Watching 'Everything Everywhere All at Once' Made Me Realize It's Not Too Late To Want More Out of Life
I have a confession to make. I'm probably one of a very few Asian Americans who did not care about Crazy Rich Asians. I mean, sure. I watched it. I was glad for its success. It was okay.
But honestly, I felt out of sync with the rest of my East Asian peers who all seemed to be gushing about the leads and the cast and the movie itself. What did I care about some pretty young thing being courted by a super rich Asian dude on the brink of living in a world that I do not have access to (and sometimes want but also...don't want)?
To me, it was highly unrelatable.
I was way past that phase of my life. I was closer to being Michelle Yeoh's character of the future mother-in-law than I was to Constance Wu (though in reality, we are only four years apart in age). Throughout the film, I found myself just really wanting to be Yeoh instead because even though she was cast as the "villain," she was Michelle Yeoh and I always want to be her. After all, not only is she beautiful and clever, she is strong, kicks ass, and makes her own way.
It is a perpetual state of existence.
So when I watched the trailer for the movie Everything Everywhere All At Once (in theaters on March 25), it was solely because I love Yeoh. I thought it was going to be the typical kung fu action film—which I adore—but wasn't particularly inclined to watch right away.
Except, there I was, choking up from the jump.
The trailer opens with Yeoh being lectured by Jamie Lee Curtis about the state of her tax receipts. All of a sudden, Yeoh is slammed back in her office chair and propelled into the multiverse, which is visually demonstrated by multiple versions of Yeoh in a fractured space reminiscent of a shattered mirror.
Yeoh is told she is the key to saving every universe from a great evil and can access all of the skills, knowledge, and history of all her parallel iterations across the multiverse. Much fighting, absurdity, and requisite family bonding ensue. I was ecstatic that Yeoh was the main character. Because it felt like I could finally be the main character, too.
Yeoh was featured as the protagonist instead of being relegated to the mystical guru as she was in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (another highly celebrated Asian American film I was meh on).
Imagine that: a 59-year-old Asian woman being the principal of a movie. I wanted to sob.
I'm a 43-year-old Asian American housewife who constantly wishes I were something more—even if in another universe. At least somewhere, sometime, it is a possibility that I am or could be more than I am now: it's not too late. Even at my age, I want to be believe I can be transformed into who I have always wanted to be.
I don't think I'm alone in this desire.
And yet, all of the stories of such transformation are the purview of the young and generally of white, cishet males. Only they get to be the Luke Skywalkers or Aragorns. Only they get to change the trajectory of the universe.
I, on the other hand, am invisible—as a mother, a middle-aged woman, and an Asian American woman.
As a middle-aged mother of four, I'm stripped of identity. I am merely a vessel, a caretaker, and faceless. My sexuality is null unless my East Asianness is being played up, and then, I'm exoticized into either a sexual object or a Dragon Lady. I'm only there to be a punchline to a joke, to provide a snack or a death that gives the main character a story arc and emotional depth.
So to see Yeoh as the savior of the world—especially in all her ordinariness—I ache.
I'm just someone who shuttles my children off to activities, perpetually lives in lounge pants, and is also currently buried in my inability to gather my financial documents for my taxes. Is there not a heroism in keeping my kids alive on the daily?
My children and husband think I'm just eccentric and perhaps too into myself for my own good, but why shouldn't I be?
I may be drab and mundane, but why can't I be the lead in a fully fleshed, multi-dimensional movie? Why can't I be the mother, who normally would be in the background, and save the multiverse?
I should not have to beg to be noticed in a world where I am ignored and shunted to the side unless I'm in a headline. Too often the media wants to use the deaths of Asian American women as a wedge against communities of color, inducing fear in Asian American communities so we beg for greater police presence that ultimately, has only harmed us.
I want to be seen. I deserve to be seen. Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once finally puts me front and center. How can I not but weep?
Like Yeoh when she is first pushed back and sees multiple versions of herself in the shattered slivers of the universe, I live in the shards of the various identities within myself. Will I remain in splinters or will I integrate myself into a final form more powerful than I ever imagined?
Should I choose the latter, Michelle Yeoh will show me how.