As the first Marvel movie to exclusively debut in theaters since the beginning of the pandemic, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has made quite a splash, and not just among the Asian American community either. Contrary to early guesses, the movie was a box office hit that has made an estimated $414,332,589 as of now (Box Office Mojo). The film was co-directed by Destin Daniel Crettin, stars Simu Liu, Awkwafina, and highlights a multitude of other talented Asian actors.
If you haven’t seen Shang-Chi yet, beware that reading the brief movie summary may spoil parts of the movie. Scroll to the section titled “Why is Representation Important?” to continue reading.
Brief Movie Summary
The film starts by using narration to teach the audience not only about how the man behind the 10 rings has controlled them for centuries but also about how he fell in love with the Guardian of Ta Lo. They of course, if you didn’t already know, are Shang-Chi’s parents.
Fast forward to modern day San Francisco, where Shang-Chi, who goes by Sean, currently lives. He works with his high school best friends Katy, as a valet. On their way to work, they get into a fight with some guys. They are after the jade pendant that Shang-Chi’s mother, Li, gifted him as a child. The fighting sequence, filled with plenty of slow-motion action, is enchanting. Audience members were certainly on the edge of their seats in these suspenseful action scenes from beginning to end!
All of this leads Shang-Chi back to his father, Wenwu, who has one mission and one mission only: to free his wife from her old hometown, Ta Lo, and bring her back. This ends up being a bit difficult considering the fact that she actually died when Shang-Chi was seven.
Ta Lo is a village in an alternate dimension and its people only have one job, keep the Dweller in the Darkness in its prison. The Dweller in the Darkness is an ancient creature that consumes human souls. It was defeated long ago by the peoples’ ancestors, with the help of the Great Protector, and sealed away. Now, it threatens to be freed by Wenwu and the 10 rings as the monster calls to Wenwu and taunts him with his deepest desire: to have his wife back. So now, all that Shang-Chi has to do is defeat his all powerful father, keep the Dweller in the Darkness imprisoned, and keep the universe from ultimate doom—Easy peasy. While he saves the world, Shang-Chi also has to accept his aunt’s heavy words, “You are a product of all who came before you.” He is both his mother and his father, whether he likes it or not, and he must find a way to unite the two halves of himself that are in constant conflict.
Why is Representation Important?
Many Asian Americans today also find themselves in a constant battle with their identity, often going back and forth between not feeling Asian enough, and not feeling American enough. For many, it was about time for Asians to be featured in a Marvel movie, and I can’t help but agree with this sentiment. Just a couple years back, we had the pleasure of seeing an all Black cast in Black Panther, but the film was the first of its kind. Up until its release, in 2018, no Marvel film had ever had a non-white male lead protagonist (Screenrant). Representation in media is important because it has a positive impact on the represented group, especially youth, if produced well.
Shang-Chi, with its various scenes narrated in Mandarin and dialogue peppered with common Chinese phrases, portrays an aspect of Asian American culture that is rarely addressed in mainstream media. Asians were not portrayed as a monolith for once, and the world got to see the sheer depth and richness of Chinese culture. Note that not being able to speak a single world of your culture’s language doesn’t make you any less Asian. I, fortunately, had the opportunity to learn my native language when I was young, though I do remember feeling “too Asian” on more than one occasion.
The film also addresses the complicated familial relationships that many Asians have experienced. Relationships are complicated, period. But if you add tradition and expectations to the mix, things get a whole lot messier. We see in the film that Shang-Chi’s relationship with his family is quite complicated, and many Asian kids can relate. It can be hard some days, having to constantly fulfill strict expectations especially from parents, but having the same type of situation play out on the big screen makes the audience feel less alone, even if it’s just by a smidge.
Though the film was specifically about a Chinese superhero, the entire Asian community felt seen as a whole. After a hard year, with small businesses struggling due to the pandemic and Asian hate crimes on a rise, it was nice to see the word Asian be connected to something positive in the headlines. The Asian community is built on unity and camaraderie, and the movie did a wonderful job portraying that in a way the media has rarely done before.
So if you find yourself with some time on your hands, and feel safe enough to do so, definitely make sure to head out to your local theater and get tickets to see Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The movie is sure to get a laugh or two out of you, and maybe even a few tears. Not only will it be a rewarding movie experience, but showing support in theaters will let Hollywood see that the world is ready to see more mainstream Asian representation. And we have been ready for a long time.