Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has broken records as the highest-grossing domestic film during the COVID-19 pandemic so far. The film resonated with many Asian-Americans who had felt the palpable lack of AAPI representation in mainstream media.
The actor who played the protagonist Shang-Chi, Simu Liu, became the first Asian lead in a Marvel Studios film and used this opportunity to speak out about the lack of Asian representation in mainstream media. “What needs to change, really, is that we need better representation behind the camera,” explained Liu in an interview with Complex. “We need better representation among the people who tell the stories or the people who greenlight the movies. We need perspectives. We need lenses that are authentic because, without that, you cannot have an authentic character.”
Compared to other popular American “Asian movies” in recent years, Shang-Chi was refreshing. “Shang-chi felt authentic,” said Madison Zhao, a sophomore and fluent mandarin speaker. “In Crazy Rich Asians…I did feel a little disappointed when I was watching it and a…non-Chinese actor [was] speaking broken [Chinese] but they were glossing over [it] like it was perfect.” Fellow 10th grader, Stella Li, concurred stating, the actors in Shang-Chi “actually sound..like native speaker[s].”
The film also referenced iconic fighting styles from Hong-Kong martial arts movies and legendary Hong-Kong actors, Michelle Yeoh and Tony Leung, had large supporting roles which added to the authenticity of the movie. Hong-Kong martial arts movies typically feature exaggerated stylized-fighting, swordplay, and even flying during fighting scenes, most evidently depicted in the opening fight scene between Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) and Leiko Wu (Fala Chen).
“It’s also that American-Chinese side as well,” explained Zhao; along with traditional Chinese culture, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings also managed to include an aspect of the specific fusion of cultures found only in America. While many viewers may have not caught some of the references to Asian-American culture and rhetoric, the AAPI viewers were able to relate; for instance, when the character Jon Jon joked, “No worries, I speak ABC” (American Born Chinese).
In terms of proper representation for the AAPI community in mainstream media, there is still a long way to go and many cultures that still need accounting for, but overall, seeing a predominantly Asian cast portrayed in a positive and authentic light is an important step in the right direction. Li explained, “I would like to see more education on our culture and teach people how to properly appreciate it.”
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