Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: In this three-second shot from “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Ke Huy Quan pulls off five distinct moves with zero cuts.
Compare that to this three-second shot from 2011’s “Columbiana,” where you see the camera cut 11 times.
“Everything Everywhere” drew inspiration from classic martial-arts movies, which routinely showcase fights with fewer cuts and camera moves compared to modern Hollywood action movies. We talked to the film’s stunt coordinator and fight choreographers to find out how they pulled off some of the movie’s most memorable fight scenes.
The cast of “Everything Everywhere” handled most of their own stunts, training in wushu and nunchucks under Li Jing, the wushu world champion. And to help capture iconic kung fu movements, like the flying-knee move performed by Jamie Lee Curtis in the stairwell face-off, the team included wires.
Timothy: We were able to get this visual of her floating doing a flying knee down the stairwell towards Michelle.
Narrator: Wirework, or “wire-fu,” has long been a signature of kung fu movies, with OG Hong Kong films using wires so thin they were invisible on-screen, even if they sometimes broke.
These wires helped shape the balletic style of movie kung fu, as opposed to the blunt, fast-cutting style of action scenes in other American blockbusters.
Timothy: There is an aesthetic beauty and dance-like quality to the fight sequences that you see in Hong Kong actions.
Narrator: Thanks to modern visual effects, “Everything Everywhere” actors wore thicker, safer wires that could get erased in post. And these helped emphasize exaggerated hits and reactions, like here, where Michelle Yeoh’s pinky finger had to look strong enough to hit someone across the room.
Timothy: It’s a great example of that juxtaposition of a seemingly powerless body part, your pinky, blasting people into these just crazy reactions. And we used wires for all of the reactions to that to get this very dynamic reaction out of it.
Narrator: The only problem:
Timothy: There was no place to hang our wires in this building, because we just didn’t have the height and the ceiling space to do a lot of the work as we typically do it. We had to build a system of ropes and truss to do this, so that we could shoot a guy 30 feet in the air after being flicked in the chin by Michelle’s pinky.
Narrator: Wires were pivotal in the trophy fight, which was full of extreme motions, like this leap through the air.
That was Brian Le, who, with his brother, Andy, choreographed the fights in the film and actually appeared in several of them.
Brian: The part where I jump through and I’m sailing through the air in slow motion, it’s to emphasize the airtime and to emphasize the beauty of it.
Narrator: Another moment that needed wire support: this wide shot where Michelle extracts butt plugs from both of the Le brothers in slo-mo. Andy is getting pulled by a wire, while Brian’s suspended up top holding a plank position.
You might be noticing a theme here: characters making weapons out of haphazard objects in the environment, from IRS trophies to computer keyboards.
Andy: There’s a lot of influence from Jackie Chan and his canon of work in that particular portion of the fight sequence. How we use the environment around us to make weapons out of practically anything, a box, a riot shield, pipes.
Narrator: This use of random objects may look scrappy, but it actually involves super-detailed choreography. Nailing it all took extensive previsualization, where the Le brothers recorded themselves doing different beats of the fight, then marked through all of the movements with Michelle.
One prop called for special attention: the fanny pack in a scene where Waymond wields this harmless dad accessory as a deadly weapon.
Ke Huy Quan did most of his own moves, save for this shot, where, thanks to face-swapping technology, Andy could step in for Ke to do that midair spin and some of the trickier choreography on the ground. And for shots like where Waymond does all these wraps, the team used a stunt-double fanny pack with an elongated 7-foot-long strap that allowed Ke to spin it around more, plus padded zippers so that none of his targets would get cut in the face.
Daniel: So, let’s do a real fanny pack and two cameras.
Narrator: To execute this sequence of moves at the end of the fight, Ke brought the fanny pack home with him for practice, refining his technique based on wushu rope-dart martial arts. It paid off on set when he managed to nail the kick on only his second try.
Daniel: Whoa, yeah! Come on!
Narrator: Ke needed to get the kick right within a single take because it’d be seen in a wide shot, capturing the action and reaction in one. This approach to the camera set the fights in “Everything Everywhere” apart from conventional Hollywood fight scenes.
Typically, fast cuts and swinging camera motions make the actors’ hits look more violent. Classic kung fu movies don’t need to rely on those techniques, since the stars usually have some background in martial arts and can actually fight. The camerawork and editing tends to show action and reaction in the same frame, rather than jerking or cutting around.
The directors of “Everything Everywhere” followed that model, as they wanted audience members to see it was actually the actors fighting in most of the scenes. They didn’t want to have to shake the camera a lot or point away from the actors’ faces to sell the fight.
Another kung-fu-inspired moment: the beginning of the fanny-pack scene, where the camera starts on a close-up of Waymond looking up, then slowly pulls back. Andy said this “moment of realization” is a signature of kung fu movies: “There’s a focus on the eyes, and then this wider scope of the battlefield.”
These knuckle cracks, too, are a reference to classic kung fu.
Executing these core kung fu moves perfectly was just half the work on “Everything Everywhere.” The team also had to put their own spin on the choreography. Literally, as you can see in these moves Andy did while doubling for Ke.
Andy: And a lot of those moves, a lot of those sweeping groundwork floor techniques, they don’t exist in martial arts. Yes.
That’s straight break dancing.
At least not yet.
So I implemented that just to add a little more of a modern flair or modern spice to it.
Break dancing, like, B-boying, you got a lot of sweeping techniques that you can’t find in any martial arts.
Narrator: This hit is also a specialty stunt reaction that you won’t see all that often in movies.
Timothy: There was a guy that I brought in for that very final hit, where the fanny-pack clip goes in his nose and he yanks him down. I wanted that to be the most brutal reaction in the entire fight. And the guy does a reaction called a scorpion, where you go from standing to all of a sudden inverted, and it looks like you’re landing on your face, breaking your neck, and it’s a very specialty reaction. Not very many people can do it.
Andy: The human body is not supposed to bend that way. Yeah, it just looks nasty.
It looks like a scorpion that’s, ah!
Narrator: The fights in “Everywhere Everywhere” bent the rules of human movement and action in general.
Andy: We shouldn’t be copying what the veterans of the Hong Kong cinema has done for us before. We kind of used their films and their body of work as kind of an encyclopedia. We elevated it with all the wild wackiness and the new moves that we’re bringing into the picture.
I believe it’s our job to enhance it and evolve it, whether it be with VFX, moves with parkour and martial-arts tricking and break dancing, and I think that’s going to be a very important aspect of the evolution of martial-arts filmmaking.