaches. The three of them were Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Harrison Ford. After three more weeks, Ke and his mother got on a plane and flew to Sri Lanka.
After that, a few more pieces were made: The Goonies; one season of the sitcom Together We Stand, where he played Elliott Gould and Dee Wallace’s adopted son; and an entire season and a half as a transfer student on the high school sitcom Head of the Class. Ke played all three of these parts. But as time went on, there was less and less to do. Quan remembered going to parties with other young actors and feeling embarrassed when they talked about all their auditions. You said, “Yeah, I just have three auditions this week.” I got five for the week after that!” I’m also thinking, “Man, the last time I had an audition was a half year ago.”
But he didn’t stop fighting, and I mean that in a literal way. Quan was a big fan of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung movies when he was younger, and he has been training with a Tae Kwon Do instructor ever since he started learning the art on the set of Temple of Doom. He takes me to a shopping centre that used to be called Bamboo Plaza but is now empty. There, we sit on some benches in the middle of an atrium that is surrounded on all sides by pigeons and closed stores. He shows an empty storefront and says that one of his sisters used to run a tourist business there. In 1998, he went to see her on one of the days that Lethal Weapon 4 was being filmed at the mall. Richard Donner was in charge of the camera. He had worked with him before on “The Goonies.” On top of that, Corey Yuen, the action director for Lethal Weapon 4, was there. He had met Yuen before. Yuen called Quan a year later and asked if he could fly to Toronto quickly to help with the fight scenes in a new movie. At the time, Quan was studying film at the University of Southern California, and he had told Yuen that he would graduate in a year. Yuen just finished making a new film. It was always the X-Men. Quan says, “He taught me how to shoot and edit a fight scene, as well as how to choreograph it.” “He taught me everything I need to know about putting together a fight scene.” “It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.”
He worked on productions in the US, Hong Kong, and other places for the next ten years or so, mostly as an assistant fight choreographer and assistant director. He worked in other ways as well. He learned that the main difference between how action scenes are shot in Hollywood and Hong Kong is that Hollywood tends to choreograph everything ahead of time, while Hong Kong tends to choreograph as they go, making the scene look more spontaneous, original, and creative. On the film 2046, he served as Wong Kar-wai’s assistant and director.During that time, he saw how the director spent a whole day on a single complex tracking shot, adding more takes and making changes even after everyone else thought the shot was perfect. Quan brought the “all hands on deck” mentality of Hong Kong film shoots and some of the traditions of Hong Kong filmmaking to his work on Everything, Everywhere. Scheinert and Kwan say that Quan is a “fun uncle” who “loves to party,” and they say that the actor insisted on having a piglet for the first day of filming. Also, every time an actor had to die on set, Quan gave them a hongbao, which is a red envelope with money in it.
Even with all of Quan’s hard work, the injuries he got while working as an actor in Hollywood were still clear. This was only Quan’s second time performing in front of an audience in more than 20 years. (The other film was Finding “Ohana,” which will be available on Netflix in 2021.)Even after he got the part of Waymond, he didn’t tell anyone except his wife, his agent, and his entertainment lawyer, Jeff Cohen, who also played Chunk in The Goonies. He didn’t tell anyone else because he was afraid he would be fired a week into filming. In The Goonies, Jeff Cohen also played Chunk. He couldn’t believe he would be working with actresses like Yeoh, who he calls “the freaking queen of martial-arts movies.” He couldn’t believe that he was going to work with them. He worked with a number of trainers and coaches to improve Waymond’s fighting skills as well as the voice changes and movements of his many forms. He became obsessed with making sure that everything was perfect. “If you look at the movie, there are a lot of “whiplash” moments where that character has to go from being a weak, emotional mess to an alpha male with a straight face,” Kwan says. “If you look at the movie, there are a lot of times when a character has to go from being a dopey, wimpy emotional wreck to a “But we didn’t have to do anything too drastic like cutting or anything like that.” “How he did it would decide everything.”
The movie has the hallmarks of Quan’s many lives, like Hong Kong action (which Yuen helped start), melancholy lyricism (which Wong perfected), and sci-fi fantasy that builds up to a cathartic, unifying uplift, or “pulling a Spielberg.” On a deeper level, the movie also shows how potential that had been dormant is now being used. A few days after we finish talking, Quan will start working on the new streaming show American Born Chinese with his Everything, Everywhere co-star Yeoh, as well as Chin Han and Daniel Wu. It’s a nice surprise to him that he’s working as an actor again, and he’s glad he didn’t lose sight of his goal. Quan says, “If this had happened ten or fifteen years earlier, I don’t think I would have been able to play Waymond.” “I needed all of his life experiences to give me the richness and depth, to show me all of him,” you say. “All of that life experience was important to me.”