HomeAAPI ActorsHow much is riding on Shang-Chi for Asian Americans?

How much is riding on Shang-Chi for Asian Americans?

By Louis Chan, AsAmNews National Correspondent

Milton Liu remembers as a child watching Asian American actors on the big screen usually portraying the villain. Rarely did these characters even utter a word or get their story told before being killed off.

Shang-Chi (and the Legend of the Ten Rings) gives us that story,” Liu told AsAmNews during a phone interview.

He fears if Shang-Chi fails, Asian Americans won’t get a second chance to tell their story again.

Brian Nemes is a White male who saw himself a lot on the screen while growing up. It wasn’t until later in life that he realized that a good portion of the movie-going audience didn’t get that opportunity.

“It became important to me to amplify these films,” Nemes said to AsAmNews, “so children know the world is theirs.”

He believes the definition of success at the box office is different today than pre-pandemic and that Hollywood will be forgiving if the latest Marvel movie falls below expectations.

Nemes is head of operations for Gold Open, Gold House’s promotional vehicle to ensure the success of AAPI-lead films.

Liu is executive director of Giant Leap, a writer’s accelerator program targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Liu clearly sees a lot riding on Shang-Chi which opens Friday in theaters nationwide as Marvel’s first Asian-lead superhero film. He says if a White-lead superhero film flops, another White-lead film will quickly follow. He doesn’t think that’s the same for an Asian-lead film given Hollywood’s risk-adverse culture.

“If it does well, money talks and we’ll be afforded to have a another project,” said Liu. “If it does fail, we don’t get a second chance.”

But how is that success and failure going to be measured? Normally if a Marvel film doesn’t surpass $100 million in ticket sales opening weekend, it’s classified as a failure, according to Nemes.

No film, not even Marvel’s Black Widow which opened Easter Weekend has done that since the pandemic. Black Widow grossed $80 million over the three day weekend and currently holds the pandemic record followed by the Justin Lin-directed F9 at $70 million.

However, concern about the Covid-variant back then was nothing like it is now.

“There’s no film, however important, that will sway opinion of going to movie theater if their health is their primary concern,” warned Nemes.

The studios using polling and pre-sale numbers project opening day weekend domestic ticket sales for Shang-Chi at $45-$50 million, according to Deadline. That would shatter the Labor Day weekend record of $30.6 million set back in 2007 by the horror flick, Halloween.

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Liu puts added importance on Shang-Chi because not only are the actors primarily Asian, but so are the behind the scenes people including hapa director Destin Daniel Gretton and the screenwriter Dave Callaham.

“I don’t want to bash something like Mulan,” Liu said. “The writers, directors were not AAPI. That’s one of the caveats of Hollywood. Sure we’ll let this movie go , but we’re still not going to have behind the camera talent be AAPI.”

He said the same was true for Snake Eyes, the GI Joe origin story, and Mortal Combat.

“I think it just kind of was put out there and wasn’t really marketed as an Asian story, he said about Snake Eyes. “When you look at the Shang-Chi trailer, you have Michelle Yeoh and Tony Liang talking about family and being destined for this. There just seems to be more care of the lure and the story telling in Shang-Chi than Snake Eyes.

Snake Eyes garnered opening weekend domestic ticket sales of $13 million.

Perhaps none of those movies would have been possible without Crazy Rich Asians, Fresh Off the Boat, Minari, Parasite and Raya and the Last Dragon.

That’s why Nemes believes more Asian-themed films and shows will follow, irregardless of what happens with Shang-Chi.

Both Liu and Nemes, agree on the significance of Shang-Chi and are cheerleaders for its success.

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