As anyone who’s ever seen a Marvel Studios film can tell you, Marvel’s action heroes are meant to be lean, lithe, muscular, lightweight, agile, and quick on their feet–all at the same time. It’s certainly not easy to maintain the right ‘look’ for the role while also building up the stamina to get through hours of intensive stuntwork (and certain roles, like Chris Hemsworth’s role as Thor, might require more obvious muscle and different types of training than others), so Simu Liu, the actor starring in the new hit Marvel movie “Shang-Chi: Legend of the Ten Rings”, had his work cut out for him! While Liu definitely had a variety of exercises that he did with his trainer, Bart Kwan, he also had one particularly grueling focus: flexibility. Every three days or so, Simu Liu would “gut out a stretching session to build the flexibility needed for kung fu.”
According to an interview with Men’s Health, “one stretch had him sitting on the floor, straight legs spread wide. A trainer mirrored that position, placed his heels against Liu’s, and gradually pushed the hero’s feet apart, driving him into a near split.” Liu “could barely walk after each stretch session”, and while forcible stretches may sound unpleasant, it’s an example of the actor’s commitment to his work. Being a Marvel hero is a multifaceted role, and we don’t just mean character development!
Liu confirmed that he had to do a variety of physical training after all of his stretching. “Obviously, learning the martial arts is a big part of my training, but the other part of being a Marvel superhero is, well, looking like a superhero,” he told Men’s Health. “So when we were building that superhero workout, that Marvel body, it was really important for us not to sacrifice range of motion and explosiveness, because I’ve still got to be able to throw a punch at the end of the day.”
One big factor in martial arts combat, particularly for onscreen actions sequences, is “explosiveness and power”. By doing “contrasting exercises” (i.e. one exercise move with a weight, and then a repeat of that move without anything but one’s own bodyweight) Liu could get used to both “working against resistance” and repeating fighting moves with more “power now that his muscles [were] unencumbered”. The main focus for the actor’s superhero physique was also his back and shoulders. “The most important thing is to show up,” he says. “You’ve just got to get your butt out there.”
While we can’t say we’re eager to sit down and be manually stretched by a trainer, Simu Liu’s endurance and his impressive combat skills in “Shang-Chi: Legend of the Ten Rings” make it clear that this actor is a rarity who steps up despite the difficulty of a role! Of course, with a renowned martial arts legend like Michelle Yeoh playing his aunt, we’re not surprised that the actor worked hard to match her skill level!