In 1973, Shang-Chi debuted as a comic based on actor and martial arts superstar Bruce Lee. Back then, the creators intended Shang-Chi to give mainstream Western audiences glimpses into martial arts and Asian culture.
A Problematic Representation
The initial premise had Shang-Chi destined to fight his father Fu Manchu, an evil martial art master and hypnotist. But the creators were divided on Shang-Chi’s character. Consequently, they introduced him as half-Asian and half-Caucasian. The depiction played into general notions back then that Asian characters wouldn’t “sell.” Shang-Chi’s first issue didn’t gain any traction. But the second issue became a major success. Coincidentally this was around the same time when Bruce Lee suddenly passed away and left the world stunned. Many considered the period that followed as “Bruceploitation.” Shang-Chi was accused of reaffirming Asian stereotypes in the depiction of its characters.
Rising From the Ashes
The kung fu mania died down in the 1980s and along with it, the popularity of Shang-Chi. In 2006, the character resurfaced in the “Heroes for Hire” series as a central character. It took another seven years before Shang-Chi emerged in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a mentor to Spiderman. Slowly but surely, Shang-Chi made a comeback as the lead character in “Agent of Atlas.” It was a series dedicated to the stories of Asian-American superheroes. Although a Shang-Chi movie was always in the pipeline, things came to a head only with the smashing success of Black Panther. In 2018, writing for Shang-Chi, the movie began in earnest.
Not Just Another Cultural Experiment
Shang-Chi was released exclusively to theaters and exceeded expectations with a $94 million four-day opening. It broke the box-office record for a Labor Day release. Simu Liu (of Kim’s Convenience fame) takes on the role of Shang-Chi. Besides Liu, the film features a predominantly Asian cast, including Ronny Chiang, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina, Fala Chen, Meng’er Zhang, and the legendary Tony Leung in the role of Mandarin. Shang-Chi also features a predominantly Asian writing staff. In a refreshing twist, Marvel released a fantastic soundtrack starring the biggest names in Asian Hip Hop. Repping the Shang-Chi universe are artists like the inimitable Anderson Pak, R&B star Audrey Nuna, and the exceptional singer-songwriter BIBI from Korea.