When actor and stuntman Jason Chan was growing up with Mississauga's Simu Liu, he likely wasn't expecting to see his close friend's face plastered on a massive billboard right over Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles.
But that's the level of fame the former Kim's Convenience star has reached now, starring in Marvel's newest film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
In an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning Thursday, Chan said the movie is hugely important for Asian representation.
"[Liu and I] always talked about how we as Asian Canadians need to take up space in the world, and we need to find some sort of representation of us in media and entertainment," Chan said.
"Kids now have something that I didn't — a Marvel superhero, someone on screen that represents them, someone they can look up to, someone they can dress up as on Halloween."
LISTEN | Jason Chan talks about Simu Liu's rise to play Shang-Chi:
Though movies based on Marvel Comics have become pop culture monoliths, Shang-Chi represents the studio's latest gamble on a character that is far from a household name.
It almost seems unbelievable now, but when the first Iron Man movie was released in 2008, the character — and the rest of the Avengers, by extension — were not among the studio's most popular properties.
But with the film rights for characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men controlled by other studios, Marvel bet on Tony Stark and won, setting the stage for lesser-known characters to get their own shots on the big screen.
Similarly, no one outside of the most ardent comic book nerds had ever heard of The Guardians of the Galaxy before 2014 — and now one of Vin Diesel's most popular roles is a talking tree who only spouts variations on a single line. Hollywood has changed, and superheroes are everywhere.
Shang-Chi marks the first theatrical release for the studio's much-hyped Phase Four, with Marvel now featuring a character that hasn't enjoyed widespread popularity since the 1970s.
WATCH | Eli Glasner reviews 'Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings':
Chan has been to both the Los Angeles and Toronto premieres of the film, which is now out in theatres. He told CBC News the first time he saw his friend up on the screen, it was almost unbelievable.
"I know this guy so well that sometimes it's hard to differentiate him as a character versus him as my buddy who I play video games with and basketball with and just mess around with," he said.
"The movie takes you in and takes you on a really beautiful journey."
The Shang-Chi character itself carries a complicated legacy, and some depictions from the early comic books are undoubtedly racist — especially the character's original father "Fu Manchu," which is a character Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has repeatedly said is not in the film.
Instead, legendary Hong Kong film star Tony Leung plays a version of Shang-Chi's father named Wenwu in the film. Wenwu is also a version of The Mandarin, a famous villain from the Iron Man series.
With the film poised to elevate Liu's status to global stardom, it will likely be impossible for this newfound fame to not affect him at least a little, Chan said.
"But deep down he's still the same sort of dorky guy I've known since seventh grade," he said.
"As kids we didn't really know what we could achieve, especially in an Asian household where you only had two options — doctor or lawyer. Acting wasn't in the picture. But from an early age I knew he was someone who loved to perform, someone who loved to tell stories, who loved to share his own experiences with other people."