Shang Chi and the Importance of Representation

Katie Nguyen, Staffer

Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Marvel’s newest superhero movie, tells the tale of an Asian-American man, Shang Chi, who is forced to confront both his culture and his past. The film deals with themes of accepting one’s past, and it places an emphasis on embracing Asian culture and heritage. 

Shang Chi, for half of his life, ran away from his family and culture. When he is threatened by a situation that puts his estranged sister in danger, Shang Chi is forced to return back to his roots. 

“I thought I could change my name, start a new life, but I could never escape his shadow,” Shang Chi said in the movie.

The film pays homage to Asian actors who paved the way for Asians in the American movie industry. The actors and directors drew inspiration from Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan’s iconic fighting styles, in order to carefully craft the martial arts scenes. 

Many Asian values are acknowledged in Shang Chi: honor, loyalty, and the importance of family. The film does a great job at incorporating these principles through its characters. 

Chinese culture is celebrated throughout the entirety of the film. The use of the language, Mandarin, makes the film feel more authentic or real to Chinese audiences. For many Asians in America, hearing your mother language in the media is rare and can feel surreal. 

Many mythical animals from classic Chinese stories were featured in the movie: dragons, the Fenghuang (phoenix), guarding lions, hunduns, huli jings (nine-tailed foxes), and qilin amongst more mythological animals. Mythology is important to culture; it can reveal what people believed in the past, why people believe what they do, how something came to be, and much more.

In most Asian cultures, people still maintain a bond with their loved ones even after death. Throughout the film, the characters could be seen paying respects to the deceased. For example, the characters honored their relatives during the Qingming Festival by “tomb sweeping.”

“What I didn’t anticipate was that the movie’s distinctly Chinese details would connect me to Shang-Chi in a way I’ve not experienced with any other blockbuster made in Hollywood,” Time Magazine journalist Kat Moon said.

Shang Chi is so much more than just another superhero movie. For many, the movie represents hope for Asians in America and positive change. Shang Chi is the first Marvel superhero movie with an Asian lead. Asian representation in American media is incredibly minimal, and even when Asian characters are featured, they are often pictured with undesirable traits. 

The Asian community often can feel as though their voices aren’t being heard, because of the lack of representation. It is important to tell the stories of minorities. Hearing more perspectives will help people become more open minded as well as empathetic. It is also important for future generations to see people who resemble what they look like in the media – literature, films, news, etc. Role models can influence how people grow and develop. People can better relate to others that look similar to them.

With movies like Crazy Rich Asians, To All the Boys I’ve Loved BeforeThe Farewell, Parasite, and Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings releasing, there’s hope for Asian representation in American media. The Asian community is becoming more and more recognized and acknowledged. These films help pave the way for the future of the Asian community in the movie industry.