Simu Liu’s We Were Dreamers Book Review

Simu Liu's We Were Dreamers Book Cover Featured Image

Simu Liu plays Shang-Chi, the first Asian superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He’s also a New York Times best-selling author with his autobiography We were Dreamers: An Immigrant Superhero Origin Story. He was recently named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential people of 2022 and he’s still only 33 years of age. 

I really enjoyed the Marvel movie Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings and when I heard that Simu Liu had published an autobiography, I was interested to hear his story. I decided to get the audiobook version of his book since it was Simu’s story and he was the narrator. I felt I’d be able to hear his passion, his struggles and frustrations, his reflective moments and revelations with more meaning and gravitas if I heard the story directly from Simu telling it. 

At its core, We Were Dreamers is a funny, heartwarming and inspiring story. I really enjoyed the book and hearing both his and his parents’ origin story.  It is both a window into Simu’s life and a reflection on the immigrant experience. It gives readers an insight into the journey and life of a successful actor and a powerful message about following your dreams. It’s a book that will make you laugh, cry and think along with Simu. It’s a story of dedication and hard work, overcoming obstacles and ultimately achieving success. 

What was particularly interesting to me was listening to the challenges Simu faced and how he dealt with them, and the lessons and revelations he learned along the way that took him from a young boy who grew up in Harbin, China to becoming a renowned actor. 

I found his journey inspiring so I thought I’d share 3 lessons I learnt from Simu Liu’s journey from a young boy to playing Marvel superhero Shang-Chi:

1. He gave himself permission to pursue his dreams

Simu initially tried to comply with his parent’s wishes and expectations to be successful academically and embark on a successful career in a ‘traditional’ profession such as medicine, law or business. He graduated from the University of Western Ontario in finance and accounting, and landed himself a job at Deloitte upon graduation, despite it not being what he wanted to do and not making him happy.  

He grew to hate his accounting job at Deloitte and really didn’t put any effort into his job. He was fired 8 months later at the age of 22. It was an embarrassing scene as he was escorted by security back to his desk in an open-plan office to collect his things and then out of the building. None of his colleagues even dared to look up from their screens. 

This was a pivotal turning point for Simu as this event set him ‘free’ and he decided that he would give himself permission to pursue his dreams and do things that would make him happy. 

He recounts the aftermath of this huge event: 

I slept in late the next day upon realising I didn’t have to go into work and felt an immediate weight lifted. Although the guilt and shame of losing my job remained I’d been liberated from the chains that bound me from the former life I had grown to loathe.

At least I wouldn’t have to go in another day pretending I was someone else. I was free now to choose what to do with my days.

As it turned out, what I wanted to do was act. Still fresh from my first on-set experience the memory of my time on Pacific Rim was all I could think about. Something inside me just compelled me to get myself back onto a film set. By noon, I was back on the internet scouring for gigs.

Simu Liu from We were Dreamers: An Immigrant Superhero Origin Story

Simu got a huge buzz from being an extra on the Pacific Rim film set and wanted to act and be surrounded by that energy and creativity. So he got whatever related paid gigs he could so that he could continue pursuing his passion for acting. This included dressing up as Spiderman at kids’ parties and handing out dog food samples in the financial district where he used to work. He had the courage to start over again from scratch, on low-paid gigs much to his parent’s disapproval, and watching his friends and ex-colleagues continue to climb the career ladder and get more successful. 

When you give yourself permission to pursue your dreams, that is the moment your life begins. It’s when you stop being a spectator and start being the main man in the arena.

The SECRET To Success NOBODY SHARES! (This Will Change Everything) | Simu Liu & Jay Shetty

2. He created his own opportunities, rather than wait

Simu didn’t have any contacts in the film industry or Hollywood. He hadn’t even acted before. But he started applying for acting roles and related gigs on Craigslist initially just to start somewhere. He found himself an agent but didn’t want to rely solely on an agent calling him for auditions. He took matters into his own hands to really drive his own career and opportunities.

So Simu trained and practised a diverse range of skills associated with acting and film-making and doing things that maximised his opportunities to work on a film set. This included taking acting masterclasses and learning how to be a stuntman. He wrote numerous scripts and applied for production conservatories and intensives. 

As a result, he was able to join a filmmaking collective created by the Real Asian International Film Festival in Toronto. Under their guidance, he learnt how to write a script, produce a film, find a director of photography and get the film made and shown at the festival. So he kept looking out for new opportunities to learn, act and be part of the film industry.  

His consistent hard work and training started to land him commercials, then his first role in the series Blood and Water. This then led to him being cast as a regular on Kim’s Convenience which became an acclaimed international hit. Then after almost a decade since he started acting, he was cast to play the coveted Asian superhero Shang-Chi. 

3. He came to understand the sacrifices his parents made for a better life and wanted to build a better relationship with them

Simu’s parents faced great challenges in the 1960s and 70s in China to even be able to immigrate to Canada. His parents’ life and struggles in China are documented in the first seven chapters of the book. 

Once Simu’s parents had established themselves in Canada, working as aeronautical engineers, they were finally able to bring Simu over from China to be reunited with them as a family. By this time Simu was 4.5 years of age, and there was a vast gap in culture, values and expectations between him and his parents. Simu felt like he’d been ‘adopted’ by his biological parents who had no idea of his character, personality and development up to this point, and showed no empathy or understanding of what he may have been going through. 

Simu talks about his parents’ immense pressure and expectations on him from 4.5 years old all through his high school years and university. They expected him to study hard and get stellar grades, get into an Ivy League university, land a great job, and then start climbing the career ladder. 

He talks about how they were tiger parents and would verbally and physically abuse him into submission or feeling guilty if he did not meet their expectations. Simu found this period of his life to be very challenging and he didn’t have much of a relationship with his parents. It was very strained and there were lots of arguments, rebelling on Simu’s side and harsh discipline from his parent’s side. 

When he lost his Deloitte job and started acting, his parents felt Simu was wasting his life away on frivolous pursuits and throwing away great career and income opportunities his parents had worked so hard to build for him so he could live a better life. 

It wasn’t until Simu asked his parents to help him with his Mandarin language skills for his Blood and Water role, that they started to understand how hard he was willing to work. 

After getting the Kim’s Convenience role, his parents adopted a more positive attitude and respect towards his work. But Simu still felt trauma and deep resentment towards them at this point though. 

So he tried to address their strained relationship and wrote an 8-page letter to his mother on her 60th birthday saying how he felt growing up, trying to meet their expectations but never feeling like he was good enough. 

But he knows they sacrificed a lot to provide this life for him and that he was extremely grateful for what they did. He said he loved his mother and hoped they could start to build a new, better, deeper relationship with each other. She was ready to do that too. From that point on, his relationship with his parents started to improve as they started to gain a new and deeper respect and understanding of each other.  


At the heart, We Were Dreamers is a multi-generational story of what it means and what it takes to pursue your dreams. I really enjoyed the book and hearing his and his parents’ origin story. 

If you’re a Simu Liu fan, an aspiring actor or a child of an immigrant family, you’ll likely really enjoy reading Simu Liu’s book. If you’re from an Asian immigrant family, you’ll probably understand and resonate with a lot of the things Simu went through with his parents as he is very open and transparent in his book, and talks about his experiences with insight and humour.

He provides plenty of funny anecdotes in detail along the way. I love his self-deprecating humour and how he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s very relatable. You feel like you’re hearing the life story of a cousin or someone you went to uni with. In a way, he comes across as your ‘everyday’ kind of warm, kind-hearted guy, who decided to follow his passion and took action to make it happen. It’s a superhero story.

Simu Liu’s Social Accounts | Twitter @SimuLiu | IG @simuliu

Additional Reference: “The SECRET To Success NOBODY SHARES! (This Will Change Everything) | Simu Liu & Jay Shetty.” Jay Shetty Podcast, 20 May, 2022.

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