‘I was screaming’: Malaysia and Vietnam celebrate Oscars triumphs

Cinema fans across south-east Asia have celebrated groundbreaking Oscar wins for the Malaysian film star Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan, who was born in Vietnam.

Yeoh, the first person of south-east Asian descent to win the best actress award, for her role in Everything Everywhere All at Once, described her victory on Sunday night as “history in the making”.

“For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities. This is proof that dreams do come true,” she said.

Michelle Yeoh wins best actress in historic Oscars win – video

The 60-year-old’s speech was watched live by her mother, Janet Yeoh, from a cinema in Kuala Lumpur, where more than 100 celebrities, as well as politicians, had gathered from 7am local time (2300 GMT) on Monday morning for a viewing party.

Michelle Yeoh video-called her mother after her speech and was met with a chorus of cheering from across the room. Her mother chanted “Malaysia Boleh”, meaning “Malaysia can do it” – and, playing on that phrase, “Michelle Boleh”.

Janet Yeoh, the mother of Michelle Yeoh, celebrates her daughter’s Oscars victory at a cinema in Kuala Lumpur.
Janet Yeoh, the mother of Michelle Yeoh, celebrates her daughter’s Oscars victory at a cinema in Kuala Lumpur. Photograph: Vincent Thian/AP

Joe Chan, a Malaysian art director, said he had grown up watching Yeoh on-screen and was one of many who tuned in to the ceremony. “Talent translates, no matter where you are from and where you are at,” he said.

Valerie Leya, a motions graphic designer in Malaysia, said she did not normally watch the Oscars but had followed this year’s ceremony on social media because of Yeoh’s nomination, and was a fan of her latest performance.

“I loved how there were throwbacks to old Cantonese films interspersed with fast-paced TikTok-style editing and zoomer humour,” she said. “The heart of the film is about a mother trying to overcome a generation gap between her and her daughter – this conflict also felt like a bid for Michelle to reach a younger audience.”

Yeoh’s co-star, Quan, won the best supporting actor Oscar for his role in the same film.

“I was screaming when he won,” said Do Nguyen in Ho Chi Minh City, who followed the results from his college dorm. “His story was very inspiring and emotional. He escaped Vietnam – his home – in 1979, made a wonderful debut as a kid actor, struggled to survive in the Hollywood industry, and made the biggest comeback ever.

“His character in the movie and Ke himself make all of us believe in second chance and hard work.”

‘This is the American dream’: Ke Huy Quan wins best supporting actor – video

Quan, 51, made his big-screen debut as Short Round, Harrison Ford’s sidekick in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1984, and later starred as Data in The Goonies. He quit Hollywood in his 20s due to the lack of good roles for Asian actors.

In his acceptance speech, he said: “Dreams are something you have to believe in. I almost gave up on mine. To all of you out there, please keep your dreams alive.

“My journey started on a boat. I spent a year in a refugee camp, and somehow I wound up here on Hollywood’s biggest stage. They say stories like this only happen in the movies. I cannot believe it’s happening to me. This, this is the American dream.”

Bui Khanh Minh, who followed the results online from Ho Chi Minh City, said she was ecstatic to hear of Quan’s win: “I was having my breakfast and then I was refreshing my Twitter timeline. I was having my morning pasta and coffee and then I cried into my breakfast. My flatmate thought I was having a Monday meltdown.”

But she questioned Quan’s description of his experience as being the “American dream”, citing how he had waited decades for roles and full recognition as an Asian actor. “As an audience, I feel like calling it an American horror.”

Online in Vietnam, some sought to question Quan’s identity as Vietnamese, saying his parents were of Chinese descent and that he had left Vietnam for the US at a young age.

Quan is among hundreds of thousands of people who fled Vietnam during the boat people crisis of the late 1970s and early 1980s, after the war. This included many who were associated with the fallen Republic of Vietnam, who headed to the US and elsewhere, and who have often been regarded in Vietnam as collaborators with the American “puppet” government.

“I also don’t care too much about whether Ke Huy Quan is ‘categorised’ as Vietnamese or not,” said Minh, referencing such online posts. “You come from a foreign country and you succeed on your own terms. That is truly inspirational of its own.”


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