Marvel has its first Asian superhero lead in Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu, who will play the titular kung fu master in the upcoming movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Many people already know Liu from film and television, including the hit series Kim’s Convenience about a Korean-Canadian family.
But before Marvel—and before he was the affable Jung in Kim’s Convenience—he was “accountant giving a presentation.”
Liu spent the early years of his career doing side gigs as a stock photo model. The irony is that the actor used to be an actual accountant—and a terrible one at that.
Liu was born in Harbin, a city in northeastern China known for its bone-chilling winters, and moved to Canada, a country known for its bone-chilling winters, when he was 5.
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In an essay in Maclean’s, he recounts how he was raised by his grandparents in China before joining his parents in Canada, and how that caused a rift in their relationship in the early years of his childhood.
Shortly after graduating from the University of Western Ontario’s Ivey Business School, he found work at the accounting firm Deloitte.
“I lasted less than a year,” he told Character Media. “I was miserable at this job, just as I was miserable as a student, and really didn’t feel like I was living the most purposeful version of my life at all.”
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Luck came when he spotted an advertisement on Craigslist calling for extras on Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim in 2012. It was his entrée into the acting world.
Afterward, he started getting other small roles in movies and television, including as a Hong Kong detective in the action series Nikita.
But his big break was playing the estranged son, Jung, in the family sitcom Kim’s Convenience.
The show shot him to international fame, especially after it began streaming on Netflix last year.
Marvel’s decision to cast him as Shang-Chi, a character loosely based off Bruce Lee, caught Liu by surprise.
“Literally, I was cast on Tuesday,” he said during the announcement at San Diego Comic Con on Saturday. “I screen-tested on Sunday in New York. This is just the craziest, craziest dream.”
A natural choice
In many ways, Liu was made for the role.
He is trained in martial arts, and on social media, he has been outspoken about Asian representation in film and television.
Last year, when Marvel announced that it was fast-tracking the Shang-Chi film, which is slated for release in 2021, Liu raised his hand for the role—with a tweet.
Speculation over who would play Shang-Chi ran high last week after Marvel indicated that it was intent on finding an actor of Chinese heritage.
But few imagined the process would cut so close to the 11th hour.
“I can’t help but think about my parents,” Liu told the audience at Comic Con. “My parents immigrated from China to Canada 25 years ago with nothing except the hopes and dreams to build a family and to build a life with their kids, and all I’ve ever wanted to do growing up was to make them proud.”
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will center on a kung fu master born to a Chinese father and white mother.
In the original comics, Shang-Chi learned his skills from his father, a martial arts assassin, but later rebels against him.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Marvel plans to retain the father-son storyline, with Hong Kong actor Tony Leung playing the main antagonist.
Awkwafina, who had breakout roles in Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell, will also be in the Shang-Chi adaptation.