Sometimes things that make stereotypes ugly need to be made powerful. In Everything Everywhere All at Once, the Daniels (directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Shneirt) have proven that they don’t care about stereotypes, and they may have you questioning why something as ubiquitous as a fanny pack became a source of ridicule.
“The fanny pack is such a derisive image for stereotypical Asian dad tourists, complete with the camera around his neck and high socks,” Kwan explained in an interview with Gizmodo. “And I saw that. That was my dad. That was his outfit any time we went to Disney World or to the beach, so [with this scene] we asked: why don’t we take the fanny pack and make it this amazing, powerful, fun weapon?”
In the hands of Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quan), the fanny pack becomes deadly, thanks in no small part to Andy Le and Zak Stoltz. Le has worked on martial arts-heavy movies like Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and is one-third of stunt group Martial Club along with his brother, Brian Le, and Daniel Ma. Stolz is an industry vet who was the visual effects supervisor for Everything Everywhere, and coordinated between set and editorial. They sat down with Gizmodo to talk about the fanny pack fight, which occurs about 30 minutes into the film.
It starts with Waymond looking up, and then a slow pull back. “A lot of kung-fu films have these moments of realisation,” Le says. He would know. He’s watched hundreds of these films, and he used all of them to help build out the fight scenes, working with the Daniels and the stunt coordinator to create choreography that would emphasise these references. “There’s a focus on the eyes and then this wider scope of the battlefield.”
A security guard steps forward to calm Waymond down — the guard’s played by Brian Le, Andy’s brother. Waymond’s fanny pack comes unhooked and drops down into the frame. It’s almost like an anime scene, complete with a little fuzzy keychain. (Personally, I’m reminded of the early episode Naruto fight when Rock Lee drops his weights during the fight with Gaara.)
Then we get a few knuckle cracks, another classic kung-fu homage, and very quickly Waymond snaps the fanny pack out, smacking Le’s character in the head. Stolz is kind enough to point out that he did “very little VFX work in this scene. Most of these fights were captured in-camera. A lot of the edits we did were extensions,” he makes a motion, spreading his hands, just like Waymond does on screen, “to make sure that the fanny pack actually hits people when it’s supposed to.”
“The way we went about this is by thinking about all the ways we could use a fanny pack as a weapon,” Le explains, as we get the first few shots of Waymond slinging the fanny pack, stepping backward as guards surround him. Le is incredibly gestural, moving his hands and arms as if he has a pair of nunchucks in hand. “Over the shoulder, around the waist, around the neck… trying to turn it into something deadly.
“And here,” Le says, as we see Waymond holding the fanny pack in both hands, preparing his horse stance, “is an homage to some other kung-fu films.” The camera is behind a security guard as he unclips the holster to his weapon. “And we see this sort of wide shot all the time in samurai films that include a katana on the hip, and then we have this hard zoom in on the hero.”
This kind of referential spin is emblematic of the film. A nod to Wu-Tang films here, a Japanese samurai reference there, an anime reference in between. Everything Everywhere All at Once is an homage to all of these things, and more. Even Le says of inspiration, “all these references are in my head. Hundreds of films. And I borrow from here, take from there and then put it all together with my own unique spin. I want to use everything I know to create a fun and exciting action scene.” After I mention that my life changed when I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon when I was 10, he asks what references I saw in the film. I list Ip Man, Enter the Dragon, The Magnificent Butcher, Kill Bill. He seems satisfied that I know at least some kung-fu movies, and I feel a little bit proud of myself.
Directly after the hard zoom, a furious fight scene ensues in which Waymond takes on three guards at once. There’s another strap extension that Stoltz points out when he hits the female guard in the face. Le mentions that Quan did most of his own stunts: “he would come in and practice with us for hours. He really wanted to get this perfect.”
There’s another snap cut where Brian Le gets hit again and there’s a bit of a dust-up. “That’s added in,” Stoltz says, “just to add impact.” This is a lot of what Stoltz and his team did, the tiny detail work to make this scene look impactful. Relying on subtle VFX makes this scene go from incredible to airtight. The team is walking a delicate balance between the movie’s extravagance and how controlled everything is when you capture it in-camera.
“Here’s a great example of how the Daniels have taken a series of classic shots we see in a lot of fight scenes and [made them] their own,” Le says. “There’s this moment where we get a view of a guard, the camera slides over to the gun on the ground, and then back up to [Quan].” It’s a slick camera pan, with no cuts between these glances, and it totally fits the narrative. We get this moment of intense tension between these two characters and this object. Who brings a fanny pack to a gun fight?
“Every shot is catered to storytelling and efficiency,” co-director Kwan told Gizmodo in a separate interview. “Whatever the punch is, whatever that moment of impact is, we have to reexamine it and think… ‘OK, what is the graphic novel version of this shot that will embrace and showcase this moment?’”
It’s just after this perfect shot — when Quan jumps over a security guard and lands on the ground to do some quick kicking in a battle over the gun — that Le mentions he was the one doing that mid-air spin and some of the tricker choreography with the security guard. “There’s a face swap in there,” Sholtz says, “but a lot of the stuff on the ground was all wired. Quan did that second cut on a string, and we edited it out.”
There’s a great POV shot–the camera follows the fanny pack as it slings around security guard Brian Le and wraps around his ankle. “Completely a Daniels shot,” Le says. A yank, a very excellent jump spin, some dust, and it’s over. Waymond steps back, slinging the fanny pack, as all around him guards lie on the ground, groaning in pain. And, finally, a close-up on Quan as he channels an absolutely classic Bruce Lee move from Enter the Dragon, slinging the fanny pack over his shoulder and then tucking it under, holding his hand out as the camera zooms in.
“We were so excited to get to do this on a slightly larger budget than what we’re used to,” Kwan said. “The fun thing is that all those movies we loved growing up had no budgets either… so maybe the only version of this movie that could have worked is if we fully embraced old school techniques; low budget, but lots of creativity, thought, and care.”
“I think that the ability to unfilter yourself — to be unafraid to go wild with the props — like butt plugs, fanny packs, keyboards, is really what the Daniels get right about this film,” Le explains after we finish watching the clip. “Old Hong Kong martial arts films are a spectacle. It’s rooted in Chinese opera, it’s theatre. So you see in these old Hong Kong films, the camera would just pull back. It would be up to the actors to commit, regardless of the camera. There’s got to be a sharp rhythm to it. You can’t fake this kind of filmmaking.”
Everything Everywhere All at Once is in theatres now.