HomeAAPI Actors‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’ is a fun story about identity/ friendships

‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’ is a fun story about identity/ friendships

By Erin Chew

Based on the popular children’s book series of the same name by Laurence Yep, The Tiger’s Apprentice follows Chinese American teenager Tom Lee, played by Brandon Soo Hoo (Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Tropic Thunder), whose life changes forever when he discovers he is part of a long lineage of magical protectors known as the Guardians.

With guidance from a mythical tiger named Hu, voiced by Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians, The Gentlemen, Snake Eyes), Tom trains to take on Loo voiced by Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians, Everything Everywhere all at Once), a force that is as powerful as a Guardian but with evil intentions to use magic to destroy humanity. To have a fighting chance against Loo, Tom must reunite all twelve Zodiac animal warriors and master his own newly discovered powers.

Soo Hoo who plays the main protagonist, was proud to chat a bit about his character Tom in a recent interview with AsAmNews. He pointed out how this Chinese American character resonated with him and has helped him develop a better understanding of his Chinese American identity and culture.

L-R Brandon Soo Hoo as Tom and Henry Golding as Hu in The Tiger’s Apprentice, streaming on Paramount+, 2024. Photo Credit: Paramount
L-R Brandon Soo Hoo as Tom and Henry Golding as Hu in The Tiger’s Apprentice, streaming on Paramount+, 2024. Photo Credit: Paramount

“It is funny because Tom and I are quite similar in so many ways. Even the way he interacts with others is the same in how I would interact. Both of us are outgoing and we are comfortable in being different. Both of us also went through finding ourselves and our Chinese American identity and experienced the cultural confusions in our lives. Voicing Tom, has also provided me a deeper understanding and affection for my culture, my martial arts and who I am in this world”.

For Leah Lewis (Elemental, The Half of It), who is a Chinese adoptee and voices the character Rav in the film, the topic around representation is very important to her personally. Growing up, she struggled with her cultural identity, particularly being an adoptee. Luckily, her adopted parents ensured she got the exposure to Chinese culture and it is all this which culminated in her coming to terms with who she is.

“Whenever I think about the topic of representation, I can’t help but feel its importance in my heart. Representation normalizes so much about what our Asian cultures are all about and shows the world how awesome, beautiful and diverse it all is. The Tiger’s Apprentice also celebrates our cultural lore and mythology and is a universal story about family, connection and overcoming hardship. Also the film doesn’t only normalize Asian cultures but it also humanizes with the story with layered characters and multi-dimensional relationships,” Lewis stated.

The film has an all Asian/Asian American star-studded cast with the aforementioned actors of Yeoh, Golding, Soo Hoo and Lewis. In addition, the cast also includes the super stars of Bowen Yang as the voice of Sidney (The Monkey King, Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai, Isn’t It Romantic), Sandra Oh as Mistral (Quiz Lady, Killing Eve, Grey’s Anatomy), Lucy Liu as Nu Hua (Shazam! Fury of the Gods, Kill Bill Vol. 1, Charlie’s Angels), Sherry Cola as Naomi (Joy Ride, Shortcomings), Jo Koy as Rooster (Haunted Mansion, Monkey King, Easter Sunday), Greta Lee as Rabbit (Past Lives) and many others.

The question of which star studded Asian/Asian American actor would voice which character was posed to the director for The Tiger’s Apprentice Raman Hui. Hui is no amateur in this space, and was an animator for the first two Shrek films and then directed the third one. Hui said that he used his intuition to match the actor to be the voice of which character and stated that everyone put their heart and soul into their parts and that was what made the experience for him as a director amazing.

“I feel we were so blessed to have this awesome cast of actors who are so talented and could give so much to the story for the film. For example, it was so easy to match Henry Golding to Hu (the Tiger), because his aura and his voice suits this powerful character. Brandon Soo Hoo was able to show so many emotions voicing Tom, and Sandra Oh voicing a villain, it was just a perfect match. Watching some of these actors perform like Michelle Yeoh, Bowen Yang, Sherry Cola, Lucy Liu and Jo Koy, you can tell how into the characters they were because all of them were physically acting like their character as they voiced them,” Hui expressed.

Bowen Yang as Sidney in The Tiger’s Apprentice, streaming on Paramount+
Bowen Yang as Sidney in The Tiger’s Apprentice, streaming on Paramount+, 2024. Photo Credit: Paramount

As an openly gay Asian Australian/American actor, Bowen Yang has been able to inject his cultural and sexual identity into all the roles he plays. One thing he is passionate about is how Asian men get portrayed in films and television, and he told AsAmNews that it is not just about showing how handsome, muscular and sexually pleasing the Asian male actor is, but it is about showing all sides as Asian men like all other men have different looks, identities and personas.

In The Tiger’s Apprentice, Yang voices Sidney (the Rat). This was an opportunity for him to showcase the real him and demonstrate that even being as small as a rat, Asian men can rise to challenges like the rat in the zodiac folk lore.

“This film is definitely an authentic story. It is also a story very specific to the Asian American experience with tinges of action, adventure and lots of fantasy. It is also a great teaching moment for audiences to understand the importance of the animals of the zodiac. For me, voicing Sidney, I was able to show who I really am – an Asian man who has a different sexual identity and who also has a unique look. Even though my character in the film is a rat, I see it as symbolic that as Asian men we can and be anything and not just be the awkward, goofy and asexual stereotype”, Yang expressed.

The Tiger’s Apprentice was released just over a week before February 10, which is Lunar New Year. The question of what memories Soo Hoo, Lewis, Hui and Yang conjure up when they think of this auspicious time was posed. After some reflecting each of them provided one or two fond memories of what the Lunar New Year means for each of them.

For Lewis, being an adoptee she remembers doing a lot of fun, interesting and cultural things with her parents. As they were not Asian, they put lots of effort to ensure Lewis was able to immerse herself and be part of the Lunar New year.

“I am so appreciative that my parents incorporated the Lunar New Year into my life, because they knew they couldn’t do this themselves being Caucasian. I remember going to watch the parade and eating Chinese food with them. These memories are my happy place”.

Soo Hoo, grew up in America within the Chinese community, so he was immersed into celebrations whether he wanted to or not. He reflected that how he celebrates the Lunar New Year has evolved with time.

“As I have gotten older, the way I celebrate the Lunar New Year has also changed. When I was younger, I remember going to little ceremonies locally and lighting up incense and then we kids had fun letting off firecrackers in the streets, as we were served up big portions of Chinese food. Now, it is more intimate with family and having great conversations over a delicious home cooked meal”.

L-R Sherry Cola as Naomi, Jo Koy as Rooster and Greta Lee as Rabbit in The Tiger’s Apprentice, streaming on Paramount+,
L-R Sherry Cola as Naomi, Jo Koy as Rooster and Greta Lee as Rabbit in The Tiger’s Apprentice, streaming on Paramount+, 2024. Photo Credit: Paramount

Hui remembers growing up in Hong Kong and feeling stressed when Lunar New Year was creeping up, due to all the little traditions his mother would follow and make him and his brother do with her.

“My mother would make me and my brother clean the house and this was also the time we would be given money to go out and buy new clothes. And then, we would go grocery shopping with our mother – another stressful experience. Now that I am older, I don’t follow these traditions religiously, and I either attend or host an intimate meal and then we all just watch a movie”.

Finally, Yang mentioned that his childhood memories of the Lunar New Year were all about red packets of money and dumplings. He also remembered all the firecrackers and food when him and his family celebrated the Lunar New Year in Asia.

“I was very fortunate growing up. I always remember red packets of money coming my way and the never ending supply of dumplings. When we celebrated in Asia I remember lion dances, huge parades, laughter and conversations and lots of firecrackers. Now, it is totally different, and it is usually just an intimate dinner with close friends with lots of jokes going around”.

The Tiger’s Apprentice can we streamed on the Paramount + streaming platform. You can also stream the film over Amazon Prime and The Roku Channel with a premium subscription.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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