Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (open spoilers)

Hmmm. I find this interesting, because I haven’t had any interest in seeing Shang Chi because I perceive it as just another kung-fu movie that props up Chinese stereotypes.
I see all this hype about how ground-breaking Shang Chi is with respect to representation, and I’m thinking all along: but… but… but… kung-fu movie.

If it’s not just a kung-fu movie and treats Chinese people as, you know, people, then maybe there is merit there after all.

I’m honestly not sure why you think there’s a direct contradiction between “kung fu movie” and “treats Chinese people as people.” I mean, the vast majority of kung fu movies are, in fact, Chinese, made by Chinese people, and primarily aimed at Chinese people.

But, yeah, it’s not “just” a kung fu movie. But there is kung fu. And wuxia. And Marvel CGI animated super fights. And CGI monster fights. It’s an action movie. There is also family drama driving the plot, but that plot is driving an action movie.

As to representation, it’s an MCU movie with a Chinese hero, a Chinese villain, and supporting cast that is overwhelmingly Chinese, or Americans of Chinese descent, or

apparently extradimensional beings who are culturally Chinese and played by actors of Chinese descent and are pretty much indistinguishable from actually being Chinese.

For me personally, it was kind of disappointing that they tacked so hard away from Shang-Chi’s comics portrayal. I get why they did it - they were concerned with reactions exactly like yours.

The comic book version of Shang-Chi was created in the 1970s as pretty much a cross between Bruce Lee and Kwai Chang Caine from Kung Fu (so, pretty much the character from the alternate universe where Bruce Lee played the lead in Kung Fu). He definitely played into some stereotypes, and his characterization could get pretty cringey.

In the movie, they pretty much throw all of that out, and make Shang-Chi just a Normal Guy trying to live a normal life who gets dragged into a convoluted action plot. And, again, I get why they went that way, but for me personally, it made Shang-Chi just kind of a bland, forgettable character.

Similarly, the Mandarin in the comics, especially in his early appearances, was kind of a cringey, “Yellow Peril” stereotype, and pastiche of Fu Manchu but with technomagic power rings. I get why they wanted to get away from that characterization. But the character they wound up with was so far away from the Mandarin, I’m not sure why they even bothered with the idea Xu Wenwu is the MCU’s version of the Mandarin.

With all of that being said, if you don’t like kung fu movies, you probably won’t like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings - it’s definitely got kung fu and a lot of the DNA of a kung fu movie. If you do like kung fu movies and that’s what you want from this movie, I think you’ll be disappointed, as it drifts away from being a kung fu movie by the third act. If you don’t mind kung fu, or enjoy it as an element of a movie, you may like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings more than I did.

Sure. But we’re talking about a Hollywood movie here, not a Chinese movie. And Hollywood is not so good at that kind of stuff. So when Hollywood makes a movie about Chinese people and it is Kung fu, it doesn’t impress me. Show me Asians in roles where they don’t have to be Asian. Does that make sense?

Not to get too far off topic, but Disney’s true ‘groundbreaking’ movie with respect to Asian representation was Up.

Yes, it’s a Hollywood movie, but one made, I think, to appeal to Chinese audiences, as the box office there has been huge for previous MCU movies. (Ironically, though, they still don’t have approval to release the movie there.)

(It kind of annoys me that Hollywood studios seem willing to do whatever it takes to make the Chinese happy.)

It makes sense to me, at least in this regard: I have heard similar complaints, in Black spaces on the internet, about the way representation manifests itself in Hollywood. You seem to have a similar complaint to some Black people, regarding the type of movies that we have to “settle for,” in order to be represented. I can’t say that I can relate, entirely: from my point of view, the bolded sentence suggests that what you really want is “white” movies, but with all/majority Asian casts. Am I reading you wrong?

If by “white movies” you mean a diverse library of genres, then yes. Or one could just say a diverse library of genres.
I wouldn’t even go so far as to say a movie needs to have all/majority Asians to be noteworthy. I saw something recently about Sandra Oh where she talks about her experiences and internalization of ‘how things are’ that when offered to read for Killing Eve (I haven’t seen it, so I know nothing), it didn’t even occur to her that they were asking for her to read for a leading role. She’s so used to being “Asian-sidekick.”
Anyway, I’m happy to hear that Shang-Chi may not be too kung-fu centric. In the days leading up to the premiere, I read articles about the Asian American community in the USA getting fired up about it, so I kind of felt like a bad-Asian. Maybe I’ll see it on Disney+, I spend too much money on Disney as it is.

Well, I don’t feel qualified to speak on how diverse the library of Asian TV and films are in Hollywood; I can say that I’ve heard similar complaints about Black films in Hollywood, and it’s like, actually, we do get movies like that; you just aren’t watching them. They might not get $100MM budgets, but it’s unfair to act like they don’t exist. I can’t speak to whether that’s true for Asian films, or not.

I just saw this last night, and although I enjoyed it, there was a little too much exposition for my taste. The actions scenes were great for the most part and I liked that they did include some of the culture clash that exists between immigrants versus their american born children. There were the requisite quips and funny moments, including the fact that, and it really amuses me to no end, that Ben Kingsley, the oscar winner, plays such a comic relief role. Of course Michelle Yeoh and Tony Leung were great, though I wonder, what chinese people thought of their accent when speaking mandarin. I remember when Yeoh was criticized for having a Malaysian accent in Crouching Tiger Hidden dragon and I wonder if the same criticism will be leveled again even though she comes from a mystical world outside of the real world.

Overall a fun addition to the MCU

//i\\

…I’ve got to say…

I don’t think you’re acknowledging how much they actually did keep from the comics.
Shang ISN’T a normal guy who gets swept up in an action movie plot. He’s the son of a crimelord (directly taken from the comics) who has been highly trained and groomed to take over someday (also from the comics). After completing an assassination for his father (again from the comics), Shang rejects his father’s path and strikes out on his own. The difference being that comic Shang thought his dad was a good guy until after the assassination, where movie Shang I think they treat it as a kid who doesn’t necessarily understand the world and the rejection is more “why did my dad make me kill a guy!” This Shang then goes into hiding where comic Shang vows to fight his father. That just speaks to the differences required of narratives in different mediums.

They kept some elements, but I think the characters wound up being very different.

Comic book Shang-Chi is kind of a cross between Bruce Lee’s public persona and Kwai Chang Caine from Kung Fu. He’s stoic, ascetic, contemplative, and given to philosophical musings. He doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what he is. When he realizes the truth of who Fu Manchu really is, he dedicates himself to fighting his father’s evil schemes. At the same time, he is on a continuous journey of personal self-discovery and enlightenment. “Shang-Chi” supposedly translates into “Rising and Advancement of the Spirit”, and that is a personal motto he tries to live by. More than once in his career, he swears off adventuring, not because he wants any sort of normal life, but but because he becomes disgusted by the games of deceit and death even the good guys seem to play, and he retires in search of inner peace.

In the MCU, meanwhile, “Shaun” changes his name, hides out in San Francisco, slacks off as a hotel valet, and stays out until the wee hours of the morning singing karaoke with his bestie. He presents as a thoroughly Normal American Guy.

In the movie, he very much is a normal who gets swept up in an action movie plot. He’s got a lot of the backstory from the comics. But he’s just a normal guy living a normal life when his father’s thugs try to beat him up and steal his mother’s medallion, and he gets a mysterious post card from his long-lost sister, and then he kind of pin-balls around, diving deeper and deeper into an increasingly weird world.

Comic book Shang-Chi is a warrior-monk, who alternates between retreating from the material world and reluctantly re-engaging in it. MCU “Shaun-Chi” has a tragic backstory but is a normal guy that just wants a normal life, and is drawn into wild adventures that he’d rather not be a part of. Comic book Shang-Chi would be drawn to Magical Quasi-Chinese Brigadoon, and would be reluctant to leave to re-engage with the materialist world outside its bounds. MCU “Shaun-Chi” wants to reconnect with his family, but also wants to go back to parking cars by day and singing karaoke by night in San Fran with his American bestie.

And, again, I get why they wanted to change him from the comic book portrayal. In the comics, Shang-Chi can definitely come across as a cringey stereotype. Making him into a 20-something slacker Everyman who also just happens to be a master of kung-fu* breaks him free from those cringey stereotypes. For me personally, it also makes him into kind of a bland, unengaging character.

*Which is another complaint I mentioned: in the last act, the movie just kind of forgets about the whole Master of Kung-Fu thing, and the movie devolves into almost a self-parody of a formulaic MCU CGI-animated murky fight with energy blasts and giant monsters and a glowing sky portal, with Shang-Chi now being an energy blaster with magitech power bands. Which is something you’re not likely to see in the comics version (well, maybe you are now, if they retcon him to better match the MCU version).

It’s all taste…but what you saw as a negative “aww, shucks its not a kung fu movie anymore.” I saw as a strength.
I KNOW what the rest of that movie would be based on that set up. Shang Chi fights the 10 rings and then faces off against his father in a final showdown. Yeah, yeah… we get it.
The fact we get a wild left turn into a family drama with adult children having to deal with their father’s grief and then into a mystical fantasy style war–you might see as typical MCU cgi fest–but I saw a movie set us up and then pay off the story in a way we did not expect based on everything that came before it. Suddenly its Lord of the Rings all around us and it felt organic to the story they were telling.

Updating characters to modern times is not novel for the MCU. Comic Starlord was nothing like movie Starlord. They wisely created a movie-style Yondu for the comics rather than trying to force the original comics Yondu into that mold.

But it’s all taste.

But I still disagree with your trying to put Shang Chi as being some sort of “everyman”…do you consider Batman when he’s Bruce Wayne to be an everyman who gets swept up in adventure?

I’ve got to admit…I really don’t understand your point here. Do you think “Shaun”-Chi wasn’t presented as an Everyman? The slacker valet driver who stayed out all night singing karaoke and tried his best to forget about his childhood and ignore his father’s machinations and the weird postcard he thought was from his long-lost sister until he was forced into action by the bus attack? You think that guy was a driven hero?

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a version of Batman that presented him as an Everyman swept up in adventure, because he goes out and seeks it. He doesn’t live as Bruce Wayne, and ignore Ra’s al-Ghul and the League of Assassins until he gets jumped by thugs, and only then reluctantly go into action, while wanting nothing more than to go back to his peaceful life as slacker playboy. “Bruce Wayne” is a cover identity that lets Batman go out at night and seek out bad guys to beat up.

In the MCU, “Shaun” isn’t a cover. That’s who MCU Shang-Chi is. Shaun is swept up into a big adventure, and is forced to use his kung-fu, and to confront and reconnect with his past. He’s forced by his father’s machinations to engage with the Plot. But he’s still Shaun. He still wants to go back to just hanging out and singing karaoke.

To the audience and to Katy, Shang isn’t an everyman the moment the bus fight happens–he’s CLEARLY not an everyman. He’s a supernaturally gifted fighter. He was trying to live a normal life. It’s a character reveal.
Your issue seems to be that Shang wasn’t immediately a super hero.

It feels to me like there’s a weird disconnect going on here. I think maybe you and I have very different understandings of what an “Everyman” character is.

“Shaun” has the persona of an Everyman.

Again, Comic Book Shang-Chi is an ascetic, contemplative warrior-monk, scarred by his father’s evil and deceit and driven to fight it, while also seeking inner peace. He is a Master of Kung Fu, on a path of the Rising and Advancement of the Spirit.

MCU Shang-Chi is just a dude that wants to park cars by day and spend all night in karaoke bars with his bestie. He’s a slacker Everyman.

My issue with that one specific element of the movie is just that MCU Shang-Chi is a very different character from Comic Book Shang-Chi. And, again, I understand why they wanted to change his character for the movie. But I personally found the MCU portrayal of his character to be kind of bland and forgettable, and the comic book geek in me was a bit disappointed that his portrayal strayed so far from the classic comic book portrayal.

And at this point, this conversation has really gotten to be circular. You liked the movie and you liked the portrayal of Shang-Chi. I thought the movie was ok, serviceable but workmanlike, and I thought the portrayal of Shang-Chi was bland and forgettable, and I was a bit disappointed that the portrayal strayed so far from his classic comic book persona. Can we just agree to disagree at this point?

I think the crux is that he is pretending to be an everyman at the beginning, but he hasn’t forgotten his past, he remembers who he is and where he came from and that he knows kung fu. He wasn’t surprised that he knew kung fu on the bus, he was just being who he always has been, but has been hiding from.

I agree though, it all comes down to taste. Every Marvel, Star Wars etc thread comes down to that ultimately, whatever the particular disagreements are about. If you like it, cool, if you don’t like it, that’s cool too.

My issue with these threads are those who assert that only their opinion is correct. Nobody is doing that here, I’m just adding that as an aside.

Exactly.

It’s just taste…

Being unfamiliar with the comics I was not bothered by his portrayal, but the movie logic makes sense. When we first meet him, everything he learned, he has now rejected because he realized that his father was training him to be a killer. He has all the skills he has acquired but is afraid that they make him a bad guy, especially since he did kill someone.

Sure, he could have chosen to try to go after his father, or set up his own empire, like his sister, but instead he does something a lot of people do when they experience trauma, suppress its origin. It has a way of resurfacing like it does in the movie and he has to deal with it. I did not see him as particular complex, but I did not see him as bland either. He has a reason to hide his past, even from someone close to him, and it is not until the end that he embraces that there are many parts to him and his father is not the whole of his life.

//i\\

I just saw the movie yesterday. I think I liked it OK, but I wanted to like it a lot more, because, knowing very little going in, I thought it’d offer the MCU a chance to deviate from its familiar formula, which the movie seems to hint at—a smaller scale threat (initially), focus on family and character-issues, perhaps even something like an exploration of grief—, but then just doesn’t follow up on.

And just to get clear on one thing—the mystical hidden Asian kung-fu realm with a dragon protector in this one isn’t related to the mystical hidden Asian kung-fu realm with a dragon protector from Iron Fist (K’un Lun, I think?), right?

No, but I bet they’re on the same mailing list. It would have made sense to namedrop Iron Fist (and in the comics Shang-Chi can beat Danny handily in a fight from what little I’ve seen).

In the comics, K’un Lun is one of the Seven Capital Cities of Heaven, each with it’s own flavor of Kung Fu protector, who get together periodically to wale on each other until they determine which secret martial arts city is the best secret martial arts city. I don’t think Shang-Chi is normally part of that (I could be wrong, not super-familiar with the character) but they might be folding him into that sub-mythos for the movies.