Did you know that the guys responsible for one of the most beloved and zany videos of 2014 are nominated for several awards at the upcoming Oscars? Because I sure didn’t.
Actually, let me back up. Somewhere in the recesses of my pop culture-addled brain, I was aware that the 2014 video for the DJ Snake and Lil Jon collaboration “Turn Down For What” was directed by 35-year-old director tandem Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as Daniels. And I also knew that Daniels directed the 2022 runaway smash at this year’s Academy Awards.
But somehow, my brain failed to connect the dots in any meaningful way until my editor pointed out to me that I’ve been talking about that movie pretty much nonstop since it came out last year, and that this was exactly the sort of connection that would allow me to do so in the music section. Also, it’s pretty darn nifty that Daniels were able to earn all those Oscar nominations by essentially just doing all the same things they did in their music video on a larger scale.
The track record for music video directors who turned to film has some truly wild variation. Sure, directors like Francis Lawrence (“Bad Romance,” “I’m A Slave 4 U”) went on to direct blockbusters (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Mockingjay) while Spike Jonze (“Buddy Holly” and “Sky’s The Limit”) garnered critical acclaim for his arthouse films (Being John Malkovich, Her). But you also have Michael Bay and Hype Williams. The less said about Belly, the better.
But if you’d told people in 2014 that the people behind the unhinged “Turn Down For What” video would ultimately bring their transgressive commitment to chaos to the big screen – and earn 10 Academy Award nominations in the process – they might not have believed you. But in viewing Everything Everywhere All At Once, they’d see that all of the hallmarks of Daniels’ style remain intact. Which means that even after all their success, “Turn Down For What” might remain their greatest accomplishment yet.
In case you need a refresher on just how wild DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s video gets, here it is. The video opens on the rooftop of an apartment building, with a man staring into the camera as the beat builds. He leaps into the air in an apparent belly flop that smashes through the roof as the beat drops, landing in the apartment below. He proceeds to twerk on and/or hump practically every piece of furniture, terrifying the apartment’s occupant. She phones the police, and at this point, you’re likely expecting the story to proceed from what is an unusual but still altogether believable standpoint.
You’re wrong, though. So wrong. Not only does the phone officer’s face melt off a la René Belloq in Raiders Of The Lost Ark – one of many pop culture callbacks throughout Daniels’ work – but the dancing affliction of patient zero turns out to be somewhat contagious. After the lady’s clothes get blown off with a pelvic thrust, she joins in the debauchery, dropping her derriere right onto the first man’s face and once again crashing through the floor into the next apartment. This time, they disturb a family sitting down for dinner, leading to looks of horror and dismay as the process starts all over again.
The dance moves this time run the gamut of provocative Caribbean and South American styles (my favorite is the Brazilian Surra de Bunda, in which the female dancer rests her legs on her partner’s shoulders and then repeatedly smashes her posterior into his face… it’s so ridiculous) until the family gets into it too. The mother’s mammaries move of their own accord, the dad and daughter start headbanging, and before you know it, yet another apartment is practically demolished. And yes, they once again end up in the unit below, where at least an actual party is taking place.
The unsuspecting partygoers stare at the newcomers for a bit, and then things get really out of hand. A police officer sent over for the noise joins the party (of course), more furniture and flatware gets destroyed, and in the end, everyone ends up slumped over. That doesn’t stop the first guy’s sweatpants from twitching ominously as the video cuts to black.
When the video was first released, it was a phenomenon, leading to thinkpieces in Vox and on music interest sites, memes, and edits that made it even more ridiculous than it originally was. The internet couldn’t get enough; the song itself was licensed for use in films like 22 Jump Street, Furious 7, and the second Angry Birds movie, appeared in comedic sketches on The Tonight Show, and was even used in political campaigns like Rock The Vote and Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative.
But that video was a huge part of the reason it stuck – people couldn’t get enough of it (to date, it’s accumulated well over a billion views on YouTube). And it established many of the signature flourishes of Daniels’ direction style, from irreverent and downright vulgar humor to the prominently Asian cast – which was as revolutionary in its day as that of the multiverse-hopping Oscars multi-nominee. Much like the dancing contagion from the video, Everything Everywhere features a sort of “everybody was kung-fu fighting” plot element in which one character suddenly displays outsized combat proficiency before nearly every other character becomes a drunken master.
Slow-motion butt drops figure prominently into both works, both for comedic purposes and plot advancement. Even the concept of each apartment being its own little ecosystem before the dancers crash through its ceiling is echoed in the use of the multiverse, where each timeline is encroached upon by Michelle Yeoh’s Evelyn as she seeks the means to defeat the “villainous” Jobu Tupaki. The film is littered with the same sort of pop culture references that led Daniels to nod to Indiana Jones; a song lyric absent-mindedly inserted into some dialogue by Kwan winds up leading to the song itself becoming the connective tissue between worlds.
Even the song’s title seems to reflect Daniels’ maximalist philosophy. As the multiverse shenanigans get nearly overwhelming, as so many plot points converge that you wonder how they’ll keep track, just when you think Everything Everywhere can’t possibly get any bigger, louder, funnier, more obnoxious, heartbreaking, or poignant, Daniels ask themselves, “Turn down for what?” and go even harder. As it turns out, that could be a winning strategy.