I’m left with a million questions after seeing The Daniels’ kung-fu mindfuck Everything Everywhere All At Once. How many individual realities did Michelle Yeoh have to film, as a disgruntled laundry owner who taps into parallel universe versions of herself? Did that henchman just take a flying leap ass-first onto a buttplug? How soon can I see this movie again?
One furious query burns brighter in me than all the rest, though: where the hell has Ke Huy Quan been for the past three decades?
You’d know the Vietnamese-born actor better as his Westernised stage name Jonathon Ke Quan, the way he was credited as a kid in 80s classics Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies. Shot in quick succession over two years, both films cast Quan as a happy-go-lucky sidekick, heroic and loveable characters nevertheless marked as ‘funny outsiders’ in the era of Long Duk Dong. The Goonies’ Data speaks in fragmented sentences despite Quan mastering three languages (“Data’s quite tired of falling and Data’s tired of skeletons!”) and Short Round eats monkey brains and is best known for crowing “no time for love, Dr Jones!” at his burly saviour Harrison Ford in that piping voice.
He still sounds youthful in Everything Everywhere All At Once as three versions of Michelle Yeoh’s husband Waymond: a hapless dork filing for divorce, a badass sci-fi warrior in the Alphaverse, and a lonely CEO in one wistful dimension. I can imagine that the creators of this surreal A24 sci-fi film might’ve courted bigger martial arts crossover stars for the part, but as soon as Quan arrives our heart helplessly opens to him. He gets the big tearful plea for peace in the climax; he represents humanity’s boundless optimism against the film’s “nothing matters” nihilism; and he kicks off all the action with a soon-to-be-iconic bumbag fight scene.
You heard me. About 30 minutes into the movie, Ke Huy Quan faces off against a pack of security guards by eating a Chapstick (you kinda have to watch the film to understand why) and then beating the piss out of all of them by kicking and whipping a pebble-filled fanny pack into their soft parts. For one transcendent moment, I couldn’t help but see the Tae Kwon Do expert wielding a whip instead, and wearing a tarnished brown fedora.
I’m loathe to immediately trap an exciting, magnetic talent into the bland franchise world right after seeing him in such a fresh and original film. Quan’s return to the mid-century world of Indiana Jones, though, could feel triumphant, and elevate a stalled film series with a standalone martial arts spin-off.
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Both Short Round and the innately likeable actor behind him have been missing from our screens for basically thirty years at this point. Canonically, comics reveal that deadbeat dad Indy shipped the kid off to a boarding school after a few more fan-pleasing adventures, and his 2008 ‘journal’ hints that Short Round went on to become an archaeologist himself. The factual reason for Quan’s absence, however, is far less fantastic.
Post-puberty, Quan only took on minor teen roles before moving into fight choreography, working behind the scenes of X-Men and Jet Li films. It’s infuriating to learn that he quit acting in 2002, disappointed at the lack of roles for Asian-American actors: “I remember after Indiana Jones and Goonies, the roles that I was offered to go out and audition for were really stereotypical characters with a couple of lines that didn’t even have a character name.”
Coincidentally, the movie that would bring Quan new optimism was box-office smash Crazy Rich Asians, starring Quan’s Everything Everywhere All At Once wife Yeoh. Quan speaks with exuberance in an interview with Consequence about the bumbag fight, and seeing proof that audiences were enthusiastic for stories that centred Asian characters: “…to be able to go there emotionally and physically, and I got to do all of that in one movie. And not having done it for so long, 20 years to be exact, and to have this opportunity was just unbelievable.”
Now I believe it, and I want to see more. He couldn’t be dismissively nicknamed Short Round anymore, but the character’s joyous zeal should remain intact, whether he’s fighting Nazis or some 60s Cold War threat. As with Everything Everywhere, it’d be an opportunity to highlight Asian-American screen gems like James Hong and newcomer Stephanie Hsu (who takes a role clearly written for original cast member Awkwafina and makes it something entirely freaky and original).
There would be time for love, with Quan’s archaeologist getting the same chances Ford got to woo his brave companions. There would be precious idols and machete-swinging goons and crumbling caverns that remind Gen X viewers of The Goonies just a tad. Whilst not a tenured professor like his mentor, this Short Round has his own experiences that Indy could never claim: a lifetime of independence as a seemingly orphaned refugee, street smarts keenly disguised by blithe quipping.
It’s a crying shame that Hollywood hasn’t made space for performers like Quan, and he’ll hopefully get more roles in original projects that speak directly to his skills and lived experience. But if we’re ever going to get a kick-ass, meek-voiced, middle-aged, Asian-American hero turn in a beloved if old-fashioned franchise, let it go to this guy. I’m sure that whip would even fit neatly into a fanny pack if needed.