Last week, the trailer for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was released to the usual Marvel fanfare. The excitement reverberated across my social circles, mostly composed of Asian-Americans, and became a point of pride as well. Amidst this hubbub, I was suddenly struck with a feeling that condensed into a single thought: I hate Simu Liu.
When I voiced this to my friends and couldn’t elaborate why, I was justifiably called out and labeled a ‘hater’. In truth, I have no reason to hate Simu. He’s an Asian-American success story, a healthy role model without any drama attached. He’s good looking, well-built, and can grow facial hair. What’s more, he’s Canadian, went to business school, and then achieved his dreams of becoming an actor. If anything, I should consider him relatable, if not admirable. But for some reason, I remained unable to shake my strong irrational dislike of Simu.
I started looking for reasons he was problematic. He’s had his fair share of regrettable tweets. He’s hypocritically worked with actors he previously deemed racist towards Asians. In Shang-Chi, they make Tony Leung play a villain based off a racist Fu Manchu caricature. A friend said that he made an indecent pass at someone he knew. The more I searched, the more I realized that all I could find was standard celebrity dirt and hearsay that had little bearing on his character. Furthermore, I disliked Simu not knowing any of this gossip, based on my impression of him alone.
So what was my impression of Simu? Despite my best efforts, I was unable to come up with any sort of identifying characteristics aside from his ethnic identity. He was just an Asian, ordinary enough to be a mechatronics engineer from Waterloo or a CAISA gym rat from Western. He could be any one of my friends that I’d bump into drinking at the Fifth Social Club or rolling at VELD, Cha-rono slang hanging off his lips as he bobs aggressively to the music.
Was that why I took an issue from him? Because he doesn’t have any marketed personality other than general “Asian-ness”? Rationally, that shouldn’t be the reason; he’s a newcomer who hasn’t had a chance to establish himself yet. Plus, most Asian-American actors seem to be either a member of that camp or the funny camp: George Takei and Keanu Reeves are exceptions, but are exceptions to the rule in most cases. The Asian angry Adam Driver, Asian alienated Ryan Gosling, and the Asian Timothée Chalamet don’t exist in popular media, so I can’t fault Simu for his blandness. Perhaps Asian-American actors face the same problem as Asian-American media: they bear the burden of being Asian before being anything else, and having to represent all Asian-Americans.
I returned to my first impression of Simu: distinctly Asian-American, yet somehow also unburdened by its weight, one of us who grew up in an ethnic enclave. Perhaps my dislike of Simu was tied to the idea that he somehow represents me. Though there have been been many Asian-American movie stars before Simu, I never felt that I was necessarily represented by any of them. However, with the Marvel media circus and the attention forced onto him as the first Asian-American superhero, I felt the scrutiny on Simu, and in turn, on Asian-American culture.
My caricature of Simu as an Asian-American everyman extends to the privileged, apolitical, later-generation of Asian-American who mindlessly repeats neoliberal talking points without much introspection. Leftist Twitter refers to the population as “boba liberals”, which I think is a great epithet since a large part of this Asian-American culture is drinking bubble tea, while this group sometimes proudly refers to itself as “yappies” (Young Asian Professionals). I’d take the time to watch the YouTube series for research’s sake before writing, but ironically, I’ve been slaving too hard at my corporate job this week. I’m sure WongFu is aware of the negative connotations of yuppie, but many of its watchers are definitely not.
I need to take the time to unpack my disappointment towards this Asian-American culture: the hyper-materialistic, food-focused, status-obsessed, white-adjacent, young professional, model minority. There are many interesting questions (why form an identity around bubble tea or anime? why is there very little solidarity?), as well as reasonable excuses (the culture is young, no collective trauma or origin bonds the group together). I had originally wanted to segue into the topic this week, but this yappie had too many slide decks to build.
My frustration with Simu then is not only that he seemed to represent every aspect of this culture — he appears second on the credits of Yappie — but also that he is being seen as a representative of all Asians. There are a couple of contradictions here; I did say my dislike was irrational. Firstly, if this yappie culture largely defines Asian-Americans, then Simu is a mostly accurate representation of Asian-Americans, including myself. Secondly, Simu is a person, his own person, and should not be held up to standards that ask him to be the Asian-American poster-child, something that I keep asking from Asian-American media and now its stars. Regardless of the validity, the source of my discomfort was now clear.
I reached my conclusion and tried feverishly to validate it. He was rich and attended UTS. Or his parents saved every penny to give him the best chance at a good future. He’s posted more topless photos on Instagram than modesty permits. Or he’s reclaiming Asian masculinity, one selfie at a time. He makes classic boba liberal clout posts on SAT, but also thoughtful ones encouraging reflection. And he’s a good writer too.
At this point, I probably know enough about Simu to run his fanclub. I found several screenshots of his topless photos in my camera roll earlier today, without any recollection of taking them. Perhaps I’ll find a different reason to hate him going forward, but for now, I just want him out of my head. In the unlikely event that this post manages any traction: the title was clickbait and I hope Simu keeps winning.