Over the Labor Day weekend, Marvel’s new film Shang-Chi hit theaters and broke previous Labor Day weekend records, earning $ 94 million. As of September 12, Shang-Chi had grossed a cumulative $ 257.6 million globally. With an all-Asian cast – even featuring top Asian musicians in the soundtrack – this film sets a new precedent for what diversity means in Hollywood today. With a 92% critical score on Rotten Tomatoes, and as an Asian American, I knew I had to see this movie in theaters.
For the first time since confinement last March, I went to the cinema to see Shang-Chi in person. The film nailed many of the typical Marvel characteristics with its captivating, fast-paced action scenes and heartfelt comedy. Shang Chi masterfully interweaves topics such as cultural assimilation and identity in an entertaining, action-packed two hour and 12 minute film.
The action sequences paid homage to traditional Asian martial arts styles. Shang-Chi’s personal fight choreography was inspired by Kung-Fu and legendary actor Bruce Lee. Other martial arts that were also represented included Tai Chi, Bajiquan, Wing Chun, and Hung Ga.
The film contained several subtle nods to Asian Americans and our unique culture. Many of the scenarios depicted on-screen looked eerily accurate, ranging from removing your shoes before entering the house to having to correct your friends for mispronouncing your cultural name.
The main character’s arc could be read as a story of cultural assimilation and acceptance. For the majority of the film, the main character Shang-Chi goes by the name Sean Chi and rejects his Chinese and family name. While this is a fairly obvious rejection of his culture, Shang-Chi also distances himself from his family and doesn’t recognize them since he lives in America.
Rejection of its culture is unfortunately a very common occurrence among Asian Americans. While speaking your native language and eating traditional foods at home is fine, bringing your culture to the outside world is often greeted with disgust or contempt.
Such attitudes encourage Asian American children to assimilate into the mainstream culture and reject who they really are. As Shang-Chi rejects his true identity, at the end of the film we see him reclaim his Chinese name and, more importantly, his true cultural identity. The film strongly suggests that we are at our strongest when we accept who we really are.
This film perfectly portrays the relationship that many first-generation American children have with their immigrant parents and the cultural disconnection that often develops between them. While America is a very individualistic society, the majority of Asian cultures place more importance on family than on individuals. This cultural disconnect leads Asian-American children to feel neglected and misunderstood, while parents feel their child is selfish.
Shang-Chi has this strained and distant relationship with his father. However, the film shows that while their relationship may seem unconventional, it doesn’t change the mutual love and respect the two parties have for each other.
Growing up, Asian American children can often doubt their parents’ love for them, as the media often exclusively portray white American families and their languages of love. The majority of white Americans are much more affectionate towards each other than Asians and seeing this on TV or in the movies casts doubt and makes Asian American children feel like their parents don’t like them properly. However, the film shows that there is no correct way to show affection. We all love differently.
It would be too quaint to say that Disney treated this film as an equal to other Marvel films. Shang-Chi had one of the lowest marketing budgets of $ 11.2 million and was hardly promoted by Disney. Other Marvel films such as Spiderman: Homecoming had a marketing budget of $ 140 million. Below is a chart showing Marvel’s marketing budget for Shang Chi versus Avengers: Endgame, Iron Man 2, and Spiderman: Homecoming.
Fans even pointed out on Tik Tok that actor Simu Liu, who played Shang-Chi, appeared to be the only one promoting the film.
The Disney CEO has even been publicly scrutinized for calling Shang-Chi an “experiment,” with Marvel fans accusing Disney of not caring whether the film failed or exceeded expectations. Actor Simu Lui responded to this comment with a Tweeter of its own.
While Disney can still do better at promoting diversity, the Shang-Chi movie is a wonderful example of portraying Asian Americans. Shang-Chi portrayed Asian culture and presented its beauty to the world. It’s important that kids of all races and cultures see themselves portrayed in mainstream movies like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Diversity helps encourage understanding and acceptance and teaches us to respect other people and cultures.