In Marvel’s Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, skilled fighter and assassin Shang Chi (Simu Liu) is confronted by the family legacy and past that he thought he had left behind. His father is known as The Mandarin, the leader of the Ten Rings organization and one of the most villainous people in history, uses a legendary weapon to give himself immortality and power so great that it rivals Thanos’ Infinity Stones. After Shang Chi escapes his father’s grasp and flees to San Francisco, The Mandarin recaptures his son and wants him back in the fold to help with his master plan.
There has been a great deal of attention lately focusing on Asian hate during the pandemic. (In fact, as crimes and hate against Asians have increased, Shang Chi earned terrible early reviews on Google despite not having been released to the public yet.) However, with an uncompromising vision, one of the best aspects of Shang Chi is that the movie never tries to “whitewash” him or the story to appeal to the general audience. Instead, the film embraces Asian representation and use of culture in all aspects, from the wardrobe, fight scenes, backgrounds, mythical creatures, weapons, and even allowing them to speak Chinese onscreen.
Like Black Panther’s celebration of African culture, Shang Chi shows the audience just how rich Asian culture can be and how much great talent there is in Hollywood right now that is being overlooked. The whole movie is really an immersive cultural experience and those who have never seen an Asian-led film before are going to be blown away. Of course, it still does also do all of the great things that have made Marvel be so successful as well, such as its trademark witty humor, CGI glory, and super creative/intense superhero fight scenes. (Incidentally, in its set pieces, Shang Chi really creates martial arts scenes that you’d expect to see from a classic Jackie Chan movie, a style which blends really well with Marvel’s cinematography and choreography.) As an absolute huge celebration of Asian culture, Shang Chi is a huge step in the right direction for inclusion and diversity for Disney and the movie industry as well. (And, of course, make sure to stay for both after credit scenes.)
Marvel’s first Asian led superhero movie, Shang Chi takes its audience on a mythical journey of intense martials art action mixed with a storyline that really speaks to Millennials and Gen-Z’s. Being a second (or longer) generation immigrant, there is often a huge lack of cultural identity. For example, while you may grow up learning bits of your background and know that you are Asian but you may not really identify (or want to identify) with your culture. In this way, you can be kind of tied between your ethnic origins and the culture of the country that you’re growing up within. Especially when as a child, you’re constantly bombarded with media that does not celebrate or acknowledge you. This notion also relates to Shang Chi himself, as his character arc follows the story of a second-generation immigrant who is troubled by his past and the legacy that his father is forcing on him.
Typically, the aspirations of a tiger parent are known for pushing their kid to become something that they don’t want to be. For many Asian parents, this dream is for their child to become a doctor or lawyer. For Shang Chi, however, it’s to become head of the Ten Rings. Wanting nothing to do with his heritage, Shang abandons it entirely by running away and completely disassociating himself with it. (In fact, he’s even ashamed of his true origins.) The relatability of watching him is how a lot of Asians feel about their family and culture too. To these youth, their parents’ culture is something to hide and attempt to break free from. Without giving away any spoilers, it’s only after Shang Chi goes on this adventure and confronts his family and homeland that he reconnects with his roots. In doing so, he begins to feel some pride in who he is and who he can become. (“You are a product of all that have come before you,” he’s told.) Personally, I really believe that the film uses this to highlight the struggle for younger Asians to acknowledge their culture and own their background is a part of who they are now. There is a message of cultural celebration within the film that invites second-generation immigrants to be proud of their heritage, rather than hide or be ashamed of your own race.
Overall, Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is an amazing celebration of Asian culture that was long overdue. By celebrating Asian culture, Marvel has really taken a great step in the right direction at a time when it’s needed. As the latest new character into the MCU, the film is fueled by family ties that really drive the story and demonstrate the struggle of the next generation to connect with their history.
Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is in theatres on Friday, September 3, 2021