I enjoyed Shang — Chi. It’s a lot of fun, and full of heart. Tony Leung is absolutely phenomenal, as always, and the driving message is heartwarming and genuine.
It’s a pretty good film, but sadly, “pretty good” doesn’t cut it. At least, not for me.
Now I want to preface this by saying I am not hating on any of the actors or the directors, or any of the crew who worked on the movie. I have the utmost respect for them. Destin Daniel Cretton’s vision of making a film filled with character dramas and the cultural complexity of the Asian — American experience is something to be proud about. It’s bold, and something that hasn’t really been done before in the white — dominated superhero films, and for the first time, seeing such a large and respected company like Marvel give their Asian community a solo superhero film, one that was filled with OUR culture, my excitement was almost unbearable.
And for the most part, Shang — Chi is able to convey that culture. Cretton truly made a story that was truly wonderful and heart wrenching. The relationship between father and son, the relationship between father and daughter, the struggles of being a person without a set goal, wandering aimlessly through life. These arcs are fascinating, and make for great stories if they’re allowed to breathe, but a businessman in a suit up at Marvel Studios decides that it’s too much, that it’s too emotional, that what we really wanted was a comedy film disguised as a superhero flick.
It’s frustrating, and sadly, it’s a problem that’s gotten worse and worse. Genuine character moments and breakthroughs being downplayed as a joke, unnatural and terribly — flowing comedy that just completely breaks all the tension and the importance of a moment. And while it’s a formula that works for the MCU, it harms the director who wants to create something special by downplaying the message.
Recent marvel movies are all like this, where they always could be narratively strong, they can inspire and touch more people’s hearts, but instead a billion dollar corporation relegates them to the fiery pits of poorly timed jokes. It’s clear to me that Marvel prioritizes making big action blockbusters over character driven stories, and that, while I can understand, drives me insane because of how close they are to creating some truly great stories.
So, what does this have anything to do with Shang-Chi? Why should Shang — Chi be treated any differently from other Marvel movies? Why is this movie so important to me?
Because we want representation. We want a person to be able to truly show the ups and downs of our experience. We want to show the world what we went through, and we want to smile as we remember our own experiences. We want a filmmaker who understands us, who gets us, to capture our culture, and when someone tampers with it, when someone interrupts our culture and the complexity of family relationship, it really rubs me the wrong way. It shows that the MCU doesn’t trust the cultural aspects and the storytelling enough, so they lean on the crutch of their self awareness.
This film could be more. This movie needed to be more, for the representation, for the culture. For the 12 year old who could see himself as an Avenger, for the 40 year old married Asian American to smile at and cry at. But we got a film that feels tainted, tainted by some old man that knows nothing about the culture, nothing about the sincerity and passion that went into creating it.
In the end, I’m disappointed. No, I’m not disappointed at Destin Daniel Cretton, not disappointed at Simu Liu or Awkwafina, and I sure am hell not disappointed in the legendary Tony Leung. I’m disappointed in Marvel, who, after all this talk about progressiveness and #stopasianhate, fails to respect the very people who drive those movements forward.
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I’m not saying that you can’t love Shang — Chi. Hell, I even respect you for being able to look past its flaws and seeing the genuine message behind it. But saying that there wasn’t anything wrong, that it wasn’t being tampered with, and that it’s all in the wishes of the original filmmaker is not only ignorant, but also hurtful to Asians. And while the film does, for the most part, successfully convey its message, Marvel’s efforts to undercut the main message has been than disappointing.