Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: What it Means for Asian Representation

Written by: Mehek

Edited by: Jessica

Visual by: Ethan

Lack of Asian representation has always been a big issue for the film industry, but as this issue becomes more widely known, many in the industry are making an effort to include a more diverse cast, producing movies like Crazy Rich Asians and The Joy Luck Club. In an attempt to increase diversity within their movies, Marvel has recently released Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, their first movie with a predominantly Asian cast. Starring actors Simu Liu, Awkwafina, and Tony Leung Chiu-wai, the movie follows the story of Asian American Shaun working as a valet with his best friend Katy. After an assassination attempt, Shaun goes on a journey around the world to find his long-lost sister Xialing, and search for the man who tried to kill him: a ring-wielding terrorist who happens to be his father. While many were excited to see more Asian representation in Marvel films, others criticized the lack of marketing for the movie as compared to other Marvel movies.

Nevertheless, since its release, Shang-Chi has received many positive reviews. According to Rotten Tomatoes, It is the highest rated comic book movie of all time with one critic saying that  “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ is Marvel’s best origin film in years”. Another source added,  “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has the best action scenes of the MCU to date”(Rivera, IGN SE Asia). Furthermore, along with the accolades received from critics, it also did extremely well in the American box office, getting a record $71.4 million Labour Day debut and was expected to get over 1$2.1 on the Monday following. 

However, some critics have negative thoughts on the movie. One critic calls the fight scenes in the movie “a travesty” as “the battles are poorly lit and filmed with such an over-excited eye that the intricacies of the choreography are lost”. Another critic at Slash Films felt that “Shang-Chi boasts invaluable strengths, such as a compelling lead, a rich cultural well to draw upon, and some of the MCU’s most genuinely hard-hitting action and choreography … and yet, for all that, something still feels missing in the end.” Overall, while Shang-Chi received many positive reviews, many critics felt that many of the movie’s action scenes were terribly shot, and that Shang-Chi also suffers the same third act problems of conflict resolution that many other Marvel movies face. 

One big controversy surrounding the film’s release was the lack of marketing compared to other Marvel films. Many Marvel fans on TikTok and Twitter picked up on this and felt that it was “definitely racially motivated”. Others have noticed that lead actor Simu Liu seems to be doing the majority of the promotion work for the film. One TikTok user named Jillian (@offscreenpodcast) wrote,“Simu Liu has taken the entire Shang-Chi promotional campaign into his own hands at this point.” Promotion for movies with diverse casts is extremely important, as people of color rarely get leading roles in Western movies. Without many people watching and engaging with these POC-lead movies, it makes it less likely for the movie to do well and takes away the opportunity for Asian representation to be normalized in the film industry. More specifically, with Marvel having White superheroes make up the majority of it’s casting, it pushes forward the image of cool White people to younger kids, and it makes it harder for Asians to identify themselves in the media. The release of Shang Chi changes this, and lets us know that we are making progress towards a more diverse Western film industry.

With Shang-Chi being Marvel’s first movie with an Asian lead and a predominantly Asian cast, a spotlight is placed on Asian representation not just in Marvel movies, but in the entertainment industry  in general. The majority of the time, important jobs in the film industry rarely ever go to people of color. In fact, White people get 78% of lead roles in Hollywood movies compared to the 1% of lead roles that are cast to Asians. This bias is even heightened in the  casting of Asian characters, whose roles are often given to Caucasians. For example, Scarlett Johannson played a Japanese woman named Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell, and Emma Stone played half Asian and Hawaiian Allison Ng in Aloha. Thus, by having a big company like Marvel host  a predominantly Asian movie cast,we’re seeing that we are moving in the right direction in terms of Asian representation in Hollywood, giving us hope for a more diverse industry in the future.

Works Cited

Bond, Shannon. “Marvel’s ‘Shang-Chi’ Smashes Labor Day Box Office Records With $71.4 Million Debut.” NPR, NPR, 6 Sept. 2021, http://www.npr.org/2021/09/06/1034594239/marvels-shang-chi-smashes-labor-day-box-office-records-with-71-4-million-debut.

James, Zach. “Film Review: ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ Is Marvel’s Best Origin Film in Years.” The Post, 7 Sept. 2021, http://www.thepostathens.com/article/2021/09/film-review-shang-chi-and-the-legend-of-the-ten-rings-mcu-marvel-origin-film.

“Marvel Fans Call Lack of Promotion of Shang-Chi ‘Racially Motivated’.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 17 Aug. 2021, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/shang-chi-marvel-film-racially-motivated-b1903787.html.

Mathai, Jeremy. “Shang-Chi Spoiler Review: Marvel’s Typical Third Act Problems Start At The Beginning.” SlashFilm.com, SlashFilm, 7 Sept. 2021, http://www.slashfilm.com/597152/shang-chi-and-the-legend-of-the-ten-rings-spoiler-review-marvels-typical-third-act-problems-start-at-the-beginning/.

Pan, Pamela. “Asian Americans in Films: Why Are They Important?” Medium, Publishous, 5 Sept. 2018, medium.com/publishous/asian-americans-in-films-why-are-they-important-429ac90ef35e.

Phillips, Maya. “’Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ Review: House of Hidden Dragons.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Sept. 2021, http://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/01/movies/shang-chi-and-the-legend-of-the-ten-rings-review.html.

Russell, Bradley. “Shang-Chi Is Now the Highest-Rated Comic Book Movie of All Time, According to Rotten Tomatoes Users.” Gamesradar, GamesRadar , 7 Sept. 2021, http://www.gamesradar.com/shang-chi-is-now-the-highest-rated-comic-book-movie-of-all-time-according-to-rotten-tomatoes-users/.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Review.” IGN Southeast Asia, 23 Aug. 2021, sea.ign.com/shang-chi/175723/review/shang-chi-and-the-legend-of-the-ten-rings-review.