Nothing can describe the feeling of seeing a familiar face on the movie screen, especially one that embodies what it means to be an Asian-Canadian and a Chinese immigrant who ended up in Mississauga, Canada. Simu Liu once broke the internet with his bold move of tagging Marvel in a Twitter post, then he did it again with his performance as the Asian Marvel hero, Shang-Chi.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings felt nothing like a regular Marvel movie. With recurring themes of family, unconditional love between parents and children, and the Asian experience of living in a Western world while still tethered to our Asian roots, the movie felt more genuine and realistic compared to the likes of Kim’s Convenience, which starred Liu as Jung. Liu finally got the chance to show the world proper Asian representation as Shang-Chi and The Legend of Ten Rings depicts the story of our hero, who struggles with problems of both fantasy and reality.
Jesse Navarathinam, a fourth-year communication, culture, information, and technology (CCIT) student, grew up watching Kung Fu films. He watched Bruce Lee and his wild adventures, Jackie Chan and his insane stunts, and even Donnie Yen in the more recent Ip Man series. However, after discovering the era of Marvel superheroes, the faces he was once familiar with were replaced by heroes who were predominantly white.
“At some point I began to learn that heroes all wear the same face—blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin. And when Halloween [came] around, I watched as the white kids dress[ed] up as their favourite superhero while I wore my Spiderman costume with my face covered.”
Shang-Chi captured all the martial arts glory of older Kung-Fu films and more. The added computer-generated imagery (CGI) mixed with the realism of stunts and choreography balanced perfectly in the movie. There was not so much CGI that the martial arts looked fake, but enough that it felt magical.
“I’m not a big fan of superheroes. But the moment I saw Simu Liu’s face on the screen and him busting out his moves in his red dragon scaled costume, I started screaming. I never felt this way,” said Catherine Lam, a second-year criminology student, when asked about how she felt the first time she watched Shang-Chi. She has always been proud of her Chinese heritage and was excited to finally see someone representing her as a hero alongside the likes of Captain America and Iron Man.
“Seeing a local [from] Mississauga, [a] GTA-born (Greater Toronto Area) and raised actor, going from being a stock picture model, to a local sensation in Kim’s Convenience, [to] the face of the Asian Marvel superhero makes you feel like anything is possible. It feels like I grew up with him, knew him, and was there when he started. It’s like I was there for his whole journey,” Lam continued. “He lives here in Mississauga. Can you believe it?”
However, Liu’s road to becoming an Asian hero was not a smooth ride. As Kim’s Convenience announced its final season earlier this year, Liu took to Facebook to reveal how disappointed he was with the management and how “white-washed” the decisions were for the show. The now-deleted post also revealed how he felt held back and was frustrated that they could not represent the Asian-Canadian experience as accurately as they could have. He also discussed how he was paid less even when their ratings were higher, in comparison to his white co-stars.
Liu is outspoken about the importance of representation and what it means to him. He has a “hunger [and] aggressiveness [for] succeeding,” said Ambrose Wong, a Toronto-based filmmaker in the Assistant Director Department for Kim’s Convenience, in an interview with The Medium. “I have worked with Simu on numerous occasions, from his start within the industry as a background performer, [to] meeting again on Kim’s Convenience, and then [on] a personal project of ours, Meeting Mommy.” After seeing Liu’s climb to Marvel hero, Wong noted “you can’t reach that kind of growth within such a short period of time without hard work and dedication to succeed.”
As a first-generation immigrant, Wong was both happy and anxious about this representation. While he was happy to finally see Asian stereotypes broken, the anxiety came from recent events with the rise in Asian hate crimes as Wong said, “carrying on the movement in this time is very crucial but delicate.” He went on to note other Asian stars such as Paul Lee, Steven Yeun, John Cho, Andrew Phung, Andrea Bang, and many more, wishing that “their hard work and efforts do not go to waste [and that] Simu will take this opportunity to take part in this movement in a positive manner.”
Navarathinam shared similar sentiments as “[he] can’t wait to see Gemma Chan, Kumail Nanjiani, and Don Lee stepping into the Marvel scene with Eternals as Asian heroes.”
Don’t miss the chance to see Shang-Chi and the Legends of the Ten Rings in theatres as it continues the fight for film diversity.