As a Marvel Cinematic Universe fan and Asian American, let me tell you my excitement for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was REAL.
I remember when Marvel announced that they would be making this film — my first thought was, “This is going to be great for us, I hope they don’t screw it up.” After watching this movie twice on opening weekend, I’m happy to say that it does more than meet expectations — it is now an instant classic for us in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.
Despite the film being more centered on Chinese culture, this film represents dynamics common to the Asian American experience. Even as a first-generation Filipino American, this film makes me feel seen and understood.
From the visuals that leave you awestruck, to arguably the best fight scenes since Captain America: Winter Soldier, to the subtle nods to culture — there are so many things that made this film so great.
Here are a few of my biggest takeaways from this film. (Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen the movie yet!)
The Asian American experience on the big screen
Shang-Chi doesn’t just give us an origin story for our first-ever Asian superhero — it tells this story in a relatable way for all Asian-Americans. From the beginning of the movie, when we are acquainted with Shaun (Shang-Chi’s alias) and Katy, we get a glimpse into the life of an Asian-American — and the details of that life resonate especially for those of us who are first-generation Americans.
The karaoke bar scene and the two-second shot of Shaun taking off his shoes when entering Katy’s home are just subtle nods to that experience. Then we hear a passing line from Katy’s mom that cuts like a knife: “Grandpa did not come here to America just for you to park cars for a living.”
That’s not the exact quote, but it hits home for those of us who feel as if we did not live up to our parents’ high expectations — we see Katy wrestle with that burden throughout the film. It’s a feeling familiar to almost anyone who grew up in a family of immigrants, and it’s especially real in Asian American households. Our parents want us to have high aspirations and good-paying jobs so that we will never have to live a life of poverty that some of them experienced back in their home countries. While usually well-intentioned, this pressure we receive from our parents can be stressful, and even lead us to take on career paths we don’t enjoy in an effort to make them proud.
This movie does a great job of depicting Asian American parents. The complicated relationship between Shang-Chi and his father, Wenwu, evokes experiences that Asian fathers and their sons can relate to. There is so much to digest with their relationship, but the one moment that stood out to me was Wenwu’s death in the grip of the Dweller in Darkness (aka the giant soul-sucker).
Before that monster escapes the cave, it manipulates Wenwu to believe his wife is behind the wall. Once he realizes that he is wrong, Wenwu uses the rings to protect his son. And in his final moments, he recalls the love he has for his son as scenes from Shang-Chi’s childhood come to his mind.
Despite his mistake and regret, Wenwu never apologizes for being wrong — he simply admits to that fact by sharing a longing look with his son. That long look speaks much louder than any words could. Then he gives Shang-Chi the rings to help him defeat the soul-sucker.
There is a lot of non-verbal communication that happens between fathers and sons in Asian families — that’s at least true for my experience. My father and I rarely exchanged “I’m sorry” or “I love you” to one another, but we know when we are sorry, and we always know we love one another. The lack of dialogue in Wenwu’s death scene isn’t lazy writing — it is a choice to depict a dynamic authentic to the Asian American experience.
There are many more moments in this film that are so relatable, but these two stand out to me the most.
Hero for all AAPI
When Black Panther came out, I knew it was a huge win and a fantastic moment for the black community. But I don’t think I understood how powerful that movie was for Black people until Shang-Chi came out. This film has given the Asian American community so much to talk about and celebrate that we could almost believe Shang-Chi and Ta-Lo were real. I remember hearing similar stories about T’challa and Wakanda.
I never realized how important representation is until I walked out of the theater after watching this movie. Shang-Chi left me with a feeling that I had never received from a film before — it made me feel seen and recognized. Yes, we have had some supporting characters who were Asian, but none of them were ever the lead in our hero movies. Having a whole movie where the main characters are Asian just isn’t something we get to see that often.
I have seen so many testimonies, blogs, articles, and videos of Asians sharing what this film means to them. In one Facebook post, I saw a man tell the story of how he grew up to his father reading him comics about Shang-Chi, who became his favorite hero. His father passed away years ago, but after watching the film, the man said it felt like his dad was there with him. He thanked actor Simu Liu for giving him his dad back.
Though the culture presented in the film is primarily Chinese, all Asians feel like we have someone who represents us well in this film — thanks to director/writer Destin Daniel Cretton, screenwriter David Callaham, and Simu and Awkwafina. I can’t wait to see kids dressed up as Shang-Chi this Halloween — that will be special.
As I mentioned earlier, the balance between what Wenwu taught Shang-Chi and what he learned from his mother ultimately leads them to defeat his father and the Dweller in Darkness. This lesson of balance is important for all of us.
Polarization and division characterize our culture right now. The path to unity is balance — embracing the “both/and” of our experiences. Our Catholic faith is a good example of a reality that is big enough to accommodate apparent contradictions: We are fallen but also loved beyond comprehension; our faith community is both human and a place to meet God; we live by both reason and faith. Our faith is filled with balance, which points us to something deeper and true.
That’s not to say finding balance will be a walk in the park — it will take a bit of humility to get there, just like Shang-Chi had to struggle to find his balance.
These were just three of my takeaways from this record-breaking film. Everyone will bring their own life experience to this movie, but it’s an instant Marvel classic that will inspire for generations to come, whether or not you are Asian.