The Marvel Cinematic Universe is known for pumping out some prime-time superhero stories, but never quite like ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.’ Firstly, the culture and representation seen onscreen is something that is a first for many of the roles, including the title character of Shang-Chi (played by Simu Liu.) The story itself is distinctive, focusing more on the complications of a shattered family and the ever-growing relationships rather than just loud explosions, dueling heroes and capes. ‘Shang-Chi’ is not just a story about good vs. evil, it’s about the grey area that is inevitably there when it comes to love, conflict and emotional toils.
Simu-Liu plays Shaun, or Shang-Chi, one of the greatest combat fighters in the world who essentially goes into hiding in San Fransisco after completing a task set out to him from his father years prior to where we find him in the film. The story evolves from there and shows how Shaun’s parents met and fell in love, and then were destroyed by violence. With some help from his best friend Katie (Awkwafina) and sister (Fala Chen) Shaun is thrust into a mission that brings him back to where it all started, and from there the legend keeps getting bigger.
Simu- Liu sat down with Metro to discuss the whirlwind of landing an MCU lead and what it means to him to take on ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.’
What was you interest in this role, and what was it like to learn you were now cast in the MCU?
The people who know me know that I’m as big of a comic book geek or nerd as it gets—I’ve watched every single MCU movie several times, I’ve watched all of the obscure Marvel movies like ‘The Punisher’ the Nicholas Cage ‘Ghost Rider,’ the Jessica Alba ‘Fantastic Four’ and so on and so forth. I really just was an avid consumer of the whole thing and so, my interest in the role from the moment they announced they were fast-tracking the development of ‘Shang-Chi’ was that it was something that would be deeply impactful not only to myself, but to millions of people who had never seen themselves represented in that way.
Of course, it was a dream of mine to portray a superhero…I’d never thought i’d be a superhero, but thankfully in 2019 I was invited to audition. I sent in a tape and then it was kind of off to the races from there: I flew down to LA and met with the director and we established this beautiful rapport. Destin (Daniel Cretton) is such an amazing filmmaker too, he managed to take something that was in essence a gigantic blockbuster and really distill it down to a relationship between a boy and his father and the mash-up of this family that had been torn apart by tragedy. I clued in on that, I let that inform the rest of the process and I flew in to do a screen test in New York. I was cast two days later and then four days after that was shipped off to San Diego and brought out in front of a crowd of 8,000 people and live streamed all over the world—so, pretty crazy.
You brought up the family relationship aspect in this movie that fuels the story—what does that bring to this superhero genre?
I think it brings an intimacy that you don’t often see in the genre. There really is a tendency I think with giant movies to just be giant at every turn. I can tell you for some of the ones I’ve seen in life, it can be really hard to connect with the characters sometimes when the stakes are so mega and fantastical. I always think it’s better to bring it back to a place of humanity and emotion and like I said before, Destin I think knew right away the story that he wanted to tell.
All of the superhero stuff, the action sequences, I think there was a realization that none of that mattered if we didn’t have a story that was grounded and that made people feel real emotion. We talked a lot about that relationship between Shaun and Xu Wenwu and we wanted that to be the engine around what everything else worked around. I think we’ve done a tremendous job. What’s been really great is reading people’s first impressions as they come out of that theater for early screenings—it’s just how much they identify not only with the Shaun character but also with the Wenwu character. These are not a protagonist and antagonist and not a fight between good and evil, this is a guy and his father trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered family and I love the fact that our story is built around that.
What went into the training for this film?
I knew from day one I had my work cut out for me. Shaun/Shang-Chi is one of the greatest hand to hand fighters on earth—Simu nearly broke his neck backflipping in his backyard once, so the contrast there should tell you everything you need to know about where my level was at and where I needed to be at. Pretty much from the moment I was cast I started training and I took it very seriously, I knew that the action would be the critical part of our movie and a critical part of our success overall. Also the character doesn’t have a mask, it doesn’t hide his appearance in any way, so in a lot of ways we couldn’t be replaced as easily by CGI or stunt performers…it was going to be a lot of me. Knowing that, I dove into the preparation process and worked with trainers in Toronto and LA, and then when we arrived in Sydney to prep, worked with a larger stunt team there day in and day out. I basically just acted as I was one of them and did what they did, fought when they fought, rested when they rested.
The only thing on top of that, I had to do an hour or hour and a half of strength and conditioning every day. [The training] was to make sure we’re building the “Marvel body” that we’re known for, but really the most important thing was building a body that could withstand that much physical activity in shooting. It became such a marathon and even just reading through the pages of the script, it was apparent early on that this would be very, vey hard.
There’s just a lot of action in this movie and a lot of twists and turns and a lot of new challenges. Some of which are hand to hand and some of which are gymnastics and parkour and acrobatics and some of which are just good old fashioned wire work—and I had to do it all. It was one of the hardest things Ive ever done and also an incredible experience.
Overall, what does Shang-Chi bring to the Marvel Universe?
I think it brings a really beautiful coming of age story about discovery and self-acceptance and just individual growth. I think it gives a kind of action that you’ve never seen before in the MCU, one that’s very grounded, one that’s very visceral where you feel the hits and you believe your eyes and what you’re seeing because so much of it is practical. I think just the fact we bring such celebration of culture and faces that have not too often been portrayed in that way is very powerful. I just always think about how much it would have meant for me as a kid growing up in Canada to see something like Shang-Chi on the big screen… I think it would have been tremendous to watch.
‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ opens in theaters Sept. 3.