Evelyn Quan (Michelle Yeoh) runs a laundromat with her husband Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quan). They have a daughter named Joy (Stephanie Hsu). Now the laundromat is being audited by the IRS, Waymond is trying to serve Evelyn divorce papers, Evelyn’s difficult father Gong Gong (James Hong) is visiting for Lunar New Year, and Joy wants her mom to accept her non-Chinese girlfriend Becky (Tallie Mewdel).
During a meeting with the IRS Inspector, Dierdre Beaubierdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), Waymond’s body is taken over by an alternate Waymonde from the Alphaverse. Alpha-Waymonde explains to Evelyn that every life choice creates a branching parallel universe. In the Alphaverse, Alpha-Evelyn developed verse-jumping technology which allows people to access the skills and memories of parallel selves by the trick of performing bizarre statistically unlikely actions. The multiverse is threatened by Jobu Tupaki, Joy’s self in the Alphaverse, whose mind is now splintered since Alpha-Evelyn pushed her to verse-jump too much. Jobu now experiences all the universes at once and cannot avoid verse-jumping. She can manipulate matter at will. She has created a black hole, the Nothing Bagel, that threatens the multiverse.
Evelyn is given verse-jumping technology to fight her alternate daughter’s verse-jumping minions, who are converging on the IRS building. She discovers other universes, such as the one in which she is a Kung Fu master/movie star. Alpha-Waymonde thinks she is the greatest failure of all Evelyns, so she has the untapped potential to defeat Jobu. Alpha-Gong Gong controls Evelyn’s Gong Gong and tells her to kill Joy to stop Jobu from entering her universe again, but Evelyn decides to gain power by repeated verse-jumping. Pursued by Alpha-Gong Gong’s soldiers, Jobu kills Alpha-Waymonde in the Alphaverse. Confronted by Jobu, Evelyn’s mind splinters.
Her detached consciousness begins to verse-jump with Jobu through diverse and bizarre universes. Jobu has been searching for an Evelyn like herself, who thinks nothing matters and she brings Evelyn to the Nothing Bagel, hoping it will allow her to die. Evelyn peers into the bagel and begins to act nihilistically through all the universes. She is about to enter the bagel and end all her lives but pauses to listen to Waymond’s plea to stop fighting and be kind. She follows his advice and improves life in all the verses. In her home universe, she tells Gong the truth about Joy and Becky’s relationship, talks Dierdre into allowing them to re-do their taxes, and saves Jobu. She and Joy embrace as the multiverse is restored.
The film was directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Schneider (Daniels) who produced it with Anthony and Joe Russo. It has been called a swirl of genre anarchy, an orgiastic work of slaphappy genius, and an absurdist comedy-drama. Originally, it was written for Jackie Chan but it was offered to Michelle Yeoh. We saw her kicking butt in Tomorrow Never Dies with Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond, in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and on Star Trek Discovery, and now she is kicking butt everywhere all at once. Critics praised the film, audiences loved it, and it received 11 nominations from the Oscars, 6 from the Golden Globes, 14 from the Critic’s Choice Awards, 10 from the BAFTA, and 5 from the Screen Actors’ Guild. It won loads of those.
The Michelle Yeoh character was first named Michelle, but Yeoh protested, saying that the character deserved her own name. Ke Huy Quan played Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The music was by Son Lux and contains 49 tracks with two hours of music, from many voices including David Byrne and Randy Newman. It has 95% approval on Rotten Tomatoes. The original synopsis of the film was, “A woman tries to do her taxes.” In Hong Kong, the title translates as, “Mystical Woman Warrior Saves the Universes.”
James Hong was 91 years old at time of filming. In the beginning, the laundry ticket is number 42, which fans of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy know is the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. For Jamie Lee Curtis, working with Michelle Yeoh on the first shot on the first day was a thrill. Bagel is an actual term for nothing. Alpha-Gong Gong drives a wheelchair powered by a coffee-maker, kind of like the DeLorean Time Machine. Evelyn’s Chinese first name is the same as it was in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There must be at least a dozen references to the Matrix films scattered throughout the film. Jamie Lee Curtis is a delight.
Some people, I’m sure, will be put off by this movie. Not only is it loud and confusing, but it’s downright crazy. It’s like Monty Python, the Big Lebowski, and Hitchhiker’s Guide all rolled into one. I loved it, but I’m kind of weird. And I love Hunting the References. But, strangely, there is a sweet and joyful message under it all, and obviously the public welcomes it. Look at the nightly news and you see anarchy and nihilism and cruelty and downright absurdity everywhere, all the time. I can’t be the only one who feels like we’re being sucked into a Nothing Bagel of negativity.