Simu Liu on Shang-Chi: "It means that kids growing up today will have what I didn’t"

Simu Liu in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
(Image credit: Disney/Marvel)

The release of Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will mark the first major Asian-American Marvel superhero on the big screen, with the titular martial-arts expert – known as Marvel Universe’s greatest hand-to-hand fighter – played by Simu Liu. And it is a destiny that Liu brought upon himself. 

Back in 2014, the Chinese-Canadian actor who is best known for popular TV sitcom Kim’s Convenience, tweeted “Hey @Marvel, great job with Cpt America and Thor. Now how about an Asian American hero?” Five years later, as news of the casting broke, he replied to his own tweet with “LOL”. 

Above, you can see an exclusive picture of Liu in the movie – in casual clothes rather than his superhero cossie, as he prepares to start the journey of reckoning with his past – taken from the upcoming issue of Total Film magazine.

Liu certainly looks the part, but he couldn’t quite believe it when he first got the phone call from Marvel Studios’ head honcho Kevin Feige.

"I reacted by crying hysterically into my pillow," he tells Total Film, and the responsibility bore down on his shoulders as he hit the gym to get his torso superhero-ready. "It’s certainly quite a bit of pressure, I have to say. I loved superhero movies growing up. I loved Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, but I was always keenly aware that people who looked like me could not look like that."

Playing Shang-Chi will fix that, and the story promises not just almighty dustups and giant dragons but to dig into what it means to be Asian-American. At the movie’s heart is a family drama, as our hero is brought up by his father Wenwu (Hong Kong superstar Tony Leung) to be a fist-of-fury assassin who can change fighting styles to fit whatever the job demands. Wenwu is the leader of the Ten Rings organization (which kidnapped Tony Stary in Iron Man), but Shang-Chi is a reluctant heir apparent, scarpering to San Francisco to pursue his own dreams and find his own identity… only for the Ten Rings to of course re-enter his life.

"It’s a beautiful and exciting new origin story for this character that a lot of the world hasn’t heard of before," says Liu. "And it means that kids growing up today will have what I didn’t, which are characters that are aspirational, that also reflect their lived experience."

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings opens in cinemas on September 3. For much more from Liu, castmates Leung and Awkwafina, and director Destin Daniel Cretton, get the new issue of Total Film, which hits shelves this Friday, August 20. Check out the new Dune cover below, as well as the cover of the special supplement that comes with the issue. 

Total Film's Dune issue and special supplement

(Image credit: Total Film/Warner Bros)

And if you're a fan of Total Film, why not subscribe so that you never miss an issue? With the current subscription offer from MagazinesDirect, you get 50% off the cover price and you'll get the issue delivered directly to your door, before it hits shelves. You'll also get exclusive subscriber only covers, like the Dune beauty below. What are you waiting for?

Total Film's subscription offer.

(Image credit: Total Film/Warner Bros/Universal)
Freelance Writer

Ann is a freelance film writer and editor. Member of the London Critics, Ann has written for The Guardian, Total Film, the BFI, Radio Times, The Independent, the Telegraph, the iPaper, and more.