It was an outrageous “Daddy Joke” that wasn’t even meant to be a joke.
“Can I ask you something?” Tu Le asked, with all sincerity. “Why are you interviewing these people?”
“The men,” and their mother, burst out laughing.
But the answer is not complicated. Maybe it’s because the boys — your two sons — are martial arts phenomena that have big roles in mega-popular films. Andy and Brian Le scored some of the funniest – and most raunchy – moments in “Everything Everywhere at Once.”
“When I told my friends they had never heard of the film,” Le urged, sparking more laughter.
Despite the lack of buzz among Le’s older counterparts, the rousing kung fu/sci-fi comedy has raised an estimated $30 million since opening in theaters three weeks ago. Rotten Tomatoes, a website that garners a lot of reviews, gives the independently produced film a rare five stars.
“Everything Everywhere” stars Michelle Yeoh, who rose to prominence in Hong Kong action films before taking on roles in more mainstream shows such as the 2000 hits “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and, in 2018, “Crazy Rich Asians.”
In “Everything Everywhere” Yeoh portrays a frustrated mother, wife, and laundry owner who finds herself traveling through strange alternate universes, each of which is a world full of dream-like antics and dizzying acrobatics.
Meanwhile, the Le brothers strangely emerge as security guards who love to kick, turn bad guys and lewd scene thieves.
“I read the script three or four times and I still don’t get it,” said Andy Le, 30. “It’s very unorthodox and chaotic.”
The story of how the La Quinta High graduates made the jump to Hollywood begins in their childhood home in Westminster, where, they are a little embarrassed to admit, they still live.
“We can’t get rid of them! They are my babies,” teased Xuyen Nguyen’s mother, hugging 28-year-old Brian Le affectionately.
Nguyen, 67, and Tu Le, 69, immigrated from Vietnam in 1985. The couple worked selling kitchenware at Santa Ana exchange meetings, often employing Andy and Brian.
“We would wake them up at 4am on weekends to help load the merchandise into the vans,” said Tu Le.
“Ah, they put us through the ring,” Andy laments mockingly. “But it instilled in us the value of hard work. We were little kids, helping to set up and unload.”
Tu Le introduced his children early to the Hong Kong martial arts film starring Yeoh, although he never dreamed that they would one day appear in a film with him.
“As toddlers, we imitated movements, throwing kicks and punches in the living room,” recalls Brian.
Then they take him outside, practice together in the front yard or in a nearby park.
Where they don’t take him to a martial arts studio. Self-taught athletes have never had formal training in their sport. “Our parents couldn’t afford the classes,” Andy said.
So the boys created, and honed, their own eclectic style, blending kung fu, karate, judo, Muay Thai boxing, and whatever else caught their eye. “We represent a new generation of mixed martial arts,” said Brian.
When they were in high school, Andy and Brian met Daniel Mah, a like-minded martial arts fan, at the local gym. At the time Mah, now 33 and living in Torrance, was studying at UC Irvine.
The three bond and, just for fun, form the “Martial Club Action Team.” Over the years, their YouTube videos – in which they somersault in the air like Olympian gymnasts – have garnered hundreds of thousands of followers.
Two levels apart, Andy and Brian went on to earn a degree in kinesiology at Cal State Fullerton. But school, they admit, was never a top priority. “Our minds are on the martial arts,” said Andy.
After graduation, between part-time jobs, the members of the Martial Club spent much of their time filming and editing videos. The problem is, they haven’t figured out how to monetize what their parents thought was just a hobby.
“We have to encourage them to finish college,” said Nguyen. “And then, all they want to do is do martial arts and sit around editing their YouTube videos.
“I never imagined they would be doctors or engineers.”
Andy, jokingly, pushed back: “You always tell us we can achieve anything we want to achieve. And we take it literally.”
Fortunately, established filmmakers took notice. Brian Le was hired as a stunt double for the martial arts television series “Into the Badlands,” which aired in 2017 and ’18. Dan Andy Le collaborated in 2018 with martial arts actor Jackie Chan on a project for the ecological nonprofit organization WildAid.
Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, who co-wrote and directed “Everything Everywhere All at Once”, also found Martial Arts Club on YouTube. Mah works behind the scenes in the choreography of their film.
The brothers reunited with Yeoh in the 2021 Marvel superhero film “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” which ultimately beat “Everything Everywhere” to theaters.
Even now, the Martial Club’s friends were contemplating the lesson “Everything Everywhere.”
Brian Le relates it to the immigrant experience. “The parents in the film work long hours running the laundry to support their family,” he said. “We grew up in the same circumstances. Our parents didn’t speak English when they came here and worked hard at the exchange meeting.”
Mah thinks the film is a reminder of “what really matters.”
“We tend to underestimate the value of love and family and exaggerate things that don’t really matter,” he said.
Tu Le, who hasn’t missed a single Yeoh film, met his idol this year, at the premiere of “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
Nguyen was also blown away: “Michelle told me, ‘Thank you for raising these two wonderful boys.’ She is very kind and very beautiful.”
What do parents think of R-rated scenes where their offspring are shown lewd toys and other unmentionable things?
“It was a little shocking, but very funny,” replied Tu Le with a disappointed smile – again, to the point of bursting out laughing.
They may not grow up to be engineers or doctors, but parents agree that Andy and Brian Le will go.
“We are very proud,” said Tu Le.
“I know what you’re really thinking,” interrupted the eldest. “’When will my kids get real jobs?’”