Topping box office records and set to surpass Marvel’s earlier 2021 release, Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a familiar tale: an estranged father and his son, action-packed fight scenes, and heavy, looming threats of world destruction.
Shang-Chi has been lauded as the first MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) East Asian superhero film, featuring Simu Liu as the titular hero Shang-Chi (or Shaun, as he calls himself), and Awkwafina as his best friend, Katy. Joining the cast are also the legendary Hong Kong actor Tony Leung, most well-known for his roles in In the Mood for Love (2000) and Internal Affairs (2002), who plays Shang-Chi’s father, Wenwu, and other prominent names such as Michelle Yeoh. The fight scenes draw upon various Chinese martial arts styles such as Wing Chun and Tai Chi, and themes of Chinese mythology feature heavily in the film. Much of the script is also written in Mandarin, with the actors switching between the two languages frequently. However, it’s still relatable to a general audience—Shang-chi and Katy work as valet drivers, chastised by those around them as not living up to their potential.
However, Shang-Chi is not a story about the traditional Asian American experience, which often deals with the dissonance of being caught between two cultures. Unlike blockbuster films like Crazy Rich Asians, Shang-Chi feels right at home in Tao Lo, switching seamlessly between Mandarin and English throughout the film. Despite being estranged from his family, he retains the teachings his mother taught him and the brutal training he received from his father. In Shang-Chi, Simu Liu’s role is not one of a foreigner, but rather a son grappling with dichotomies within his own family. Ultimately, family is at the core of the film: its conflict, driving force, resolution.
However, Shang-Chi falls into many of the same mistakes as other films have—its depiction of Chinese culture is still simplistic and flat, relying on the same tropes of Chinese mythology without bringing any new interpretations. Aside from the main cast, the characters receive little development, relegating interesting characters to one-dimensional depictions that come and go. Still, Shang Chi has all the hallmark traits of a good movie: a relatable hero, compelling villain, and beautifully choreographed action scenes. Shang-Chi is a step forward, opening up the pathway for Marvel to expand in a new, exciting direction.
by Jennifer Chiu