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Why Ke Huy Quan returning to ‘Indiana Jones’ would be so friggin’ epic

Quan has proved himself a worthy action lead in his own right

Collage of AI-generated images by Danny Peterson.

There’s no question that Ke Huy Quan’s Hollywood arc going from rags to riches, to rags, to riches again is one of the most epic comebacks in Tinsel Town history. That is why I must plea to Disney and Lucasfilm that now might be the perfect time to re-introduce his character, Short Round, from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to the adventure franchise. 

The now-Oscar-winning Quan has amazingly proven his action film chops with his incredible turn in last year’s Best Picture winner Everything Everywhere All at Once. In the film, Quan performs stunning martial arts, including a memorable scene in which he uses a fanny pack as a weapon. Owing to his history of being a stunt choreographer behind the camera and his expertise in Taekwondo, Quan confidently performed these movies without computer effects, just like some of the stunt work in classic Indiana Jones films. 

I would argue that the death-defying stunts in the original Indiana Jones trilogy gave the films much of their appeal. True, they had special effects, no question. However, in my opinion, 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull robbed the franchise of its once believable action set pieces by incorporating way too much CGI.  

Less CGI, more Quan

The truck chase scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which Indy is dragged through the dirt by a moving vehicle, will always be more believable and timeless to me than Shia LaBeouf’s Mutt Williams from Crystal Skull swinging on CGI vines, dodging CGI monkeys, and balancing on CGI trucks teetering on a CGI cliff. OK, maybe the trucks and prop vines were practical, but literally, everything else in that infamous scene holds up about as well as a PlayStation 2 cut-scene nowadays. In some ways, that chase exemplifies everything that went wrong with the series. Even the ridiculous moment in Temple of Doom in which Indy escapes an airplane by landing on an inflatable raft is about a million times more believable-looking than his survival from a nuclear blast by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator in Crystal Skull.

Now if we switched up the approach, put a greater emphasis on practical effects and in-camera stunt work, and endowed the Short Round character with martial arts abilities, maybe that could make for a winning formula to take the franchise back to its roots. You could have a passing-of-the-torch film with Indy as Short Round’s older mentor/father-figure type, similar to Sean Connery’s character in The Last Crusade, rather than putting the aged character through the paces of helming a younger man’s adventure. 

‘Dial of Destiny’ critical reception (so far)

Great! Well, now that we know the approach, let’s get this movie going and create the perfect redemption for Crystal Skull, but hang on — another Indiana Jones movie is already on the cusp of release, so is it too late?

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny looks much better to me than Crystal Skull. However, I became worried about the movie when its less-than-stellar Rotten Tomatoes score began to emerge. Currently, the film sits at 56%, based on 50 critic reviews, on the review aggregate site. Moreover, a plot involving time travel means we’ll inevitably get scenes of Harrison Ford in a digitally-de-aged state. And that’s not all. 

From the trailers, there will clearly be a scene that takes place in the past in which the de-aged Indy is fighting bad guys on a train. But the scene takes place on a foggy night, and the early word from those who’ve seen the movie indicates this set piece is heavily CGI-laden, once again. Not only that, but even scenes that take place in the present day seem to have some pretty unconvincing effects to make it look like Indy is pulling off these crazy stunts. One shot that stood out in the very first trailer features the older Indy on a horse, but his head looks like it is just floating on a stunt double’s body. 

History repeating itself

Bear in mind these could just be compression issues, and many of the effects could continue to be worked on by VFX artists up until the 11th hour before release. So the finished product could look a lot better than these initial murmurs indicate. But at the end of the day, wouldn’t it have been better for Lucasfilm to learn from the mistakes of Crystal Skull and not overly rely on CGI? There could be a systemic flaw at play in the movie’s entire approach.

Now look, I haven’t seen Dial of Destiny yet, so I can’t definitively conclude its quality. I’m still aching to see it, actually. But I can’t help but be slightly taken aback by some of the adverse word-of-mouth reports about the film.

These negative rumors about Dial of Destiny initially set me off to create some kind of alternative movie pitch in my head, like the Indiana Jones movie I would want to see instead. I did this by making a collage of AI-generated images, calling it Indiana Jones and the Mechanism of Fate

The fake movie poster featured a more reserved Indy and a stand-in for Quan sporting a martial arts outfit. However, when I posted the image to the r/IndianaJones subreddit, the feedback I got was understandably negative. That is because the premise was derivative of Dial of Destiny. In my own pitch, I also used the Antikythera mechanism as the McGuffin, not knowing that it is the same artifact used in Mangold’s film. However, in my fake Mechanism of Fate movie, the device would have been something that predicts the future rather than being a time machine, preventing anyone from being digitally de-aged.

Creating my own pitch

Some Reddit users also pointed out how making the grown-up Short Round look like a “ninja monk” came across as a bit stereotypical. I also felt this was a fair bit of criticism, although I maintained it would be a good idea for Quan to do martial arts in the movie. For some reason, I also had trouble getting the AI image generators to spit out a grown-up Quan. Instead, it would always generate just a generic Asian guy. 

I took this criticism and made a revised pitch and conceptual thumbnail so that the film could serve as a sequel to Dial of Destiny instead of an alternative fifth installment. Thus, I created the conceptual thumbnail for the hypothetical sixth installment, Indiana Jones and the Tablet of Dawn.  

The response on Reddit was a bit more optimistic, especially with how I reimagined Quan’s character. Rather than being a ninja monk, he would be an aspiring archeologist himself, putting himself through school by working as a stunt coordinator for Hollywood to mirror Quan’s own life story. What’s more, by making an initial AI-generated image of Jackie Chan in an archeologist’s outfit, then using a different AI-powered face-swapping tool I found online, I was able to put Quan’s actual likeness onto the image, and I’m much more proud of how this one turned out. 

I won’t bore you with the finer story details, but the plot was inspired by ancient Sumer and a mysterious real-life artifact known as the Baghdad Battery. The titular Tablet of Dawn would be an instruction manual on utilizing the Baghdad Battery for their long-forgotten intended purpose: the divine ability for people to control mass weather events.

Could Quan make an Indiana Jones comeback, for real?

I don’t seriously believe this pitch will ever make it to screen; mind you, it was just something I came up with on my off-time for fun. And I would mostly write off even the possibility of Quan returning to the Indiana Jones franchise in a future installment if it weren’t for the fact that, as my editor Sarah correctly pointed out, Ford seems pretty game for doing more projects nowadays. For instance, who would’ve thought he would have agreed to play Thaddeus Ross in the upcoming Marvel movie Thunderbolts? And not to mention his acclaimed performance in the Apple TV Plus comedy series Shrinking.

Quan, who will make his Marvel debut in Loki season two later this year, is also really hot in Hollywood right now. As mentioned before, he won an Academy Award last year and impressed movie-goers across the globe with his multiverse-hopping antics in the cleverly filmed Everything Everywhere. Plus, who can forget the viral Oscar moment when Ford himself handed Quan the Best Picture statue, and the pair hugged?

In case you weren’t already aware, Quan stopped getting work as an actor a few years after appearing in films like Temple of Doom and The Goonies because he just wasn’t receiving the call anymore. So instead, he got involved with coordinating stunts for movies, behind the camera, such as in 2000’s X-Men and 2001’s The One. It was only after the success of 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians that Quan was inspired to attempt to get into acting again. But the road to Oscar glory was paved with potholes along the way. After filming wrapped for Everything Everywhere, Quan lost his health insurance during the pandemic, for instance, a story he relayed in Vanity Fair.

Quan’s hypothetical reintroduction into the Indiana Jones franchise depends, of course, on the success of Dial of Destiny. Even if the studio is game to cast Quan, who is currently starring in the Disney Plus series American Born Chinese, a sequel isn’t likely to be greenlit if Dial of Destiny bombs at the box office. However, if Quan’s story has taught us anything, it’s that even the wildest dreams can sometimes still come true. 

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny hits theaters on June 30, and everyone should go see it in case it opens the door for a Quan-starring sequel (fingers crossed). Actually, it looks pretty sweet regardless, so I’ll definitely check it out on its own merit.

Danny Peterson
About the author

Danny Peterson

Danny Peterson covers entertainment news for WGTC and has previously enjoyed writing about housing, homelessness, the coronavirus pandemic, historic 2020 Oregon wildfires, and racial justice protests. Originally from Juneau, Alaska, Danny received his Bachelor's degree in English Literature from the University of Alaska Southeast and a Master's in Multimedia Journalism from the University of Oregon. He has written for The Portland Observer, worked as a digital enterprise reporter at KOIN 6 News, and is the co-producer of the award-winning documentary 'Escape from Eagle Creek.'