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Simu Liu: Things Fans Might Not Know

The star in Marvel's latest superhero movie, "Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings," Simu Liu, is the embodiment of the American dream — or more technically, the Canadian dream. He was born of modest means, emigrated to Toronto from China when he was a child, and he's worked hard for everything he's earned. Despite facing many hardships, including the challenges of being a first generation immigrant and overcoming a failed career, Liu has managed to work his way up the socioeconomic ladder. Even better, he's using his blossoming influence to promote charitable causes, ranging from funding school lunches, to stripping down sexual stereotypes by, well, stripping down and taking topless selfies — which is not something we're complaining about at all. 

Liu maneuvers his newfound fame with a sense of self-effacing grace and refreshing humor, underlined by a mild insecurity which occasionally reveals a surprising vulnerability. His struggles with sexual stereotypes, beauty standards, and career paths have caused Liu at times to question if he's good enough to take on the mantle of "first major release Asian superhero." It's a blessing and burden he takes as seriously as his training, and learning about the man behind the actor reveals he's more than worthy of the role. From fan-events gone wrong (or right, you be the judge), to talents which transcend acting, to his extensive work with nonprofits, here are some of the most notable and surprising facts about Simu Liu.

Chasing the Canadian dream

Simu Liu was born in Harbin, China in 1989, and shortly after, his parents left the country. They were granted a rare opportunity to pursue graduate studies at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada, but due to financial constraints, Liu's parents moved without him, with the plan of bringing him over when they were able. 

It was a heart wrenching decision they didn't take lightly, which is reflected in the name they chose for their son: Liu's first name comes from the Chinese characters meaning "introspection" and "envy"/"longing." "That was them knowing that I would grow up without them and without parents," he shared with Men's Health, "and that I would always be longing for them—and they would always be longing for me." 

Liu was raised by his grandparents in the interim, and after five long years his parents finally had the financial means to bring him over as well. Unfortunately, this caused a rift between Liu and his parents, describing them in a candid letter he wrote to Maclean's as feeling more like "distant relatives" when they reunited at last in 1995.

From failed accountant to memoir-writing superhero

This rift was further exacerbated by differences in the way he and his parents reacted to their new life in Canada, and as he grew up, Liu felt like his parents were overly critical of everything he did. He longed for a more affectionate family and craved his parents' approval. Under his parents' direction, Liu graduated from Ivey Business School at Western and became an accountant at a high-end firm. However, crunching numbers wasn't his passion, and it must have shown, because he was laid off in less than a year. 

Liu was so scared to tell his parents about his perceived failure he mentions considering suicide rather than facing their disappointment in his Maclean's letter. It was at this low point he decided to pursue a career that made him happy, rather than worrying about what his parents or anyone else thought, and shortly thereafter, Liu began to pursue acting. After struggling with the transition for a few years, he gained momentum which carried him on to starring roles on a major television network for several seasons, and Marvel's coveted superhero lineup. 

This is a massive amount of life-experience for someone who's been on this planet barely three decades, and Liu has been inspired to pen a memoir as a result. Aptly titled, "We Were Dreamers: An Immigrant Superhero Origin Story," it's due to come out May 3rd, 2022.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Simu Liu used art as therapy

Thankfully, Liu's found closure with his parents and mentions in his Maclean's letter that their relationship is "the best it's ever been." As he grows older, he finds himself more capable of understanding his parents' motivations and perspectives. Gratitude for their work ethic, dedication, and achievements in the face of incredible odds is replacing the resentment he harbored growing up. 

Liu closed his touching letter with, "You are my heroes and my inspirations, and I work hard everyday not because it's what you expect of me, but because it's what you taught me to expect of myself." Interestingly, this maturity was discovered thanks to a pivotal acting role, which Liu described to "Men's Health." In 2016, he saw a live performance of a play called "Kim's Convenience," written by Korean-Canadian Ins Choi, after hearing it might be adapted into a television series.

After seeing the show, Liu left the theater in tears, telling Men's Health, "I kind of saw [my parents'] side for the first time ... It really just hit me how much they sacrificed to come to this new country, to speak a language that they didn't know at all." After going on to star in the TV show inspired by the play, Liu grew much closer to and open with his parents, and described all five seasons as "therapeutic and cathartic."

The way of the spider

As a way to make ends meet when he first started acting, Liu picked up many side gigs along the way. One of his more memorable, and painful from the sounds of it, was dressing up as Spider-Man for kids birthday parties. "I would basically just get physically assaulted by them for an hour," Liu revealed to guest host Sean Hayes on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" Liu went on to explain that none of the kids ever believed he was the real Spider-Man, because his cheesy costume was a dead giveaway. 

Although Liu had a negative experience playing Spider-Man, he described himself as a "huge comic book nerd" in an interview with ScreenRant and wants Marvel's next "Shang-Chi" film to feature a team-up between the martial arts master and Spidey. His inspiration comes from a 2011 Marvel storyline, "Spider-Island." Together, Shang-Chi and Spider-Man develop a martial arts style known as the "Way of the Spider," a hybrid version of Peter's own combat style and Shang-Chi's martial arts. This sounds totally awesome, would translate brilliantly on the big-screen, and we hope Kevin Feige is paying attention to this genius suggestion.

Simu Liu had a self-fulfilled prophecy

They say fortune favors the bold, and in Liu's case this seems to be a reality. Before he made the transition from no-name extra to big-time star, Liu posted a few Tweets which in hindsight seem prophetic. Ever the activist for more minority representation in film, Liu wrote the following in July, 2014: "Hey @Marvel, great job with Cpt America and Thor. Now how about an Asian American hero?" 

A few years later, in 2018, Liu shared another eerily unwittingly prescient Tweet: "OK @Marvel, are we gonna talk or what #ShangChi." Almost five years to the day after making his first post calling out Marvel, it was announced at San Diego Comic-Con that Liu would be cast as the star of "Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings." 

In response to this fascinating coincidence, Liu replied to his first post with a simple but appropriate response, "LOL," and the second with, "Well s—." In the same uncanny situation, we'd probably have the same response.

His audition for Shang-Chi was a Good Will Hunting scene

When Disney and Marvel sent word to Liu's manager that he was one of their top picks for "Shang-Chi," they requested an audition tape for the role. Rather than divulge pages from an under-wraps project, Liu told Los Angeles Magazine the studio asked him to perform two scenes from "Good Will Hunting" instead. During his first major talk-show interview, Liu told "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" that one of those scenes was the infamous "12 Big Brothers" scene with Matt Damon and Minnie Driver. 

He went on to say that "Good Will Hunting" is one of his favorite movies, which was both "good and bad" because it was hard not to let his familiarity with the film influence his delivery. Liu also confessed to acting out how Shang-Chi might sound with a Bostonian accent, which sounds both amazing and hilarious at the same time. 

On the surface, "Good Will Hunting" and "Shang-Chi" may seem like two very different films, but Liu continued telling LA Mag that director Destin Daniel Cretton chose "Good Will Hunting" for the "Shang-Chi" auditions because, when you strip away the cultural filters, they're both "about a character who's doing everything he can to run away from who he really is, from family, from ideas of destiny, and the greatness within him."

Shang-Chi isn't his first superhero role

The challenges Liu has faced as an Asian-American have given him a self-described "chip on his shoulder" as he shared with Interview Magazine, which have affected his choices as an actor. In an effort to channel his frustrations in a constructive manner, Simu wrote, directed, and starred in a 2015 short comedy called "Crimson Defender vs. The Slightly Racist Family," in which Liu plays a superhero attempting to rescue a white family trapped inside a burning barn. Hilarity ensues when they question his motives, because they've never seen an Asian superhero before. It won Best Ensemble Cast at the 2015 Asians On Film Festival, and provided Liu an opportunity to play a superhero on screen — something he'd longed to do, but never been able to before. Little did he know his role in "Shang-Chi" was lurking on the horizon, and it would all come full circle. 

In what seems like a moment right out of a movie, Liu told Entertainment Weekly he got the news he was cast as Shang-Chi after of a major racially charged disagreement on the set of "Kim's Convenience." Liu and other cast members found one of the lines written for his character to be incredibly offensive. Later that night, he was in his apartment when he got the call from Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, director Destin Daniel Cretton, and casting director Sarah Finn — what a glorious moment of vindication that must have been.

Giving back to the community

Gold Opens are hosted by Asian American Pacific Islander nonprofits Gold House and CAPE, who distributed free tickets for "Crazy Rich Asians" to AAPI youth and community groups, and helped make it the most successful romantic comedy at the box office in nearly a decade. Now, Gold House is aiming to provide the same grassroots support by hosting "Gold Opens" on the opening weekend of "Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings," as reported by The Hollywood Reporter.

The hurdles Liu has faced as an actor of color, specifically an Asian actor, have inspired him to support other Asians in film and television. When Lulu Wang's "The Farwell" was premiering in theaters in 2019, he was inspired to throw his own "Gold Open," bought out the Manulife Centre in downtown Toronto, and gave away all 500 tickets. Maclean's reported that he bought the tickets in-person and waited more than an hour for them to print the old-fashioned way because Cineplex wouldn't let him buy so many on such short notice. 

Wanted: Beach volleyball players

Another impromptu, self-organized event got out of control in the summer of 2021, when Liu was enjoying fun in the sun at the Santa Monica Pier. He told Los Angeles Magazine that he wanted to play beach volleyball, but didn't have enough people for a proper game. So, he reached out to fans on Instagram disclosing his location, in the hopes a bunch of enthusiastic volleyball players would show up. 

Instead, several fans with large merchandise and figurine collections arrived, hoping to have them personally autographed. Rather than burst Liu's bubble and reveal their true motivations, the fans attempted a few rounds of beach volleyball before asking for autographs. 

After playing for about an hour, Liu felt they'd "earned it" — despite the fact Liu found their volleyball skills less than satisfactory. "Nobody was good at volleyball," he concluded with "LA Mag," which makes one hope next time his beach volleyball experience is more successful. At least he got to connect with his fans!

He made a rap dissing Ryan Reynolds over a fantasy football loss

Liu's love of sports helped foster a bond between fellow "Shang-Chi" co-star, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, who plays his estranged father on-screen. While training and working on-set together, the two bonded over their shared passion for snowboarding, with Liu telling Los Angeles Magazine that Loeng is "a massive adrenaline junkie." 

Liu is such a huge sports fan, in fact, he made a hilarious rap video dissing fellow fantasy footballer Ryan Reynolds after handing him his first loss in the AGBO Superhero Fantasy Football League — a non-profit featuring actors from Marvel films facing off for their charities of choice. Liu manages to insert compliments in between the trash talk, starting the song off with, "Yo Ryan, from one Canadian to another man, I'm sorry. Actor, producer, there's nothing you can't do. My Asian mother wishes every day that I was you." 

Still, his rhymes hold nothing back, with lines like, "I'm a big fan of Deadpool, I don't mean to be blunt. Deadpool's CGI, bro, I do my own stunts."

Simu Liu also sings

Liu delivers more than just raps on the mic, he also loves to sing and has quite a talented voice that he loves to show off whenever possible. He revealed to entertainment.ie that his "second dream" is to star in a musical, and his go-to karaoke songs are '90s boy bands tracks like "I Want It That Way" by Backstreet Boys. 

Fans first became familiar with his vocal capabilities on "Kim's Convenience," most notably in the thirteenth episode of Season 1, "Family Singing Contest." Since that time, Liu has shared some delightful YouTube videos performing with Filipino-American singer-songwriter AJ Rafael, as well as a cheeky opening song for the from the 18th Unforgettable Gala in 2019. 

That same year, Liu also gave a stellar delivery of the National Anthem at the Staples Center, where he crossed paths with then-Atlanta Hawks player Jeremy Lin. He told SportsNation (via EssentiallySports) Lin had been a huge inspiration to him, and they struck up a close friendship after that first meeting.

He had little martial arts experience prior to "Shang-Chi"

Since Shang-Chi never has his face covered, it was imperative that Liu learned to master as many of his own stunts as safely possible for the role, and the final results are stunning. Considering how fluid his moves appear on-screen, one would assume he was at least a higher belt in one discipline before his training, but nothing could be further from the truth. Liu revealed to guest host Sean Hayes on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" that his level of martial arts expertise was limited to doing "backflips in my backyard" and a "handful of stunt jobs in Toronto." 

Portraying Shang-Chi required Liu to throw himself into his training to prepare for the role, practicing several forms of martial arts, as well as improving his agility and flexibility while also gaining strength and mass. That is no small feat for anyone to accomplish in such a limited amount of time, and he pulled it off thanks in part to a killer team headed by fight choreographers from mainland China, Liu's transformed from "almost falling on [his] face in [his] backyard," as he put it to Hayes, to a bona fide ninja and total badass.

He takes off his shirt...for a good cause

Not only is Liu dedicated to expanding Asian representation in film and television, he's also determined to alter the demeaning sexual stereotypes surrounding Asian men. Liu vented his frustration over the topic when it was brought up during an interview on "The Social" he shared via Instagram: "Imagine being a kid growing up and having none of the girls want to date you and hearing most of all that people are 'just not into' Asian guys." 

He continued, "We're [not] portrayed as sexy men who like to take their shirts off, but as dorky, nerdy sidekicks." Liu then went on to divulge the juicy insight that any time he feels this tired trope edging into his consciousness, he posts a shirtless selfie on Instagram — which seems like a great cause for shameless self-promotion, and is one his many adoring fans wholeheartedly appreciate and support. They say success is the best revenge, and in this case, we'd have to agree.

Got school lunches?

Liu's efforts to give back to the community transcends shirtless selfies, charity rap battles, and movie ticket giveaways. He's also paying it forward to future generations through powerful partnerships and by acting as a spokesman for non-profits focused on children's welfare. 

In October 2020, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) honored him with the role of their Canada Ambassador. Liu shared on Instagram, "I believe in every child's right to a childhood, and am proud to lend my voice and share my experiences to help children in need everywhere." He launched another charitable partnership with the California Milk Processing Board and No Kid Hungry to launch the "Stay Strong Together" campaign, which is committed to tackling the increases in child hunger from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to their data, a record number of more than 2.2 million California children are facing hunger this year, which is as inexcusable as it is heartbreaking. It's so comforting to know that some people with power and influence, like Liu, are doing what they can to make a difference. Not all heroes wear capes, some wear ten rings!

Simu Liu created a multiseason Sunfire "bible"

In addition to Spider-Man and Shang-Chi, Liu is also a huge fan of Sunfire, a lesser known Marvel character with a fascinating, yet haunting backstory. He even confessed to ScreenRant that he wrote a "bible" for a Sunfire series when he was 22, and fantasized about playing the character long before he was cast for "Shang-Chi." A militant Japanese mutant named Shiro Yoshida with the power to shoot atomic fire, Sunfire learns to use his powers to fight the good fight alongside the likes of the Avengers, X-Men, and even as a "super-warrior" for the Japanese government. 

Interestingly, Sunfire even ties into Shang-Chi's story by way of the Mandarin on the pages of "Iron Man" Volume 1, Issue 68, "Night of the Rising Sun!" Liu went on to describe Sunfire's development from a close-minded baddie to an honorable good guy to as a "beautiful arc" and the character as "really, really fascinating."

Considering Liu told Vanity Fair that Kevin Feige gave him an incredibly flexible contract that he describes as "almost platform-agnostic," it's possible Liu could be granted his nerdiest wishes — from his long-hoped for Shang-Chi/Spider-Man team-up, to a Sunfire television series. Who knows, maybe we'll see them advertised in the near future on Disney+.