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After Refugee Beginnings: Vietnamese-American Actor Ke Huy Quan Wins Oscar

By March 13, 2023No Comments


Vietnamese-American actor Ke Huy Quan accepts his Academy Award for his roll in Everything Everywhere All At Once

Photo Credit: Todd Heisler/The New York Times

“My journey started on a boat. I ended up in a refugee camp…they say stories like this only happen in the movies. I cannot believe this is happening to me. This is the American dream!” – Ke Huy Quan

After decades behind the camera, 80’s child star actor and stuntman Ke Huy Quan returned to the spotlight over the weekend. He won his first Academy Award for best supporting actor in the 2022 smash hit Everything Everywhere All At All Once. Today, we celebrate the Vietnamese-American’s perseverance and journey to the U.S. as a refugee.

Ke Huy Quan was born in 1971 in South Vietnam. He was just seven years old when he left Vietnam on a packed boat, eventually arriving in a Hong Kong refugee camp with his father and five siblings, while his mother and three other siblings arrived in Malaysia. In 1979, the Refugee Resettlement Program eventually resettled his entire family in the U.S. 

When he was 12, he found mainstream success acting next to Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones’ pickpocketing sidekick “Short Round” in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It was a role Quan says he earned by “mistake,” following director Steven Spielberg’s suggestion that he try out himself while attending his brother’s audition. A year later, he appeared as the gizmo-loving Data in the iconic film The Goonies. Quan also appeared in the movies Head of Class and Together We Stand.

After his childhood success, decades passed as Quan’s acting opportunities dried up, forcing him to pivot and find work behind the camera as an assistant director and fight choreographer in a handful of Asian films. He even served as a stunt choreographer in the 2000 blockbuster movie adaptation of X-Men. After quitting acting, Quan enrolled and graduated from the University of Southern California’s film program.

After years out of the spotlight, Quan says he was inspired to return to acting after witnessing the success of the 2018 movie Crazy Rich Asians, which featured a cast of Asian actors. After watching the film, Quan said he experienced “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out) and quickly signed with a new agent to begin seeking acting opportunities once again. Two weeks later, Quan received a call about starring in Everything Everywhere All at Once.

Everything Everywhere All at Once took home seven Academy Awards. For his celebrated role as the loveable and high-flying Waymond Wang, Quan won a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Award, and now his first Academy Award – all for best supporting actor. Along the way, Quan has spoken of how thrilled he is that today’s Asian actors who he inspired are the ones who galvanized his triumphant return to the front of the camera.

“Over the years, I’ve met a lot of Asian talent now working in Hollywood. They always thank me and say, ‘Man, it was so great to see you up there on the screen, because I was able to see myself. Thank you for paving the way for us to be here.’ And, of course, it’s interesting because they’ve paved the way for my return,” Quan says. “My return to acting is the direct result of the progress made by them.”

You can watch part of Quan’s acceptance speech from the Academy Awards below.