Kim's Convenience may have closed its doors prematurely, but Simu Liu just got a major birthday present from his new Marvel Studios family. The Chinese-Canadian actor — who rocketed to fame on the strength of that popular sitcom to become Marvel's first Asian superhero — celebrated his 32nd year with the release of the first teaser trailer for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which also happens to be the Marvel Cinematic Universe's first Asian-led, martial arts extravaganza. (Watch the teaser above.)
The surprise even caught Liu off-guard: he started the morning by teasing the reveal of the teaser poster, promising fans that the trailer would be coming in a matter of weeks.
But then Marvel went ahead and let him tear the wrapping paper off his present ahead of schedule. To say that Liu appreciated the gesture would be an understatement.
The Shang-Chi trailer instantly became the talk of Twitter as well. Directed by celebrated indie auteur Destin Daniel Cretton — whose previous films include Short Term 12, which kicked Brie Larson (aka Captain Marvel)'s career up another notch — the movie marks the MCU debut of Marvel's resident Master of Kung Fu, who made his comic book debut in 1973. On the page, Shang-Chi was the son of Fu Manchu, a controversial Asian villain who originated in early 20th century pulp novels — and reflects all the cringe-inducing racial stereotypes of that era — and went on to be featured in films, radio plays and comic strips. (Marvel doesn't own the rights to the character, which is one of the reasons why he's not featured in this film.)
Liu's Shang-Chi is the child of Wenwu, better known as the Mandarin — and not the fake version that Sir Ben Kingsley played in Iron Man 3. Played by Hong Kong action legend, Tony Leung, this Mandarin is the leader of the Ten Rings, a terrorist group whose existence was teased in the very first Iron Man. Raised with the expectation that he'd enter the family business, Shang-Chi has instead spent the past decade trying to become his own man on the streets of San Francisco. But his date with his dad is coming due. "It's time for you to take your place by my side," the Mandarin tells his offspring, who responds like every other rebellious teenager throughout history: "That's not going to happen."
Caught up in this family affair are Shang-Chi's best friend, Katy (Awkwafina), and his sister, Xialing (Meng'er Zhang). "The core of Shang-Chi's arc in the comics is really a family drama," Shang-Chi producer, Jonathan Schwartz, told Entertainment Weekly. "That was something that Destin keyed into really early on in our conversations, the idea of taking this broken family and this really dark, even abusive family background and seeing what that does to a child over time."
But the movie is also about kick-ass martial arts sequences, and Liu — who famously tweeted his way into the role — mastered a multitude of new disciplines during his intensive training sessions. "I want to sit here and tell you that I was pretty good at martial arts before," Liu remarked in his EW interview. "I had maybe worked a few days as a stuntman in Toronto. But really, my martial arts experience was like backflipping in my backyard when I was a teenager and doing parkour with my friends." Added Schwartz: "I think this is the best action [Marvel has] ever done. Every punch is meaningful, every fighting style is meaningful, and the story is told visually in such a great way."
Along with The CW's recent reboot of Kung Fu and the upcoming relaunch of the Mortal Kombat film franchise, Shang-Chi notably puts Asian-Americans front and center as the heroes of their own stories at a time when violence against the community is on the rise in the U.S. amidst the coronavirus pandemic. That's a subject that Liu himself addressed in a guest column he penned for Variety last month. "I’ve heard the classic 'go back to China' more times than I can count," he revealed. "The truth is that Asian people have been targeted and discriminated against for far, far longer than COVID has been around. These recent attacks, fueled by racist rhetoric in the wake of the coronavirus, are yet another reminder that we are only seen as the foreigners, the unwelcome presence… the other."
Speaking with Yahoo Finance earlier this month, Liu said that his column came from a place of "deep anger" over the prejudice experienced by members of his community. "Anti-Asian racism, if you are Asian, is not something that is new… it’s something we’ve experienced our entire lives," the actor said. "I've never had the privilege of being able to sideline my ethnicity and who I am. We've seen cases where public figures could have leaned in more, and I certainly felt that growing up. I wanted to be that for the next generation: for kids today to have somebody who they can watch onscreen who is unapologetically Asian and is proud of their Asian culture and heritage"
According to Cretton, Shang-Chi sets out to directly challenge Asian stereotypes by highlighting how the title character is just like everyone else in the audience — regardless of martial arts training. "We wanted to make sure that Shang-Chi was just like any of us," the director told EW. "I want to watch this movie and say, 'Yes, that's how I feel. I feel out of place sometimes, and I cover it up with humor.' He's a kid who is out of his element and a fish out of water here in the U.S., and he's covering it up with this charisma that I find very relatable."
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings opens in theaters on Sept. 3.
Watch: Simu Liu talks to Yahoo about the importance of representation in the MCU
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