How Kung Fu Master Shang-Chi Destroyed Stereotypes

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Marvel’s pantheon of superheroes includes Spider-Man and Iron Man and Captain America and… Shang-Chi?

Admittedly, one of the lesser-known players on the comics company’s cast, Shang-Chi, aka The Master of Kung Fu, wasn’t even familiar with many of the creators Disney and Marvel Studios hired to bring the character to the world a few years ago. cinema life.

Destin Daniel Cretton, directorShang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings“Premiering on Friday,” hadn’t even heard of the character’s name growing up. There was no Canadian actor either. Simu Liu (“Kim’s Convenience”) plays Shang-Chi in the movie.

When longtime Marvel fan screenwriter David Callaham was first approached about the project and told it would feature an Asian superhero, he thought it had to happen. Amadeus ChoAlso known as the Korean American Hulk, who made his first comic book appearance in 2005. When Callaham learned that it would be Shang-Chi, “I said, ‘I don’t know what this is.'”

Many people didn’t. For the creators, this gave them great freedom to create “Shang-Chi,” which portrays Liu as “the world’s greatest martial artist”, a young Chinese-American hotel butler – and unknown to even his closest friends. under his overbearing father’s thumb.

Whether its ownership is known or not, the movie is a cause for celebration: it’s Marvel’s first and only superhero movie starring an Asian lead, starring an Asian-American director and writer, and based on a character who was originally Asian in the original comic.

But oh, that comic! When The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu was first released in 1974, the series was very much a product of its time, and even earlier times, with its source material, with ’70s hairstyles and homage to Fleetwood Mac. It’s 1920’s England. It was also one of Marvel’s most racially problematic films, with Asian faces painted in garish oranges and yellows unseen in nature, and Orientalist characters like Shaka Kharn (a reincarnated Genghis Khan knockout); monosyllabic Chankar (also known as “unstoppable sumo”); and Moon Sun (a Chinese “ancient one” accompanied by “the most lovable and honorable” daughter, Tiko).

His star spent most of his time shirtless and shoeless, uttering fortune cookie clichés in English, and hanging out with British men with names like Black Jack Tarr and Sir Denis Nayland Smith.

And then there was his father. Shang-Chi’s father was not just an overbearing Asian patriarch who wanted his son to follow him in the family business, but Fu Manchu, the “Yellow Peril” lead villain created by British novelist Sax Rohmer in 1913. mustache, Fu Manchu dreams of world domination. In a 1932 movie starring Boris Karloff with a garish yellow face, he orders his followers to “kill the white man and take his women”. What would Marvel do when reviving a series with such a legacy?

Trench Fu Manchu for beginners. “Fu Manchu was problematic for a billion reasons,” Callaham said.

Still, Cretton said adapting the series seemed daunting. “When I first met Marvel, honestly, I really went in there to make my voice heard and say, can you please avoid it or try not to?” remembered Cretton, better known for “.Short Term 12” and other dramas. “I never thought I would book a concert in a million years from now.”

Even without Fu Manchu, Marvel wanted to keep the family relationship at the center of the story, but there was a father figure that would appeal to an outstanding actor. “Tony Leung was the first name that came out of my mouth when they asked who we should play dad,” Cretton said. “But I also said there was no way we could catch him.”

In many ways, receiving Leung, who won the 2000 best actor award at Cannes for his role in “In the Mood for Love,” was a sign to almost everyone that Fu Manchu would never be in the movie at all. Is one of Hong Kong’s most beloved and talented actors playing a racist, anti-Chinese stereotype? “I can’t imagine Tony Leung playing a Fu Manchu type character,” said Nancy Yuen, author of “Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism.” “It’s not humanly possible because he’s someone he’s already been in the history of cinema.”

Casting Leung was also part of a larger effort to fill the story with Asians; this was something that comics, or even comic book influences, rarely did. (Perhaps Florian Munteanu and Tim Roth, the two most prominent white actors in the new film, play the monsters.) In the 1970s, the show’s “Chinese” protagonist (David Carradine) appeared in the “Kung Fu” series that Marvel hoped to adapt before settling on Shang-Chi. was surrounded by a largely white staff; similarly, he fought alongside non-Asian actors such as Bruce Lee, John Saxon, and Jim Kelly in 1973’s “Enter the Dragon,” which he freely drew from the original comic’s action sequences to the frame-by-frame rise.

This latest martial arts story is full of Asian faces, including veteran Hong Kong stars like Leung and Michelle Yeoh, and Asian-American actors like Awkwafina, Fala Chen, and comedian Ronny Chieng.

“I grew up in Hawaii and my friends are all a mix of Asian American or Pacific Islander,” said Cretton, a Chinese American. “I wanted Shang-Chi to be surrounded by a group of young people who reminded me of my friends and felt like friends.”

For the longest time, Liu said, “the martial arts genre has focused on this fish-out-of-water story, which often takes place in white America and focuses on white characters. I think it’s time to really take ownership of that narrative, to tell a story on our terms without a white-focused lens.”

To that end, the creators made a big reboot for Shang-Chi himself. The old costume was gone—Callaham said, “We weren’t going to make a movie about a guy walking around Central Park doing karate, wearing a gi and a headband”—and stylized British. Instead of a guilt-ridden hero tormented by killing people with his bare hands and being a demon father, this updated hero would be relatable, even funny.

Marvel Studios has been making even heroes like Iron Man and Thor, who were never so funny in the original comics, funny for years. But one of the very few Asian characters in the Marvel universe, cinematic or not, Shang-Chi has always been remarkably humorless, even by superhero standards – yet another stereotype the creators set out to overcome. “Until fairly recently in America, there was an assumption that Asians and Asian Americans couldn’t be funny,” said Gene Luen Yang, author of the latest book of Shang-Chi comics. “I think that’s why they had Eddie Murphy play Mushu in the ‘Mulan’ animation.”

The creators were so conscious of all the prejudices against them that they even made a list of Hollywood stereotypes about Asians that they hoped to dispel. Comedy would come in their movie from Asian characters should not be directed at them. “We were also very interested in portraying Shang-Chi as a romantically viable Asian male,” Callaham said, “and we were also very aware of the contrasting stereotype of overly sexualized or fetishized Asian women.”

Creators caught martial arts movies like the 1978 classic to prepare “36. Shaolin Room” Considered one of the greatest kung fu movies of all time and “like ’80s action movies”Big Problem in Little China

“I’m a big fan too”Kung Fu BustleCallaham, a movie with flying bracelets like ‘Shang-Chi’, wuxia-inspired action sequences, and yes, a lot of comedy,” he said.

“Shang-Chi” also has mystical creatures; a sneak peek into the racist pasts of both Fu Manchu and Marvel’s Fu Manchu-like character Mandarin; and martial arts heroes galore. But for Callaham, one of the most memorable moments of creating the movie had nothing to do with monster-filled mayhem or martial arts performances.

“I was writing a scene where Shang-Chi was in San Francisco and hanging out with his friends, living a lifestyle that was not entirely different from the one I had in the past,” he said.

“I suddenly felt overwhelmed with emotion,” he continued. “I was usually hired to write a movie star role so I could shoot a movie star, and these weren’t usually Asian faces. Usually it’s a nice white guy like Chris or something. And all the power of these guys, but I always had to put myself in the position of imagining what it was like to be someone else. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have to sit back and dream about it anymore.”

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