Shang-Chi star Fala Chen on chasing Marvel’s first Asian led movie and working with Tony Leung

Shang-Chi Fala Chen interview

The newest chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings hits theatres this week, and audiences are in for a treat. Starring Simu Liu as the titular master of Kung Fu, Shang-Chi is a brilliant combination of a martial arts action movie and wuxia inspired fantasy movie.

What separates it from other Marvel films though is its thoughtful portrayal of a dysfunctional but loving family. You see, Shang-Chi and his sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) are the children of the villainous Wenwu (Tony Leung), aka The Mandarin, a deadly warlord and the peaceful but no less powerful Jiang Li (Fala Chen).

During the film, both Shang-Chi and Xialing find themselves caught between their parents conflicting philosophies which sets them both on a path to self-discovery. Playing such an essential role in the movie, we jumped at the chance to speak to Chen about playing Jiang-Li when we were offered the opportunity. We discussed why she went out of her way to appear in the film, what it was like working with Leung, and if she’s the first person to be cast in a Marvel movie while being in Antarctica.

The Digital Fix: Is it true you were in Antarctica when you got the call offering you the part?

Fala Chen: It’s true, I was with my husband, and we’d already embarked on the cruise ship to go to Antarctica from Argentina, and my agents warned me they said ‘You know we’ve got a phone call from Marvel, they want to talk to you, but we don’t know what it’s about, so we need to reach you,’ and I’m like ‘I’m literally boarding this afternoon, but I think there’s an emergency satellite phone line that goes through to the captain and here’s the number’, and I just left.

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A couple of days later, they finally found me, and they delivered the good news that Marvel had just given up trying to reach me and was like, ‘OK, we’ll just offer her the part’, and that was such a surprise. That’s when I learned it was Shang-Chi, and I was thrilled because I’ve been tracking this film for a long time and really wanted to be part of the film. It worked out perfectly.

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You say you were tracking the movie. What made you want to be in Shang-Chi?

I knew it’s the first Asian-led cast in a Marvel film, and also I’ve been waiting for an action movie that has the scale to bring the martial arts and action scenes to a new level. Also, even though I’m not a martial artist, I’ve always wanted to play one, so I’ve been really excited about this film from the very beginning.

You’re not a martial artist, but you do a superb job playing one. Did you do much training to get into shape for the film?

Yes! Well, training and getting into shape happened at the same time. Getting into shape was really painful because, you know, I was not working out on my honeymoon. I ate a lot on the cruise ship. So it was a lot of weight training, endurance training, pilates, all to build the core strength.

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On top of that, I had to learn my sequences and learn Tai-Chi, practising the basic forms, and learning the philosophy of Tai-Chi. Actually, towards the end of the training, I realised all the training helped me find my character. I found the centre and her energy, so the training was essential to creating this character.

Shang-Chi Fala Chen interview

I have to ask about Tony Leung as well. You got to work very closely with him on the movie. What was that experience like?

It’s a dream to work with [Leung]. He’s so easy going, a little shy, which is so different from how he appears on the screen. He just presses a button and turns it on. In real life, he’s very gentle, very soft-spoken, very easy to chat to, and made my job super easy given my character falls in love with him. He’s just so charming, those eyes, oh my god.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings hits theatres on September 3, 2021.

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