Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is set to make history as the first MCU film showcasing an Asian superhero lead. Simu Liu will make his Marvel debut as the titular Master of Kung Fu, duking it out against his father, Tony Leung's Wenwu a.k.a. the Mandarin.
Aside from featuring two Asian actors at the forefront, Shang-Chi will also showcase a stacked Asian ensemble that includes the likes of Awkwafina, Ronny Chieng, Fala Chen, and Michelle Yeoh.
Early reviews of Shang-Chi were positive, with a good number of critics praising the film's action and emotional storyline. However, the upcoming MCU film is no stranger to controversy.
One good example is the titular hero's connection to Fu Manchu. Despite the fact that the character will not be in the film, reports have emerged that this is one of the reasons why Shang-Chi will not be released in China.
Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige even responded to the controversy, making it clear that not only was Fu Manchu never a Marvel-owned character, but that he "is not in [Shang-Chi] in any way, shape, or form."
Now, a detailed discussion on how the Mandarin's inclusion, instead of Fu Manchu, in the narrative will help in destroying racist stereotypes has been revealed.
SHANG-CHI WILL ELIMINATE RACIST STEREOTYPES
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings screenwriter Dave Callaham sat down with Inverse to talk about the film's approach to eliminating racial stereotypes.
As the outlet pointed out, the Mandarin still descends from a centuries-old archetype created out of suspicion and contempt toward an entire race. That said, Callaham revealed that he wanted to change those perceptions through Shang-Chi.
While citing the history of Asian representation in the media, the Marvel writer pointed out that the community has long been "the butt of jokes and stereotypes that are damaging," and "it's not nothing:"
“It’s way easier to be violent or hateful to someone you don’t see the same as you. With [the history of] Asian representation in the media, it’s not just that we’ve been invisible for a long time. It’s beyond that. We’re the butt of jokes and stereotypes that are damaging. It’s not nothing.”
Callaham then shared that they "wanted to change that stuff," noting that the filmmakers behind the Phase 4 entry had a “physical list” of things “we were looking to destroy.”
In the pages of Marvel Comics, Shang-Chi's father was originally Fu Manchu, a character who is a genius and a master sorcerer. However, Marvel Studios opted to use the Mandarin instead.
Callaham shed some light on the subject, revealing that Fu Manchu was "irrelevant" during the pre-production phase of Shang-Chi:
“He’s gone through a couple of iterations, and the ones we found most problematic tended toward the yellow peril.”
The "yellow peril" that the MCU writer cited was spawned from the original books where Manchu was first introduced which is a racist fear that Asian cultures threatened Western Civilization. While Marvel Comics eventually renamed Fu Manchu to Zheng Zu, Callaham took note of the fact that the ghost of the character still lingers in the new version, like his goatee, long hair, and "Eastern sorcery."
As a result, the transition to the Mandarin created a "Wenwu List" of stereotypes that the Shang-Chi crew "wanted to explode:"
“It became the ‘Wenwu List’ of stereotypes we wanted to explode. We knew this needs to be a character not intent on destroying the world, not mysterious or sneaky, or a sorcerer whose magic Westerners cannot understand.”
Even though Callaham noted that these tropes can be "cool," the creatives behind Shang-Chi were set to add a whole new dimension to the archetype.
The Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse 2 writer then opened up about the involvement of Shang-Chi director Destin Daniel Cretton, saying that the latter "wanted to have more nuance and trauma on both ends" so that fans can understand the story even more:
“When Destin came in, those conversations became serious. He’s an empathetic filmmaker drawn toward stories about families. Destin wanted to have more nuance and trauma on both ends you could understand and relate to.”
Cretton also chimed in on the conversation, citing that the biggest challenge of the film is to make the Mandarin "a real person:"
“Our biggest challenge was to make him a real person. In order to get an actor like Tony Leung, we had to do that. We looked at Wenwu as a human with multi-dimensions and personal desires. People will be surprised how much they can relate [to him].”
Callaham ended by pointing out that he doesn't think Wenwu is a "villain" in the movie, sharing that the writers paint "this guy as a father, a lover, and a husband" despite him doing "heinous things:"
“I don’t think Wenwu is a villain in this movie. He does heinous things, but the places they’re coming from are understandable. He’s loving, caring. None of these things are a yellow peril. [We] paint this guy as a father, a lover, a husband. That’s relatable to everyone.”
THE MANDARIN'S IMPORTANCE IN SHANG-CHI'S NARRATIVE
The Mandarin's MCU debut will no doubt pay off a years-long tease that started in the Infinity Saga's Phase 1, but it looks like the villain's introduction in Shang-Chi is poised to be impactful.
Dave Callaham's affirmation that Shang-Chi will look to destroy racist stereotypes is a positive sign not just for the film, but for Marvel Studios' goal in pushing for more representation. Doing it through the lens of the Mandarin might be unexpected at first, but by looking closely, it makes sense due to the titular hero's original history from the pages of Marvel Comics.
The fact that the crew went to great lengths in creating a physical list of things "to destroy" the racist stereotypes goes to show their commitment to providing a film that will not only focus on the grandiose superhero tropes but also one that would lean towards crafting a narrative that fans can relate and understand.
Destin Daniel Cretton's remark about making Wenwu "a real person" helps drive the point home, mainly because it gives a sense that this character will not be a typical villain. Instead, there is an added dimension to the Mandarin persona such as being a father and a husband that will make him even more compelling rather than a villain who is just hellbent on destroying the world.
Shang-Chi is set to push Asian representation to the forefront, giving the spotlight to the community on a grand scale. This is further amplified by the fact that Marvel as a brand has a wide reach, meaning that the film has a prime opportunity to send out a strong message that will likely inspire the Asian community.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is set to premiere in theaters on September 3, 2021.