The multiverse martial-arts comedy Everything Everywhere All At Once takes a lot of unpacking. A lot of Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan’s follow-up to Swiss Army Man goes by at breakneck speed, with pop-culture references, goofy cameos, and effects-driven visual gags that beg for the home-video freeze-frame approach. Some of these gags are big and obvious, like a pre-history sequence involving ape-like creatures fighting to the death, inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey’s “discovery of tools” sequence. Others are relatively subtle, like the way the Daniels pattern one alternate universe after the films of Wong Kar-Wai. In a world where harried laundromat owners Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) and Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) are rich, successful movie-industry figures, they mourn the romance that never happened between them, and the aching emotions, intense colors, restrained dialogue, and stark lighting all recall Wong films like In the Mood for Love and Chungking Express.
At a Chicago screening of Everything Everywhere, the Daniels talked to me about those scenes, and said they aren’t modeled after one specific scene in particular — as Kwan put it, their cinematographer, Larkin Seiple, has bristled a bit about critics specifically citing In the Mood for Love as the only inspiration there, and wants people to notice that the lighting and key color schemes don’t match that movie exactly. We talked in passing about several other points of interest in the movie — like how the name of the film’s villain, Jobu Tupaki, came from a list of interesting sounds Kwan and his wife generated when they were looking for a name for their daughter.
And Daniel Scheinert shared the photo above, which is arguably Everything Everywhere’s greatest Easter egg. Bear with me here.
Longtime fans of Kwan and Scheinert’s work are used to seeing them in their own projects. That’s Kwan leading the beat-crazed, ceiling-smashing dance orgy in the video for DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down For What.” (I learned in a previous interview that while Scheinert isn’t in that video, he handled the penis-puppetry whenever Kwan’s groin takes on independent, aggressive life.) In one of their best and wildest early shorts, “Pockets,” things go very badly for Daniels’ longtime friend Billy Chew when he tries to mug Scheinert. In one of their weirdest early shorts, “Interesting Ball,” an inexplicable cosmic event has a variety of surreal effects, including Kwan getting slowly, inexorably sucked into Scheinert’s rectum. And in Scheinert’s solo directorial project, the Southern noir The Death of Dick Long, Scheinert plays the title character, a man who dies under circumstances that send his best friends into a tailspin of grief and denial.
So it’s no surprise that Kwan and Scheinert appear in Everything Everywhere All At Once. What is surprising, at least for fans who think they were fast enough to spot their faces, is the fact that they’re in there multiple times — including, as Scheinert puts it, in one cameo no one could possibly catch without assistance.
Scheinert’s most obvious performance in the film is as a character credited as “District Manager” — he’s the guy having a little light S&M play in the secret office closet full of floggers and restraints, and getting led out of that closet on a leash. He shows up again as the same character in the big stairwell fight against Evelyn, who wins the fight by bending him over and spanking him.
Kwan, meanwhile, shows up briefly when Jobu Tupaki activates her cosmic Bagel With Everything — he’s the first guy to get sucked into its vortex, the man who has his face pulled off in several layers before his whole body is pulled in as well. He also shows up earlier in the film, though it’s much harder to see his face in that scene — he’s the mugger who tries to steal Evelyn’s purse in the Wong Kar-Wai timeline, where a mysterious white-haired martial artist (Li Jing) saves her, and the attack inspires her to learn kung fu.
But the cameo Scheinert says no one could catch? That’s because his face and body are entirely covered by an ape suit. In that 2001-style scene, the Daniels visually explain the origins of a universe where everyone has hot dogs for hands. In that world’s pre-history, the hot-dog-handed strain of pre-human primates won out in the dominance struggle over other species of primates, as represented by a single hot-dog-handed ape beating a normal-fingered ape to death. That’s Scheinert in the hot-dog-ape costume, striking a mortal blow on behalf of his species and his evolutionary descendants.
But it gets better. Scheinert says the production only had two ape suits, so he isn’t just the lead ape in the sequence — he plays almost all of them. At that Chicago Q&A, he described how he “spent the whole day running around that ridge,” making triumphant hot-dog-ape gestures in various positions and from various angles so he and Kwan would have footage they could digitally stitch together to make one ape look like a troupe of them. In a movie this full of gloriously weird ideas and fast-paced special-effects trickery, the idea that one of the directors played an entire army of hot-dog-fingered apes just seems par for the course. Weirder things happen in this movie — but there’s still a peculiar joy in seeing the photographic evidence of Scheinert looking exhausted, overheated, and tired of being every ape everywhere, all at once.