On Sep. 3, Marvel Studios released another blockbuster film, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. This movie features the first major Asian superhero protagonist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and I couldn’t be happier. Not only is the main character Asian, but most of the cast is also of Asian descent, the director is of Asian descent and the movie soundtrack was made by 88rising, a primarily Asian record label. I haven’t seen this much representation in a huge movie since Crazy Rich Asians, another movie that I love.
I come from a Japanese and European family, but growing up my family never really talked about our Japanese side. My grandmother moved to the United States right after World War II when there was still a great deal of resentment towards the Japanese. As a result of this, my grandmother rejected her heritage and tried her best to fit in any way possible. She never taught her children Japanese, she never talked about what it was like leaving home, she never made traditional Japanese food, etc. There wasn’t much my family could do to learn about that aspect of our heritage, and turning to media wasn’t very helpful either. I rarely saw representation for my Asian side in Hollywood. If there was representation, it was often an exaggerated caricature indulging in countless stereotypes (think Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid). So, having a powerful Asian lead in a superhero movie really means the world to me.
With the representation of the Asian community historically being harmful, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings did a great job of countering that. The film was able to dive into Chinese culture without making it fit a stereotype. There was a healthy (and might I say cool) representation of martial arts. All of the characters were using martial arts techniques from various styles, and they look bad-ass doing so. The cultural references weren’t perfect, but this is an Asian-American movie, so there will be Asian-American culture.
Taking the impact of this film a step further, there are several Asian characters to be seen in upcoming Marvel movies. Kumail Nanjiani and Gemma Chan will be starring in The Eternals (2021), Iman Vellani in The Marvels and Benedict Wong will reprise his role as Wong in Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Also, the Asian-American population has had a pretty tough year. With harmful rhetoric being spread surrounding Asian involvement with COVID-19, and campaigns like “Stop the Asian Hate” being a necessity, it was about time for a box office hit with an Asian lead.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a film that I will revisit often. I am a big Marvel fan, and this has solidified its place in my top three Marvel films after only one viewing. If you haven’t had the chance to go see this movie, run to the nearest theatre. It’s a viewing experience that I will not soon forget.