Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, Marvel Studios’ latest superhero film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings brings some badly needed Asian representation to the hugely popular film franchise. Actor Simu Liu, who is known mainly for his role on the Toronto-set sitcom Kim’s Convenience, plays the title role of Shang-Chi, who has previously been known in the comic books as the Master of Kung Fu.
With Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings entering cinemas this weekend, Eastern Eye recently got to speak with Simu Liu about headlining the newest installment in Hollywood’s most successful franchise, how he relates to his character, his favourite superhero, and much more. In addition, the 32-year-old actor also talks about the delays the film faced due to the coronavirus pandemic and how it feels to see his labour of love find its way into cinemas.
You tweeted to Marvel Studios in 2014 asking them about having an Asian-American hero. And now, here you are! How does it feel to be headlining a superhero film with a predominance of Asian cast?
It feels like I am a bit of Twitter God, to be honest. I think it is easy to look back and say, “Oh, man! I knew all the way back then that I was destined to get this role.” But the truth is that I forgot about the tweets the moment I tweeted them out. I was not reminded until after I was cast. I think some people went all the way back and were like, “Oh my God! Isn’t it incredible that you tweeted these things?”
I mean it is pretty awesome. I have definitely been a fan of the superhero genre for a lot of my life, which is probably why I tweeted those things. But I also just believe in the power of representation. I believe that every community deserves to see them reflected as a hero, as somebody who embodies hope and inspiration, and possibility. I think that it is like the epiphany of what representation can mean to somebody. It is such an honour and privilege to be introducing the world to its first Asian title superhero.
You said in your previous interview that you could kind of connect to your character because of who he is. Could you please elaborate a little bit on that?
I think growing up Asian in a country like Canada, which by the way really prides itself on its multiculturism and its celebration of diversity. Even then anytime you turned on the TV, you went to cinema, you did not really see yourself reflected. I remember I could count on my hands all of the times when I saw Asian people on screen, and it was never in any kind of meaningful capacity. So, I think, I always kind of felt like I did not quite belong. I think there is something different that has been happening in the last few years, which is that we have been getting to normalise what it means to be diasporic Asian, which means Asian growing up in a non-Asian environment.
Movies like Crazy, Rich Asians (2018), Farewell (2019), and Minari (2020), for example, featuring these Asian-Americans, deal with the Asian experience growing up in a foreign country and try to build a life. The inter-generational struggles that children can have with their parents growing up in a very, very different environment. That has been very incredible. And, I think, our movie is an extension of that conversation, and it is blown up on a massive global platform that is Marvel Studios. I think it is such a wonderful opportunity. It is a joy and celebration of culture in a lot of ways.
Who was your favourite superhero growing up?
I loved all of them. I think I really loved Iron Man and Spider-Man. I love superhero with masks so that I could kind of imagine myself in those situations. I knew I could not be a superman for obvious reasons. I remember doing Google searches on Asian superheroes and trying to figure out who they were and wondering when I would get to see them and then being kind of disappointed as there were not many.
Why were you so fascinated by superheroes?
First of all, I was the only child and my parents worked all the time. They worked so incredibly hard to be able to provide a life to me and provide stability to the family. I just feel I was home a lot and did not have a lot to do other than homework. I feel that for a lot of these awkward kids, the superhero narrative is like the perfect one. The idea that anybody anywhere can come upon extraordinary circumstances and can rise to the occasion and be this superhero that saves the world that even the most insignificant people, even the dorkiest and most awkward kids somehow embrace the greater destiny. I think that is kind of the narrative that really sucked in me and that’s why I actually devoured superhero comic books, cartoons, and movies.
There are several jaw-dropping martial art sequences in the film. How did you pull them off?
Yeah, there are a lot of them. The sheer volume of action sequences that we have in our movie, I mean it really is no joke. I always say that if a human being had actually gone through what Shang Chi goes through in the first half of our movie, he would be in hospital. I mean he would have at least broken multiple ribs; he would have had some sort of fractures. He goes through a lot. He falls off multiple storeys, is suspended so high in the air. He really goes through it all over the course of the movie. Each and every one of those action sequences is the product of so much preparation, rehearsal, testing and all of those things. But we were very committed. We knew that action is going to be such a crucial part of the movie. It being a martial art focused movie in the Marvel Universe, there were always going to be expectations. We did not want to meet them but exceed them. So, we just kind of threw ourselves into it and it was definitely a marathon. But I had the pleasure of being able to prepare over a long period of time. I had four months with which I used every available second as much as my body would allow me to prepare for the role.
The movie was delayed several times due to the pandemic. Now that it is finally out, how does it feel?
Like a huge relief, I think. There was a time when we think we would not be able to finish this movie. We were not sure if we would ever make it to cinemas. Thankfully in July, after we had been shut down for four months, we finally got the go-ahead to finally come back to production and when we did, I think everyone from the cast and crew to the producers knew how important it was that we all do our parts. So, we followed every protocol. We made personal sacrifices and did not go out as much as we could have because we wanted to just protect the bubble and be as safe as we possibly could. And because of the hard work of hundreds of people, we were able to finish the movie without even a single positive case. We did not shut down a single time after we started and went straight to the finish line. So, it really is a testament to everyone’s commitment level. And to finally be at a place, after so many delays with the release date, where to be introducing it to the world is incredibly exciting.
Your character’s sneaker game in the movie is totally off the chart…
That’s so funny. We did put a couple of Easter eggs in there for some sneakerheads to see and there was one pair of shoes, in particular, that is extremely rare that I tried to get my hands on after the movie got wrapped. I was told repeatedly “no chance. We do not own this pair. This pair is going to awards somewhere. You cannot have it.” I was like, “Come on, how much it could be worth?” And then the producer kind of leans in and whispers it in my ear. I was like, “Oh my God! For shoes? And then, of course, Shang Chi also wears Jordan and it is like the official kind of superhero costume. So, there is a lot of homage to sneakerheads and sneaker culture.