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Marvel expands genres in Asian-American representation with Shang Chi

Marvel’s Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has taken the world by storm as the first-ever Marvel movie to feature a predominantly Asian cast. 

Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was released in theaters on Sept. 3. The film, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, features Shang Chi (Simu Liu) and Katy (Awkwafina) on a journey to stop the Ten Rings organization led by Shang Chi’s father, The Mandarin (Tony Leung). Regarded as a powerful being, the Mandarin possesses ten magical rings that grant immortality and limitless power. Shang Chi, along with his sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) and Katy, head back to his late mother’s home village to prevent his father from destroying the world as they know it.

With this release, Marvel shows its first step into expanding genres in different cultures, spreading the love onto the Asian-American community, at this instance. However, while its enamoring take on Asian representation in Marvel media is commendable, the film falls short.

Shang Chi was first featured in Marvel comics as a “Master of Kung Fu.”  The original comic, unlike the motion picture, was full of racist stereotypes against Asians. 

The original character of the Mandarin was named Fu Man Chu and was written by Sax Rohmer in the 1910s. Described by Rohmer as a “yellow peril incarnate in one man,” many cartoon drawings of Fu Man Chu illustrated him as sinister and dangerous. Asian representation in the media has always included racist tropes, such as being a fearsome kung fu master. On top of being portrayed as a “yellow peril,” the comics fueled a dangerous stereotype of Asians as nefarious individuals, worsening the already controversial takes on “foreigners” at the time.

With the original comic including many problematic themes, Cretton’s work with Marvel to create an Asian character who was relatable to a vast majority, or populace, is an improvement. Shang Chi is a funny and very family-oriented guy. After being attacked by his father’s assassins and dangerous mythical creatures, Shang Chi embraces his destiny to protect whatever was left of his broken family while, at the same time, showing his resilience through light-hearted comedy in his journey.

The movie takes the viewers on a rollercoaster of emotions—from lighthearted to energetic in just a few scenes. Shang Chi could make a silly joke in one scene, then could be fighting the Ten Rings Organization in the next second.

However, in the end, it is not a stretch to say that Shang Chi is another Marvel film that happens to have an Asian character embroiled in a tragic family drama. Movies including Asian heroes should not always have to be kung-fu centric. So, while the movie was above expectations, it would not be considered the greatest Marvel movie of all time.

Shang Chi’s notable cinematography, along with the Asian representation portrayed throughout the movie, create a one-of-a-kind film. Additionally, the movie’s star-studded cast of Asian actors like Simu Liu and Michelle Yeoh, makes it an enjoyable film to watch over the weekend. For the most part, Shang Chi and the Ten Rings is a relatively entertaining movie to watch, but Hollywood still needs to step up their game in Asian inclusive films. 

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