Review: Marvel’s ‘Shang-Chi’ praised for its representation of Asian Americans, phenomenal storyline

Marvel's first Asian-American superhero brings a heartfelt story of family, healing, and redemption. However, it falls into the common pitfall of typecasting its female leads.

By Emma Weidmann | Guest Contributor

Marvel debuted its first Asian-American superhero last weekend with “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” starring Simu Liu as Shang-Chi and Awkwafina as Katy, his quirky best friend. The movie centers around the struggles of childhood trauma and reconciliation.

When pursued by his father’s magically empowered army of henchmen, Shang-Chi and Katy travel to China to protect his sister, Xu Xialing, played by Meng’ er Zhang, before their father can potentially harm her. Their journey connects the three to their roots – both their native country and the place of Shang-Chi and Xialing’s late mother’s birth.

The film had a surprisingly successful opening weekend, grossing $71 million over a three-day period, the second highest opening weekend since the beginning of the pandemic. The delta variant has been shown to have severely decreased movie-goers’ confidence in theaters, posing a large problem to the movie industry. However, “Shang-Chi” seemed to have had no problem attracting swarms of viewers to the cinema. I sat in a nearly full theater, and even while masked up, the impression of normalcy was present.

This movie has been lauded in the past couple of weeks for its representation of Asian Americans, something generally unseen in Hollywood. After the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes following COVID-19, “Shang-Chi” is at least one piece of media that plays on no stereotypes. With an overwhelmingly Asian cast, it was allowed to portray Asian people as many different things rather than just straight-A students and overbearing mothers. However, the casting of Awkwafina, fitting and talented as she is, seemed like a too-obvious choice, almost as if she were reprising her role as the quirky best friend from “Crazy Rich Asians.” Michelle Yeoh and Ronny Chieng also appeared in both films, in “Shang-Chi” as his aunt, Jiang Nan, and his friend, Jon Jon, respectively. Even as a loyal and enthusiastic Marvel fan, I see the choice to practically recycle actors from one of the most groundbreaking examples of Asian representation in the last two decades as lazy, especially in the type-casting of Awkwafina.

All said, I think Marvel consistently delivers a solid movie, and “Shang-Chi” is no exception. It has a ripped male lead, stunning visual effects, gorgeous sets and costume designs. That’s everything you want in a superhero movie. But ultimately the movie’s soul is in its story of family, redemption and fate. I’ll spare some of the details so as not to spoil the movie for those who have yet to see it, but I left the theater satisfied with the story and excited to follow Shang-Chi and Katy’s journey in subsequent Marvel films.