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Sam Song Li

4th January 2023

Digital Editor and Interview: Pankhuri Bhutani

Editor-In-Chief: Owen James Vincent 

Photography: Marie Erysheva 

In the contemporary era, social media has transformed into one of the most consumed platforms in the world of technology. We see a plethora of souls trying to test out their luck online but merely do a few leave a mark.

It might have been a few phases of intense struggle but 2020 was the year that catapulted our latest cover star into a new stratosphere of fame following the success of his impeccable professional career.

Sam Song Li spent a lot of his time oscillating between acting and content creation; transforming into an unwavering source of virtual maestro giving the audience a verisimilitude element into his life.

If you’re an avid consumer of the novel feature of shorts and reels on the worldwide content-sharing platforms YouTube, TikTok and Instagram, there’s a plausible chance you might have heard of Sam Song Li. 

The charismatic young creative made a name for himself on the platform as he released several trending content, immersing himself in a plethora of videos including that of comedy skits, satire, life from several hilarious points of view and much more. Being a part of the “Smile Squad”; one of the most popular comedy channels on YouTube, we witness the start of Li’s initial love, portrayal and performance in comedy. 

But that’s not it. Li is currently on the brink of becoming the next big thing, all thanks to his recent involvement in Netflix’s “The Brothers Sun”.

Starring alongside Michelle Yeoh and Justin Chien, Li was able to showcase his diverse range as an actor as his character “Bruce Sun” was introduced within the project. Right from first glance, it was quite evident for everyone to decipher his character’s traits of pureness and naivety of his family’s history.

Through his riveting performance, Li was also successfully able to channel those very feelings of innocence yet determination into his character’s arc as the story progressed forward. Right from the beginning of the show, Li graced the screen with his authentic and nuanced presence.

We see Sam’s character 'Bruce' struggling immensely; trying to break it into the landscape of entertainment as we see the character investing all of his educational funds into his improv classes in hopes of becoming a successful improv comedian.

In a recent Instagram post, Li shared a vulnerable side to his life revealing how he considered himself a dreamer and how a lot of his loved ones believed his ambitions of becoming an actor were delusional. He urged his fans and everyone to never stop chasing what their desires crafted.

Going back to Sam’s initial phases of trying to make his presence in Hollywood, Sam revealed some striking insights into what it was like for him before he made his successful debut.

“You know it’s funny that you ask that because there’s a shocking amount of similarities between my own origin story and that of Bruce’s as well.

I actually wanted to be a director and a filmmaker very early on in my life. I would say when I was around 16 and a half years, I was actually skipping classes in high school myself; trying to work on my movies, directing, learning how to make them and then actually taking lectures for them in high school, skipping class.

I pretty much knew very early on that I wanted to do something in the field of entertainment but once I started to dabble with directing, I realized that a lot of directing was rooted in acting so I decided to look more towards it. When I was 17 and in my senior year of high school, I tried to act for the first time and caught the acting bug; falling in love with acting so much.

From then on, I remember going into college and having a conversation with my mom about wanting to pursue acting. And I got a lot of pushback for it. A lot.”

“Protect the Family”; a mantra used widely within the show protrudes an impactful message. It’s a theme that mirrors the old adage, ‘Family is Everything’. One of the acts that further foreshadow this mantra was sheltering Li’s character from the severe criminal undertone his family had actually involved himself into.

Every family has its secrets and almost every parent isn’t completely transparent to their offsprings in order to protect them from the harsh reality of their lives. But sometimes just like parents, children also tend to keep certain things away from their parents. 

Just like how Li’s character sheltered his mother from his improv classes, Li recites a similar tale of his initial struggles of keeping his acting desires from his mother. Acknowledging the fact that he knew the pushback emerged out of a gesture of love and kindness from his mother, Li struck with a fascinating response. 

“I know it comes from a good place. I think my mother just really wanted to do what was best for me. And a lot of times that comes in ways of financial stability versus necessarily chasing what you want to do.

But for the longest time, I sort of just sheltered that away from her. During my first year in college, I had to tell her, ‘Hey, I’m doing this’ and it was a long battle of trying to win her over for it.”

First impressions are everything. And quite significant especially for one to delve deeper into a character’s arc. When asked about what Li’s initial impressions were about his character, he stated;

“The first time I saw the character of Bruce (Sun); it was during a casting breakdown in an audition setting. And I remember when I first read about this character, I was so shocked by the similarities that Bruce and I had.

I remember distinctly looking at it (the script) and thinking to myself, ‘Oh, okay. So, he’s a naive college student who has dreams of wanting to be an improv comedian. How interesting? I’m doing comedy right now. Like my career is literally making comedy videos online’.

And then I kept going on and was like, ‘…He is raised by a single mom in San Gabriel Valley in the 626 area code. Oh, that’s interesting. I was raised by a single mom in San Gabriel and my phone number is 626.’

I think it was meant to be. I remember finishing the breakdown and being like, ‘Wow, I think I might have a really good chance at this’.”

In this newly crafted series, “The Brothers Sun” acts as a breath of fresh air amongst the redundant remakes and reiterations of pre-existing successful projects that are currently being consumed by the viewers.

Being a South-Asian myself, growing up I wasn’t exposed to a lot of projects that celebrated inclusivity on such an established level.

Diversity has been on the forefront of discussion and Hollywood is finally opening it’s door to the plethora of under representated stories for the world to see.

With the rise of shows like “The Brothers Sun”, people are witnessing the distinct range that some of the actors are finally given an opportunity to explore; straying away from the pre-existing stereotypical forms of Asian characters.

Li reflected upon the significance of having such representation within the landscape of entertainment and how it helps souls like him to achieve their dreams.

“That’s a fantastic question. Thank you for asking me that because I think this is a really great thing to talk about in this day and age in the sense that I believe what was so special about this show from the first time that I read it and really thought about what this show meant was just how fresh and how unique it was.

It comes from such a fresh and a one-of-a-kind perspective from our showrunners. I believe they’ve always had the intentions of making it as unique as possible. And I know that Brad (Falchuk) has set out to really tackle something that they’ve never done before.

Brad has always been very intentional with wanting to be groundbreaking in that manner. And I think in a lot of ways, when it comes to diversity on-screen or these authentic storytelling, what’s so cool about this is the fact that it also comes from a place that is very specific to a certain group. There’s so much Asian-centric elements.

There are so many things rooted in Asian culture, but not only that, I think that the reason why it’s so interesting and why I feel like it’s so different from the other shows out there is the fact that we’ve never really seen perspectives like these before.

Our show has always set out to make itself as unique as possible. There are a lot of jokes involved throughout the series. There’s a lot of punchlines. There are a lot of certain elements and touches throughout the story that really highlight that diversity aspect or the sort of specific culture clash.

For instance, certain elements within the show deal with cultural foods even outside of just Asian food.

For example, we dive into Taco Bell, Churros and different kinds of things that you wouldn’t expect from an Asian-centric show but they are really important to the story since so much of this series is about cultures clashing together. And I think in that way, it’s just comes from such a fresh perspective.

I believe the reason why the audience will really gravitate towards our show is because I think they’ve just never quite seen something like it. There’s a hunger for global audiences to witness things that they never have and Netflix is so good at delivering things that people have never seen before.”

“The Brothers Sun" is a perfect amalgamation of action, light-hearted humour, brotherhood and family; dealing with the growing bond of its two leads.

Bruce and Charles are a quintessential aspect of a much finer plotline; carrying forward a relationship projecting out of years of separation, unexpected camaraderie and showcasing a seemingly unwavering bond the two share throughout the eight-episodes.

The trials and tribulations of navigating the mystery behind their father’s tragedy forces the two protagonists to go on a journey as they attempt to uncover the enigma together.

Burgeoning brotherhood pushes the pillars of the show’s narrative yet it is the perfect balance of the contrasting personalities the two brothers possess that acts as a striking force putting the siblings into the forefront of their respective successful arcs.

Speaking about his experience working with his co-star Justin Chien, Li cherished the memories they shared right from the initiation of their roles.

“It’s so funny, because the first time I ever met Justin (Chien), it was during our chemistry read while we were still auditioning for the part.

And there’s this really funny story that both of us experienced, where the moment that we saw each other, we both looked at each other and apparently without telling each other this…(but this was shared from both of us later on)…we both went, ‘Sh*t, we’re not gonna get it. We’re not gonna get the job.’ (Laughs)

I suppose at the time when I first walked in, I was a little bit taller than Justin. And I think when both of us read the script, we realized that, ‘Oh, okay. So Charles is supposed to be this badass martial-artist and Bruce is supposed to be his younger brother’, who I’ve always imagined is someone who trails Charles and really looks up to him physically as well.

And so, when we walked in, I think we both really thought that both of us were really strong actors and the other one was going to get the role.

Justin saw me and was like, ‘Shit, this guy’s gonna get it. He’s going to get Bruce. They’re not gonna pair me up with him.’ 

And apparently, I also saw him and thought, ‘Oh, man, this guy’s going to get the job. Like they’re not gonna pair me up with this guy’. (Laughs)

I’m so glad it all worked out. I think our very first impressions of each other was that of utter defeat in our hopes and dreams. 

We’re very close in real life and when it came to building the chemistry for each other, I actually thought it was quite easy and came out naturally. 

And it took us some work to undo the chemistry just because I feel like Justin and I are really similar people in the sense that both of us have the same sense of humor, we just get along very easily and in a lot of ways, see life and our passions kind of the same. So, yes, the chemistry aspect for both of us was awesome.”

Li possesses an esoteric manner of talking about this project with such desire and determination that only a few can understand.

And in terms of how Li thought his on-screen brother Justin Chien shared qualities with his character, Li revealed an impactful insight.

“I mean, Justin is literally Charles. In so many ways. Oh, with the exception of being a mass murderer. (Laughs) I think that’s the main difference.

I’ve always felt that Justin was someone who from day one had been taking his duties as an actor extremely seriously. He cares immensely for what he does. And, you know, he’s also a chef in a lot of ways! He’s a food connoisseur in so many ways.

I’ve always felt like he’s been very meticulous with his process and is very diligent in his work. It’s very clear. 

I’m not just saying that. I really do feel if you spend some time and you work with him, it will become very obvious. I think in that sense, he brings that energy into his character because when I think of Charles, I feel like he’s someone who’s also very meticulous, very diligent in his duties, and takes everything very seriously.”

Michelle Yeoh needs no introduction. When asked about his experience working with the iconic Academy Award Winner Yeoh, Sam trailed the conversation off to the beloved time they shared behind-the-scenes of the Netflix project and the utmost love Li posseses for his on-screen mother.

“I’m so incredibly happy for Michelle (Yeoh). And I think all the success that she’s gotten recently is so well-deserved. She’s an incredible human being. Not just an actress, but also a person.

Obviously, we all know of her, but she is someone that if you never met her before and you walk into a room with her and you sit down with her for 10–15 minutes, you’ll feel like you’ve known her your entire life. She just gives off that sort of effect.

It’s the way she talks to you, the way she treats you, the way that she listens with all of her heart. She’s a wonderful person. The way that she sees you as a friend, I think it’s a combination of all of that.

I’ve never once felt like she was too big of a star. She just has such a welcoming personality and is so down-to-earth. But at the same time, she also carries herself like Michelle Yeoh.

And it’s such an interesting paradox that she’s so friendly and so welcoming, but also at the same time has so much self-respect for herself and knows who she is.

She has really taught me a lot about what it means to be a star and in that sense to be a global icon. It has really changed my view on how to be an actor for all of the other sets that I’m going to ever be on for the rest of my life.”

As “The Brothers Sun” hits the small screen, it truly becomes an epoch of an era; celebrating diverse and never-seen before storytelling.

Out of the multiple phenomenal sequences that are incorporated within the series, when asked which one was the most memorable for the young talent to shoot, Li highlighted the behind-the-scenes of one particular scene.

“I do have a favourite sequence. It is a fight sequence in a lot of ways but it’s a very intimate one compared to the rest of the scenes. Mainly because I don’t have too many fight sequences. 

I mean, there’s there’s quite a few that I’m in including all the major ones once I’m introduced to the world. But you know what, with my fight sequences, I’m more of a runner than a fighter. (Laughs) So a lot of times I’m escaping.

Although, there is one that we got really involved in. It’s an intimate scene between two characters that I’m sure you can guess who they are. I remember when we filmed that particular scene, it was an incredibly challenging one just because of the emotional aspect of where we had to go with it.

It was also challenging from a physical perspective in the sense that I really had to play my part in selling this moment and overall it was just dramatically very tense. I remember when I was actually filming it, I was leading up to it. I was very nervous since it was a big scene for me and I really wanted to get it right. 

I wanted to leave my mark on that moment because I think that it’s such a heightened moment. 

Being such a moment, it was so hard to act or to pretend those emotions so much so that the only way that I was going to be able to sell it was to really be there which meant going there even from an emotional perspective since there were physical elements that were quite challenging as well.

But even from an emotional perspective, it was at a very dark place. I just remember being in that same place myself for that whole night filming. It was tiring. I went home feeling extremely exhausted and drained out but was very content with my performance. I felt really good about it and when I saw it on-screen, I was like ‘Oh my god, this is amazing’.”

As our conversation goes on, Li reminiscences about his future years; also sharing some of the things he has in mind for his future years. 

“Thank you for asking me that because I think as actors we’re always excited to talk about our future. We live so much in the past. For instance, we shot this show a while ago and we have been waiting for it to come out ever since. Our lives are always moving on after we do a certain project.

As an actor, it’s really hard to control what there is next especially being a new face. I think that many more things will open up once the show is out and the rest of the world gets to see it but for now, the one thing that I’ve always worked on is writing, producing and working on my own projects. Those projects further come in the wave of social media a lot of times. 

I started my origins being a social media content creator so I have always been really gravitated towards that. I have goals of working on that even more in any downtime that I have but interestingly enough while we’re on the topic of social media, I worked on a pilot this year called ‘Marvin Is Sorry’.

The story is about a mega YouTuber; think the likes of Mr. Beast or a Logan Paul guy who gets cancelled and dragged down in an alt-right media pipeline in an attempt to salvage his career. It is a fascinating dichotomy of a story that deals with modern influence specifically in the realm of American society.

The whole show is equivalent in the same way that “The Brothers Sun” is to authenticity of the Asian community. I believe this show is very authentic and a reflection of America in terms of the influencers of the modern age of content creators; what it means to have influence online as well as in a much more traditional sense in the social-political climate of America in this day and age.

We are hoping to hopefully green light the project and to get an eight- episode order- so fingers crossed for that. 

It is a wonderful project that I think I’m even more right for than this one, believe it or not, only because I have worked in social media for over three years. 

I really feel about him (Marvin) in the same way that I felt like with Bruce; that I was so much of that character. More recently a lot of my life has been catered towards creating Marvin indirectly and inadvertently in a lot of ways.”

Commenting on how the anticipation period is going and how excited Li is for fans to witness the epoch of this phenomenal project, Li shares how he is bracing for impact for his well-deserved upcoming fame.

“Oh, it’s absolutely incredible. I’m a super big fan of it (the show) and feel so honoured to be a part of a show that is as unique as this one. 

The anticipation period is pretty brutal. I feel like I’ve been waiting forever for this to come out but now that it’s right around the corner, I’m just excited for people to get introduced to the world that is 'The Brothers Sun’.

This show has so much to offer and people will be so delighted and entertained. It’s an incredibly unique show. It is like the first time I’ve ever seen a show such as this one. In a world where shows that get greenlit are mostly either based on a pre-existing IP, an adaptation or are a remake, this show offers such an original concept. It’s a minority in the type of projects we’re witnessing these days.

I think we’ve really taken a risk, played hard and have been very imaginative. Since the world doesn’t get to see a lot of projects like this, I’m very excited for people to to experience it. I believe there’s a real hunger for people to actually want more original shows like this.”

On a gentle ending note, sharing an impactful message to all the aspiring actors in the industry and to all of his fans; our conversation ended with Li with him revealing a wonderful piece of advice.

“I do have a message and it’s that a lot of times the society and people around you, even your own family members may not believe in your vision. They may want what’s best for you from their perspective and a lot of times this looks like financial sensibility and security. But for anyone who’s in such position and is struggling from the people around them who further attempt to direct them in a direction that that they don’t want to go. Just don’t. 

I’ve always known the direction I wanted to go towards and felt like I’ve always had pushback over that. 

Don’t live your life for anyone else but yourself. You will know your life the most. You only have one life in this world so there’s no reason to compromise on what you want to do over that life. You only have one, that’s all we have in this world so do what you want to do; focus on the things that make you happy and work really damn hard towards it.

I think ironically you will find more success working on something that you love over something that you think provides financial security.

Since you’re going to be so much more passionate and when you’re passionate about something, you’re going to get really good at that thing further making it the thing that ironically people want to pay you a lot of money for. 

 I have always believed this. If you try to chase your dreams and work on something that you’re really passionate about, you will make significantly much more money than trying to chase that very thing that looks on paper like it can offer you money."

“The Brothers Sun” starring Justin Chien, Sam Song Li and Michelle Yeoh; created by Brad Falchuk and Byron Wu is currently streaming on Netflix.

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