Marvel’s latest “Shang-Chi” delights with first-time majority Asian American cast

Michelle Sheen

Starring its first Asian American superhero, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings” made its long-awaited appearance as the second Marvel movie released this year, representing the rich Chinese culture and maintaining traditional Marvel traits for viewers to enjoy.

The movie begins by introducing the seemingly normal life of Shaun (Simu Liu, “Kim’s Convenience”), whose real name we later find out is Shang-Chi. We find that he works as a valet with his high school best friend of over 10 years, Katy (Awkwafina, “The Farewell”).

However, his peaceful life shifts to one of a busy Marvel superhero when strange men geared in weapons attack him on a bus and steal the jade pendant his late mother had gifted him when he was a child. Shang-Chi identifies the thieves as his father’s (Tony Leung, “The Grandmaster”) warriors and rushes to find his estranged sister, Xialing, (Meng’er Zhang, “Burning Questions”) before her pendant meets the same fate. 

As the movie, which was released Sept. 3, progresses, Shang-Chi battles internally with the past — including his mother’s death, which he was the sole witness of — and with the broken family he left behind in Asia when he ran from home to San Francisco as a teenager. 

Learning the secret of the legendary 10 rings his father possesses and the magical village, Ta Long, his mother once called home, Shang-Chi learns to reconcile with death and the grief that follows in the 132-minute-long movie.

Director Destin Daniel Cretton (“Just Mercy”) preserves the signature Marvel movie traits, including top-notch humor (especially in scenes with Awkwafina) and steady character development while focusing the film on the theme of family. 

The choice in creating the familiar trope of conflict within family for this Chinese-centered movie allows viewers to reflect on the traditional Asian expectations of sons and daughters to serve their family first — an expectation Shang-Chi struggles with as he denies his father’s request to bring his mother back home. 

With its first-ever Asian American protagonist after the release of 25 Marvel movies, the film also sheds light on the beauty of Chinese culture through stunning visuals and use of the language, a promising sign and first step for the representation of minorities in American films. 

From the characters’ martial arts skills to their beautifully spoken Chinese, the motion picture brings valuable representation and exposure for many of the Asians sitting in the theaters and gives audience members who don’t share the heritage a unique look into the underrepresented Asian culture.

The movie brings light to the family — not in the lens of the White man, which is commonly shown in most films, but through the Asian perspective. 

Awkwafina’s role as Shang-Chi’s best friend serves as a character whose witty banter with the main character produces chuckles throughout the entire film. 

Though Katy’s humor elevates the comedy of the movie, her role serves to be important in other ways; her interaction with Uncle Ben, a wise citizen of Ta Long and archery teacher to Katy served as a key factor in her character development. 

While in the beginning, she, her family and even her friends didn’t see her as an accomplishment because of her job as a valet, Uncle Ben reminds Katy of her potential toward the climax of the movie when she questions her own ability to fight, telling her that, “If you aim for nothing, you will shoot nothing.” 

The trademark Marvel action scenes also fill viewers with adrenaline as Shang-Chi battles his father, his father’s men and hundreds of monstrous creatures. Though full of the standard professional swings and kicks, the movie’s battle scenes manage to separate themselves from those of other Marvel movies through its focus on martial arts, which mesmerizes viewers with the characters’ fluid, dance-like motions. 

Despite the overall cliché plotline of facing insurmountable challenges but inevitably defeating the enemies could’ve been improved, the movie surpasses expectations. The movie, overall, brought several touching scenes that warmed viewers’ hearts with the message of overcoming one’s past and finding familial harmony.

Most importantly, to those deciding to leave once the end credits roll, make sure to wait an extra few minutes for an additional scene before the movie officially ends. 

With the movie ending with the line, “THE TEN RINGS WILL RETURN,” fans can most likely look forward to the further development of Shang-Chi as he learns to harness his new powers as a superhero in future films — maybe even while fighting alongside the Avengers.