Michelle Yeoh shows that Asian immigrant women are “everything”

Michelle Yeoh was adamant about a script change before committing to “Everything Everywhere All At Once.”

The name of the main character had to disappear. She was named Michelle as a love letter to her from the directors.

“I’m like ‘No, no, no’ because I believe this person, this character that you’ve written so richly, deserves their own voice. She is the voice of those mothers, aunts, grandmothers that you meet in Chinatown or at the supermarket and at whom you don’t even glance. Then you take it for granted, Yeoh told The Associated Press. “She never had a voice.”

At 59, Yeoh commands the genre film’s lead playing someone often invisible – the Asian immigrant wife and mother trying to be everything to everyone. “An independent film on steroids” as she puts it, “Everything Everywhere All At Once” recently hit theaters. It ranked fourth at the weekend’s domestic box office, grossing nearly $6.2 million, according to figures compiled by Comscore.

Yeoh’s performance is drawing praise at a time when Asians and Asian Americans of all age groups continue to be targets of pandemic-fueled racism in Chinatowns, cities and towns. suburbs of the United States. rate.

After decades as a Hong Kong movie star and then more mainstream hits like ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ and ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, Malaysian-born Yeoh has become a queen of cinema. She had pivotal roles in what were the first major American studio films in years with all-Asian actors – Marvel Studios’ “Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings” and “Crazy Rich Asians.”

“There were so many weights (‘Crazy Rich Asians’)… What if we weren’t so successful? Did that mean we didn’t deserve to be up there? Yeah said. “It exploded and the way it made everyone realize, ‘Hey, we’ve neglected this very important part of our society for so long.'”

As much as those movies mean to her, she was a polished supporting actor in them. “Everything Everywhere All At Once” is an otherworldly experience where she plays “an aging Asian woman.”

Written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known as Daniels), the story centers on a glamorous Yeoh as Evelyn Wang, a burnt-out laundromat owner preparing for an IRS audit. Meanwhile, she struggles with an unhappy husband (Ke Huy Quan), her critical father (James Hong) and an openly lesbian daughter (Stephanie Hsu). She is literally upset when another version of her husband appears claiming to be from another universe. Evelyn eventually leaps across the multiverse and learns skills possessed by her otherworldly counterparts.

The story is a long list of action, sci-fi, comedy, and family drama that includes people with finger hot dogs and a giant bagel. The first word that came to Yeoh’s mind after reading the script was “crazy.”

“I was blown away that they had the guts to write the script and put in all those sorts of things. Because it wasn’t just about madness. The family ties were so powerful,” a- she declared.

The film also highlights the other actors. This marks a return to Hollywood for Quan. As a child, he charmed audiences by playing Short Round in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and Data in “The Goonies.” Curiously, “Crazy Rich Asians” is what made him want to return to the screen after more than 20 years. Yeoh is attached to the sequel and agreed that it would be a great looping moment to find a role for Quan.

“We’re so grateful that it gave him pause because he never really left the film industry,” Yeoh said.

Hong, 93, can also chew up a lot of scenery. He made headlines in 2020 when famous friends successfully campaigned for him to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He will receive this honor later this year.

“He has a heart of gold. You know, he really loves what he does,” said Yeoh, who is reuniting with Hong in a new Disney+ series, “American Born Chinese.” “He deserves it.”

The film touched audiences, but especially Asian Americans. On social media, many describe crying during the last hour of the film as the relationship between Evelyn and her daughter Joy reaches a turning point. Some say they feel like they are seeing their own immigrant mother become the hero of her story for the first time. Others say they have gained a better understanding of parents who don’t usually wear their emotions on their sleeve.

“I think especially of Asian parents, they tend to be more critical. But they show their love – they’ll spare you the best part of the meat, they’ll make sure you’re well fed,” Yeoh said. “It’s their way of showing their love and care.”

For Asian American women, the film is a breath of fresh air. Hateful incidents like the Atlanta spa shootings last year have renewed conversations about the propensity to sexualize or reject Asian women. But in this film, Yeoh can show a wide range, from comedic chops and martial arts to heartbreaking angst. The actress promises that she will never give up on proving that women can be the protagonists of roles that are more than stereotypes.

“Why are men able to reach a certain age and still move on with all these sorts of things and women are kind of left behind?” Yeoh said. “With the new Sustainable Development Goals, one of the things up there is gender equality, equal opportunity, and that’s all we’re asking for.


Terry Tang is a member of the Associated Press’ Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ttangAP

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