Shang-Chi star Simu Liu has opened up about his complicated feelings regarding kung fu movies and the associated stereotypes surrounding the depiction of Asian people in Hollywood. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Liu admitted to feeling slightly conflicted about the limiting nature of Asian people being portrayed as kung fu masters in movies.
“As a progressive Asian American man, I’ve always wanted to shatter barriers and expectations of what Asian men are and be very aware of the boxes that we’re put into — martial artists, sidekicks, exotic, or Orientalist,” he explained. “And then the other paradigm is, like, kung fu is objectively super fucking cool. There is a reason why kung fu caught fire, and the world became obsessed with it because it’s incredible to watch.”
Liu went on to say that while he initially shied away from doing martial arts films, he does remember the immense pride he felt growing up watching Jackie Chan and Jet Li movies. He explained he wants Shang-Chi to do that for a new generation of Asian Americans, saying, “I think Shang-Chi can absolutely be that for Asian Americans. It means that kids growing up today will have what we never did — the ability to watch the screen and to really feel seen.”
The Shang-Chi star has admitted to having some reservations about the character in the past. He explained to Men’s Health that when the film was first announced (before he was cast in the role), he felt “disappointed” that of all the heroes they could choose, they went with a guy who does kung fu. It was only when he started reading more about the character that he began to feel a connection with Marvel’s martial arts master.
“I am that person that struggled with my identity my whole life. I am that person that’s always felt like he wasn’t enough,” he said. “And those [experiences] are more core to Shang-Chi’s character than his ability to punch people.”
Based on the trailers and comments made by Liu, it seems that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will dig into these themes of identity and finding yourself. The film will see Shang-Chi forced to confront his past when his father, the Mandarin (Tony Leung), demands he rejoin the clandestine Ten Rings organisation.
Directed by Destin Daniel, Shang-Chi is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first film with an Asian lead. The cast also includes Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh, Fall Chen, Meng’er Zhang, Ronny Chieng and Florian Munteanu.
Created in the ‘70s to capitalise on the popularity of Bruce Lee, Shang-Chi’s earliest appearances have not aged particularly well. The character was introduced as the son of the highly problematic villain Fu Manchu and was basically a walking stereotype. Modern writers have done their best to rehabilitate the character, and he’s become evolved into an Avenger’s mainstay.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is scheduled for release on September 3, 2021.