By Erin Chew, AsAmNews Staff Writer
An Asian star-studded cast including the male lead of Shang-Chi by Simu Liu and the female leads of Awkwafina (Katy) and Meng’er Zhang (Xialing) debut September 3 in Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Already, it has ticked all the boxes in terms of showcasing culture, authentic representation and portrayals of strong Asian male and female leads.
The film also includes Asian cinematic legends including Tony Leung (Wenwu/The Mandarin), Michelle Yeoh (Jiang Nan), Fala Chen (Jiang Li) and others. Rounding up the cast to add some comedic elements there are characters played by Ronny Chieng (Jon Jon), Benedict Wong (Wong) and Sir Ben Kingsley (Trevor Slattery).
The film distinguishes itself in the Marvel Universe by including deep dives into interpersonal relationships between family and friends, Asian culture and language, and the lived experiences being ABC (American Born Chinese). Including elements like this makes the film more relatable being Asian but it also touches on our Asian lived experiences in the US and in other Western countries.
In a review for AsAmNews of Shang-Chi (please check it out to find out more about the film itself), writer Jana Monji touches on this focus:
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a film about family told with a lot of humor and a lot of Asian faces to fill out the diversity in the MCU”.
The focus on family and friend relationships were shown in different ways in the film at both a plutonic friendship level between Shang-Chi and Katy, but also at a familial and intergenerational level with their parents (Katy with her mother and grandma and Shang-Chi with The Mandarin and his late mother) and grandparents and among siblings ( Shang-Chi and Xialing ).
“Being Asian, family and friend relationships form part of our culture, so really naturally we felt this was the only way to go for the films, said director Destin Daniel Gretton during a virtual news conference attended by AsAmNews. “Shang-Chi as a character has all these relationship dynamics around him in his life but he is also too deep in his individual struggle in understanding who he is and who are his family and friends”
The significance of this is not loss on Gretton.
“If we are not putting Shang-Chi shoulder to shoulder with other Marvel superheroes, that would be a disservice to our Asian cultures and the character itself. Both are equally important.”
What is refreshing about the film is that there are parts where the entire dialogue/conversations were all done in Mandarin, with different accents and different levels of proficiency. This is an accurate depiction of how Mandarin and more broadly Chinese and other Asian languages are spoken in the US and around the world.
A comical yet crucial moment in the film was when Ronny’s character (Jon Jon) speaks Mandarin to both Simu (Shang-Chi) and Awkwafina’s character (Katy). Katy replies to Jon Jon that her Chinese isn’t good, and Jon Jon replies “Okay, I can speak ABC”. During the press conference Simu spoke about how significant that scene was in highlighting the feelings and trepidations ABCs (American/Western Born Chinese) have when speaking Chinese.
“Every time, I think about that scene, I feel moved because it is one of, if not the first time you see someone in a major film calling out a lived experience and making that experience relevant in the Asian narrative”.
Awkafina echoed Simu’s sentiments and added how much she personally appreciated that particular scene:
“Culturally in blockbuster films, you hardly see that specific cultural experience/element, so I definitely appreciate seeing my own lived experiences represented in that scene and in the film”.
Destin mentioned the decision to use Mandarin as the language spoken in many conversations in the film was rooted in the skills of the actors playing the characters, and who would naturally be speaking what. He also spoke about touching on the diversity of skills which adds the element of reality in being Asian in the US, Asia and other parts of the world.
“Our decision on using Mandarin as the non-English language in the film’s dialogue happened in the writers room, and we realized how bi-lingual and tri-lingual all the actors playing our characters were. Naturally we went with what was common among all the actors and we wanted to ensure how we showcased it demonstrated a variety of skill sets and lives experiences”.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings opens in the theaters on September 3, 2021.
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