Meet the self-trained martial artists who fought their way from YouTube to Everything Everywhere All at Once
It is fair to say that the parents of Andy and Brian Le pulled no punches in their opposition to the brothers' decision to become martial artists.
"And I don't blame them either," says Andy Le. "Obviously, like most Asian parents, they wanted us to become a doctor, lawyer, accountant, anything with a stable income. They came [to the US] and went through a lot of hardships to give us a better life, so they wanted us to live a stable life. But something went wrong with us. We accidentally believed our own hype a little too much and now we're working in feature films."
The Orange County-based brothers have become in-demand martial arts performers in front of the camera and highly-regarded action choreographers behind-the-scenes. Brian Le's credits include the AMC show Into the Badlands while Andy Le portrayed the character of Death Dealer in last year's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Now, audiences can see the siblings' work in Everything Everywhere All at Once, the Michelle Yeoh-starring science fiction-action-comedy from writer-directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan (a.k.a. "Daniels"). The brothers both helped stunt coordinator Timothy Eulich choreograph fight sequences and are also featured as onscreen performers. "We wanted to pay homage to the classic Hong Kong cinema that we all grew up watching and they are these walking encyclopedias of Hong Kong-style martial arts," says Eulich. "Having them around really helped us bring that sharp flavor and style to some of the Hong Kong-style action sequences specifically. They brought this raw talent and energy to the film that radiates through the screen. I loved working with those guys."
Remarkably, the siblings received very little training when they were first getting into martial arts. "I was formerly trained a little bit when I was a kid," says Andy. "I didn't get too far, maybe only a few months of training, simply because at the time my family couldn't afford classes. I have a couple of friends who were actual martial arts coaches, I've jumped in on a couple of their classes, but for the most part, me and Brian, we're self-taught, yeah."
The pair honed their martial arts skills by watching videos on YouTube and old kung fu movies. "With the internet nowadays, you've got resources to learn pretty much anything you want," says Andy. "We would literally play kung fu movies back in slow motion and try to copy their movements, shot-for-shot, frame-for-frame, angle-for-angle. That's exactly how we learned for the most part."
The brothers and a friend named Daniel Mah formed a martial arts club named Martial Club, and around a decade ago started posting their own videos on YouTube. "We just picked up a camera one day," says Andy. "We would recreate some of the fight scenes we would watch in the most classic Hong Kong movies. We would put our own flavor to it, and we would just put them up on YouTube." Over time, some of the Martial Club videos would attract hundreds of thousands and ultimately millions of views. "After a couple of years, we noticed we started to get a bit of traction," says Andy Le. "So we took it a little more seriously and then we eventually had bigger dreams, like, maybe we could be the forefront bringing back martial arts action into this film industry."
The pair began picking up jobs, with Brian working as Nick Frost's stunt double on Into the Badlands. "He was great," says Le of the Shaun of the Dead star. "He's probably one of the funniest people I've ever met, on- and off-camera."
Andy, meanwhile, collaborated with action legend Jackie Chan on a commercial in support of the conservation organization WildAid. "Andy Cheng, a veteran of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team, he saw us on YouTube," says Andy. "He was, like, 'Hey, we're doing this small commercial with Jackie, do you want to come help us design some of the choreography a little bit and just come play?' I came up with a general structure for Jackie, but a lot of the choreography that I was coming up with was stuff that I [learned] from him. [Laughs] I showed it back to him, and he just did it and did it better. I told him, 'This is your stuff.' He's like, 'Yes, from 40 years ago.'" Le got a big thumbs-up from Chan at the end of filming. "The one moment I will remember is, after the shooting day, he looked at me, and he said, 'Next generation,'" he recalls. "They say, 'Being covered by the dust of your master.' Just being involved in that was a checkmark off my bucket list."
The directors of Everything Everywhere All At Once also discovered the brothers via their YouTube videos. "One day, the Daniels called us up and asked us if we wanted to be featured in this film [and] also do the action in this film," says Andy. "A lot of action in the film industry has been very big, like, Marvel spectacles or the John Wick-style. The Hong Kong martial arts style has kind of died out, and they kind of wanted to bring it back, and that was kind of our speciality. We're also known for our brand of martial arts comedy, which kind of fits in with their wacky, crazy style. The Daniels said they scoured the world; they couldn't find anyone who really brought this flavor of Hong Kong martial arts action. They saw us on YouTube, and they were like, I think these guys are the only ones who can do it right now."
Everything Everywhere All at Once stars Michelle Yeoh as a laundromat-owner named Evelyn Wang who discovers she is the only person who can save the multiverse from an evil force. Over the course of the film, Evelyn acquires a raft of martial arts skills, allowing Yeoh to showcase her own action talents with help from Eulich and the brothers.
"The Le brothers watched our movies, all the different kinds of kung fu movies, and they taught themselves how to do it," says Yeoh. "I could not believe that they never went to the conventional [academies]. But then I said to myself, okay, I never studied martial arts in the conventional way, so why should I think they needed to?"
The Le brothers admit to having been in awe of the actress. "Most people in our generation kind of knew her from Crazy Rich Asians, but we knew her from all the Hong Kong movies back in the day," says Andy. "Working with her, literally my knees would be shaking. I guess you can call us the biggest fanboys. Whenever we had hours designated with her for rehearsals, we would just show her the general movements, or at least the general structure of the action sequences, and not much to our surprise, she would just pick them up very quickly."
"I never get starstruck, ever, but when I saw Michelle Yeoh, I got star-struck," says Brian. "Because, growing up on all the Hong Kong action films and classics, Andy and I have seen every single Michelle Yeoh movie there is in the world to see. She's basically our kung fu heroine. She's one of the stars that we've looked up to since we were kids. So that was quite an experience."
In the finished film, one sequence finds Brian's security guard facing off against Evelyn's fanny pack-wielding husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), while another scene, we can confirm, finds the brothers tangling with some, ahem, butt plugs. "Just expect that if it's Andy Le or Brian Le onscreen, then there's martial arts action off the hook," says Andy.
Andy reunited with Yeoh on last year's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which was shot after Everything Everywhere All At Once. "It was crazy, it was so wild," he says. "I started off on YouTube, so I know what it's like to develop a film from scratch, and then we jumped over to an A24 film, a very independent film, and then when we jumped over to Marvel it was like, wow, everything was green-screen, wires, special effects, and I got to see all that. For me, it was a big learning experience and beyond that, I got to work with Michelle Yeoh, Tony Leung, Yuen Wah, a lot of Hong Kong legends and veterans I grew up watching. From watching them onscreen to sharing the screen with them was a surreal moment."
The Le brothers are hoping for plenty more surreal moments ahead.
"Yes, the world should know that Martial Club has our own plans in the future," says Andy. "Right now, we're in development on a couple of projects we would be starring in and developing ourselves and taking control over. When these films come out, whenever that may be, the world's going to see Martial Club at our full potential, no filter."
Hmm, so how does their family feel now about them pursuing martial arts as a living? "Once they started to see us working with like Jackie Chan and with Tony Leung and Yeun Wah and all these veterans they grew up watching as well, they were starting to be like, 'Okay, maybe this is the career path for you,'" says Andy. "Sometimes I would joke to my mom, like, hey, 'Maybe I should drop this whole acting thing and become an accountant instead.' And my mom's like, 'No! You're in too deep!'"
Everything Everywhere All at Once is playing in limited theaters and will be released wide April 8.
Watch the film's trailer below.
- How the Everything Everywhere All at Once stunt coordinator helped two film legends beat the crap out of each other
- See Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis duke it out in Everything Everywhere All at Once photos
- Michelle Yeoh has a wild trip across the multiverse in Everything Everywhere All at Once trailer
- Michelle Yeoh remembers the stunt that almost killed her