Shang-Chi star Simu Liu hits theatres as Marvel superhero
Shang-Chi star Simu Liu talks to The National’s Andrew Chang about becoming a Marvel superhero, watching the movie for the first time with his parents and the complicated end of Kim's Convenience.
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Is this what you wanted? Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Marvel's first superhero flick with an Asian lead. It's a major milestone and a big roll of the dice screening only in theaters for the next month and a half. Will people watch in a pandemic? Welcome back, movie lovers. A couple of people to say hi to. But beyond opening day jitters, you'll find a man who's been laying groundwork for years. Playing Jung on Kim's Convenience, honing his martial arts and stunt work. Plus, a prophetic tweet or two. Who are you? I met up with Simu Liu in Toronto to talk about how he's passed the mold for generations to come. Simu, long time no talk. How you've been? It's uh it's yeah, some things have changed since the last time that we set. Yeah, you're you're kind of a bigger deal now, huh? Well, you know, it's a full circle moment. I remember sitting down with you on the set of Kim's convenience days after I had I had gotten announced at Comic Con and talking about what a whirlwind that was and here I am now saying the same, you know, saying the same tune. It's a whirlwind. It's still a whirlwind. The whole 2 years has been a whirlwind. Well, and even funny enough, even since our last interview in the actual convenience store, It's convenient. Yes. We bumped into each other. It must have been like several weeks ago. On Front Street. Yes. Yeah, just randomly. I was just walking around. Yeah. And I remember asking you about how surreal it must have been to see the trailer for the movie. Mm hmm. Tell me what was it like to sit down and actually watch the whole movie. They picture locked the movie and then I got a call right away from Marvel and they they basically were like, look, you have a choice. You can either screen it in Toronto or we can screen it for you and some friends in LA. My thoughts went right away to my parents who, you know, I owe every and I've been very vocal about that and and I was like, you know, nothing would make me happier than sitting down with them in a theater and experiencing this movie for the first time with them. So, that's what we did. But they haven't made your career easy, have they? No, I wouldn't have pushed you the whole way, right? Yes. Well, they, you know, they did it with the with the best of intentions. I'm sure, you know, you know, for for parents like ours who immigrated to a new country and and fought so hard to have stability for the family. I think it felt like a bit of a slap in the face for kid to be like, I'm gonna throw all of that away and by the way, all the money that you invested in my education to be an accountant and I'm gonna I'm just gonna do like bell commercials and one liners on TV shows. They were like, what? Like, what is your plan? Where is all this coming from? I mean, I'm sure it was a lot for them to take in. So, thankfully, now, it's it's finally gotten to a point where I'm able to provide that sense of stability back to them. But a lot of people won't know that even during your time on Kim's convenience, your parents weren't entirely convinced, right? Even despite that success and so it kinda makes me wonder, okay, now you've had this. Yeah. Does that kinda seal? This is a little bit bigger. I think it was that you know what what really really sealed it for them was like seeing all of the Chinese news outlets, the Chinese language posters, and and all of that marketing come out. I think it it just kind of really opened their eyes to just how global of a phenomenon Marvel was and just how much of a deal it was to be a part of one of their franchises. Speaking of the wave that's behind you, have you seen this clip for Do you know who this is? This that is mister Donnie Yen. Yes, of course. Have you seen this clip? II believe I have. Yes. Let's just let's just play it for you. Yes. Okay. Continue to strive to represent the Asian. You know, I'm Chinese. You know, II have uh III take pride of my uh uh origins. I think that um opportunities in in western film makings should be fair and equal. I look forward for that to see that film. So, first of all, here. So, he said he said he's he's gonna watch the movie. He's gonna watch. That's what I got. That was the movie. That's what I got out of the whole thing. Have you, have you, by the way, have you seen Hero? Uh of course. Of course. It's it's it's so one of my favorite movies of all time. Yeah. Huge, it's a huge martial arts movie that must have been from 20 years ago. Yes. Uh nearly. Donnie Inn. Donnie the chess courtyard scene. Of course. He's in it. Your co-star. Tony Lung. Yes. Tony Lung. And my in the my the most uh my my favorite scene in the entire movie which is which is Tony Lung's character, Jet Lee's character, dueling, uh you know, in the air, dancing across this like and but you know what? There are so many fewer degrees of separation now between you and those guys that that you and I both grew up watching. So, when you hear someone like Donnie Ann say the kinds of things that he's telling you and that he's gonna watch the film, what does that actually mean to you? I mean, I think it, I think it validates a lot of, you know, my my dreams and aspirations that I've had for forever and I you know it's so wonderful hearing him say don't forget your heritage your roots your parents story and um you know carry those things with you as you ascend and um I hear him I hear him and I plan on it you know I know a lot of grown ups who wanna see this movie I also know a lot of kids who wanna see this movie and and that's kind of important here too right because you know I think of Black Panther right comparable thing where a lot of kids got really excited to see that and it it occurs to me that this is kind of um I don't know an opportunity for Asian representation because it's a superhero flick, right? That that may not have presented itself necessarily in quite the same way with a movie like Crazy Rich Asians which which would have been for uh a different age group. Definitely. Perhaps. Definitely. Like like what's your sense of that when you think of the younger kid? Well, I think of what superheroes meant to me when I was a kid and when I was younger, they were all I cared about. I was obsessed with superheroes. I mean, just this idea I mean, first of all, I was a misfit kid. You know, I, you know, son of immigrant parents. You were the good kid. You you were doing your homework here. I was socially awkward to say the least. That being said, not seeing myself ever reflected in that way also affected me and I think made me feel like I was, like I never played for the home team like II would never, I was never at home in any space that I occupied whether it be at school or you know, out uh you know, in with my family, we were always treated like we were visitors. You know, I think I think something special happens when you see yourself as a superhero. I think superheroes represent hope. If you see yourself as a superhero, you could be anybody and um and if you don't see yourself as that, if you see yourself as the side character, as a stereotype, then maybe you internalize what that is and you internalize the way that the media views you and you allow that to color your sense of self worth and self image. I gotta ask you about Kim's convenience. Mm hmm. Huge milestone moment. Right? For comedy in Canada. Absolutely. For Asian representation in this country but ended in a really complicated way. Did that show live up to its potential? What was it missing? What was its legacy? If you were to ask me if I was proud of each and every single episode of coming to work every day and getting to work with Jean and work with Paul and Andrew and Andrew and Nicole. I would say 100 percent. Yes, it gave me great pride and and I'm very proud of everything that the show has accomplished. I'm proud of the fact that families still will, you know, approach me, will approach us on the street and talk about how Kim's Convenience brought the entire family closer together. If you were to ask me if I felt like the show lived up to its full potential, I would say no. I would say um you know, I wanted so much more out of all of our characters, out of our stories. I wanted, I wanted to tell the stories that uh that reflected my life and my experiences and and um I felt like there was just such a missed opportunity. I have time just for one last question for you. Without spoiling anything in the movie, uh line that really sticks out to me cuz I'm sure it might have stuck out for you is the one about the trajectory. Mm hmm. Of your character in the movie. It will be like nothing you have ever experienced. Your life will never be the same. And and I was wondering if that character was talking to Shang Chi or Dasimu. That character was talking to both of us and when I was on set shooting that scene, I remember getting chills. There was a sense even when I got the call from Kevin Feige. You know, all those moons ago and a sense, you know, at the premiere on Hollywood when I walked on the red carpet with my parents that nothing would ever be the same and um I'm still very much still very much feeling that. Simu, congratulations. Thank you, Andrew.