The first thing I want to ask Harry Shum Jr. (last seen stealing hearts as Doc Hottie in Nora From Queens and in last winter’s rom-com, All My Life) is if he’s aware of the particular cachet Hennessy has among the Asian diaspora—i.e., that the brand is practically synonymous with our community’s idea of a good time. We share an “if you know, you know” laugh, and then Shum does me one better with a lovely memory from childhood:
“Every time my dad’s friends would come over, the thing he would pop open is a Hennessy X.O,” the Crazy Rich Asians star told me over Zoom with a happy sigh. “And he would come out with a big smile on his face.”
Since his parents were restaurant owners, Shum explained, the family wasn’t usually able to celebrate the “regular” occasions for merry-making. “So Mid-Autumn was a big one that we made sure to shut down for,” he added, painting quite the compelling picture—now that the holiday is upon us during yet another not-quite-normal year—of a round table packed with family and friends drinking and feasting.
We’re here to discuss A Moonlight Odyssey, the digital event he’s hosting September 23 with Hennessy X.O in celebration of this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival and featuring a full slate of Asian American and Pacific Islander luminaries including Eddie Huang, Hayley Kiyoko, Niki, Guapdad 4000, and Bohan Phoenix. “We have some great artists that I’m really excited for people to see,” Shum promised, and added that he himself was eager to see artists like Niki and Guapdad 4000 live for the first time.
Inevitably, our discussion of AAPI talent shifts into a larger conversation about success and taking stock of Hollywood’s Current Asian Moment per the record-breaking triumph of Marvel’s Shang-Chi. For Shum, who played a part in an earlier Moment that was Crazy Rich Asians but whose acting career also spans the entire decade prior, the feeling from watching Asian and AAPI stories succeed in Hollywood is wholly that of pride.
“I’m constantly proud of new talent that’s coming up and showing stories with nuances that we usually have not captured properly or in an authentic voice,” Shum said, citing Justin Chon’s Blue Bayou as another recent example. “I’ve known Justin for a long time, and to see his growth and storytelling, to see stories that impart an American life we’ve never really seen or associated with a face or a voice like that, it’s the expansion of views and perspectives.”
As for when we’ll next see Shum onscreen himself, there’s good news: His new film, Broadcast Signal Intrusion, premiered this spring at South by Southwest and is set for a limited theatrical release October 22. It’s a psychological thriller that’s about “what happens when you go down a rabbit hole and explore things you haven’t faced,” and gives Shum the chance to expand beyond his heartthrob repertoire (which, he’s quick to emphasize, is always something that has “sparked joy” for him, though he’s excited to “start doing things that scare me.”)
But for now, Shum says he’s excited to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival both with Hennessy X.O and personally with his family, now that his two-year-old daughter has started bringing into question the careful balance of keeping and modernizing traditions.
“You want to hold onto as much of your childhood experiences of eating mooncakes and going out and doing the shopping beforehand and getting all the food ready,” Shum acknowledged. “But at the end of the day, it’s the anticipation of getting the family and your friends together. For me, it’s to celebrate being here and not looking at your past so much as looking at how far you’ve come.”
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