1 of 5 | Brandon Soo Hoo's "Tiger's Apprentice" premieres Friday. Photo courtesy of Paramount+
NEW YORK, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- Brandon Soo Hoo says he immediately connected to the reluctant hero he plays in the new animated adventure film, The Tiger's Apprentice.
"It was funny. When I saw the drawing for Tom, I said, 'That's me!'" Hoo told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.
"I feel like I was looking in a mirror, even though maybe physically we didn't look the same, but the artwork really resonated with me," the Tropic Thunder and From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series alum said.
"I saw myself in his story. I don't think [the way he looked] changed too much the way I approached him, but maybe seeing this younger, high-school character took me back into my younger days."
Premiering Friday on Paramount+, the adaptation of Laurence Yep's children's book series of the same name follows a Chinese-American teenager Tom Lee, whose life is upended when he discovers he is part of a long lineage of magical guardians tasked with defending humanity from evil and powerful forces, including the villain Loo (Michelle Yeoh).
To defeat her, Tom must learn to master his newly acquired abilities under the tutelage of 12 heroes, who can shape-shift into the Chinese Zodiac animal warriors, specifically Hu/Tiger played by Henry Golding. Diana Lee Inosanto, Sandra Oh and Lucy Liu co-star.
"Anyone can relate to the story of the Tiger's Apprentice because it absolutely is the story about finding family and finding solace in each other to overcome hardships," Hoo said.
"Everyone is, in their own way, outcasts or misfits or kind of kooky," he said of the characters in the film. "I think it's cool to see them come together and try to find community, family within each other."
Ahsoka actress and famed stunt performer Inosanto, who plays Horse in The Tiger's Apprentice, emphasized that the movie is not just an Asian American story.
"I love that this is really about family and also -- without giving too much away -- learning what the meaning of extended family is and being able to rise against the odds, rising and enduring during hard times and tribulations," she said. "I think that's what makes this universally appealing for any family."
Inosanto and Hoo also said they think the movie contains important, uplifting messages they are proud to put out into the world during troubled times.
"There's the journey of -- at least for Tom -- self-discovery, finding out you can get through a difficult time and having faith in oneself. I think that is a really good thing to discuss and showcase," Inosanto said.
"The whole idea of stepping up to the plate, discovery, being brave, [having] courage and then also being vulnerable in some ways -- being able to let somebody like Hu in your life, too."
Hoo said he hopes viewers gather with their families to watch the movie and feel inspired by the time it's over.
"Despite our faults as a species, we are absolutely worth fighting for. Humanity is a beautiful thing. You get to see all the different sides of humanity in this film. What a cause to stand up for," he said.
"Endurance is such a core theme of the human spirit. No matter what stuff happens to us as a species, we always find a way to persevere and make it through."
Aside from offering fast-paced adventure, humor and heart, the movie also is detailed, colorful and visually stunning.
"I'm a huge nerd about animation and I thought so many of the set pieces, so many of the action sequences were so beautifully done," Hoo said.
"We had such an inspiring creative team behind all of this. In terms of seeing everyone's performances, there were so many that blew me away."
Inosanto and her martial arts-expect husband Dan worked with the animators to make the fight scenes come to life on the screen.
"It was great because I could communicate with the other artists in other parts of the world on Zoom, which was wild," Inosanto said.
"All of the commitment to detail was just gorgeous. It really was such an amazing honor to be with such creative people. We got to be in the sandbox and play."
Inosanto and Hoo live in Los Angeles, but never met until last weekend, when they were doing interviews together with the press.
"When we all started working on this project, it was during the [coronavirus] pandemic, and think about what was going on worldwide," she said.
"This film for me, personally, has been a metaphor because we were all isolated. Even when we had to do our own voice-overs, we never really got to see each other," Inosanto added.
"So, this is just a wonderful way of coming together and celebrating, now today, the release of this film."
"it feels like the production is finally materializing now that we can actually meet each other for the first time," he said.
"We get to actually put a face and body to these names and voices that we hear."