New details about Marvel's first Chinese hero were revealed at San Diego's Comic-Con Saturday, including who the lead actor will be — and he's Canadian.
Simu Liu, known for his role as Jung Kim on the CBC sitcom Kim's Convenience, will star in the highly-anticipated superhero film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Liu was screen tested just a week ago and found out he was cast on Tuesday — two days before Comic-Con began.
"I feel like I was kind of this social experiment," Liu joked with the audience. "Let's just take this guy, an ordinary guy, living in Toronto. Let's tell him he's going to be in the next Marvel movie and give him four days to prep for it.
"This is just the craziest, craziest, dream."
The upcoming film marks Marvel's first feature with an Asian lead.
Liu, 30, left China at the age of five and was raised in Mississauga, Ont. He graduated from the Richard Ivey School of Business at Western University and began working at an accounting firm. When he was laid off within a year, he opted for a new career path.
Simu Liu thanks his parents in 2017 for building his Canadian life:
He began acting in 2012 with a role on the TV series Nikita. Since then, he has had credits on Fresh Off The Boat, Orphan Black, Slasher and Bad Blood among other series. In 2017, he was nominated for both a Canadian Screen Award and an ACTRA Award for his role on the TV series Blood and Water. He won an ACTRA ensemble award the following year as part of the Kim's Convenience cast.
My parents emigrated from China to Canada 25 years ago with nothing except the hopes and dreams to build a family and to build a life for their kids. - Shang-Chi lead Simu Liu at Comic-Con 2019
"My parents emigrated from China to Canada 25 years ago with nothing except the hopes and dreams to build a family and to build a life for their kids," Liu said.
"All I've ever wanted to do growing up is to make them proud. So basically, what I'm trying to say is that I'm really happy that I'm not a doctor!"
The character of Shang-Chi, based on the Marvel Comics superhero, is often referred to as a master of Kung-Fu, having been trained in martial arts by his father from a young age. Awkwafina and Tony Leung (who will play supervillain The Mandarin) will co-star in the film, which will be directed by Destin Daniel Cretton.
Cretton said the casting involved an "in-depth search to try to find somebody who will capture this character with all the dimensions he deserves."
The announcement took place during Marvel's heavily-attended panel at Comic-Con, in which the studio offered sneak peaks at its upcoming productions.
Strides for Asian actors
Marvel's news comes on the heels of some major — and long-overdue — strides by Asian actors and creators in Hollywood, who have been historically underrepresented both on screen and behind the camera.
"That's why I think representation in Marvel is so important," said Nancy Wang Yuen, a sociologist and author of Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism.
"The whole world is watching and I think that it could really do good in terms of sharing social messages that can broaden the perspectives of audiences," she told CBC News in Los Angeles.
Last year's Crazy Rich Asians, based on the novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan, has become one of the top-grossing romantic comedies of the last several decades, according to Box Office Mojo. It featured a rarely-seen all-Asian cast and included film locations in Malaysia and Singapore (where most of the story is set). It was also nominated for a 2019 Golden Globe Award in the category of best comedy.
Canadian Domee Shi won an Oscar this year for Pixar's animated short film Bao, which tells the story of a dumpling that comes to life in the home of a Chinese empty-nester.
Other recent films such as Always Be My Maybe, starring Ali Wong and Randall Park, and To All The Boys I've Loved Before, starring Lana Condor and Noah Centineo, have featured Asian leads in universally-themed storylines without making ethnicity the central focus.
Not 'free to fail'
Yuen said every step is significant, but diverse actors and filmmakers often carry an added burden to make sure their project succeeds so it doesn't close doors for their community as a whole.
"It's like, we only have one chance," said Yuen. "We're still at a point where it's not like we're free to fail ... and that kind of racism is something that we still have to grapple with."
Simu Liu on Q with Tom Power talks about the representation of Asian men on screen:
China, a coveted market for Hollywood, has also become a significant market for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Avengers: Endgame became the top-grossing North American film at the Chinese box office, and the third overall. It smashed records there when it was released in April, earning more than $600 million US — the first foreign film to do so in the country.
The release date for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is slated for February 12, 2021. In addition to the film, Marvel also revealed The Eternals, starring Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden and Kumail Nanjiani, is set for release Nov. 6, 2020. It will also introduce the studio's first deaf hero, played by Lauren Ridloff.