Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: First Impressions and Significance

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Art by Twitter: @tarokunnnn and @_tamomoko

We all have baggage that we have to carry.

With the experiences we make in life, the things we gain as well as the things we lose, we learn to live with every decision that we make. 

What is left are the memories and the way they impact us. The journeys that we’ve made or have been pushed to make, culminate in the past that we learn from and leave behind. But what happens when it is that past that we have to run from?

So to find out more about such sentiments, we’ll be looking into our first movie impression post!

In our impression posts, we take a certain kind of media like anime or K-drama and watch the first couple of episodes or even just the first, to give you a detailed initial reaction so you can decide for yourself if you wish to watch or not!

Staying away from anime and K-drama but still the movie remaining in the asian diaspora, today’s focus will lie on the groundbreaking movie “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”. If you are interested in our previous impression posts, let me direct you to our Jujutsu Kaisen, Tokyo Revengers, Vanitas no Carte and Squid Game posts!

Normally, after getting into some details of the series or movie we want to present to you, we describe at least the plot of one episode. Since we are talking about a movie this time, and we do not wish in any way to destroy your experience with spoilers, we will instead look further into the significance of this movie’s representation. 

If you have watched the trailer, the setting and premise should be familiar to you, and there will be no major spoilers! Still, if you wish for a completely blind experience, make sure to watch the movie and come back!

If you’re okay with fresh impressions and some hinted aspects of the plot, let us continue on together then…

Shaun is a young chinese-american man living in San Francisco, seemingly normal and peaceful as any other person in a big city. With his good friend Katy and a past that haunts him, he feels lost in a world in which he can’t face his inner demons.

Everything changes when a figure from his said past emerges and threatens to change everything that he has built for himself.

With a promising premise, let’s look at some general base information of how this movie came together.

A movie made by Marvel, is surely not one that has to be afraid to catch any popularity. With a huge team working on these normally high-grossing movies like Iron man, The Avengers, Black Panther and more, it’s no wonder that bigger developing teams work together.

Obviously representing the superhero genre, “Shang-Chi” makes sure to keep Marvel’s reputation intact with the genres of fighting-action, fantasy and mystery.

Marvel announced the title and cast of the movie in July 2019, but the licence and idea to make a movie about the comic figure Shang-Chi was not new. Initially, a “Shang-Chi movie” entered development as early as 2001, but wasn’t truly in bloom until much later. The movie was released on the 16th of August in Los Angeles alone, and then on the 3rd of September 2021.

The director of the movie Destin Daniel Cretton who co-wrote the screenplay together with David Callaham and Andrew Lanham, voiced that it felt very emotional to work on this movie, since it was the first time he could write on a project with such magnitude that involved part of his own perspective into the story.

Shang-Chi is the first Marvel movie with an asian lead, which might sound like a smaller deal than it is, but after a movie that represented the black community like “Black Panther” did, there is a lot to say about what this movie’s representation signifies. We shall delve into more of that later as well.

Speaking of representation, the actors that played in this movie are just as interesting as everything else, so let’s look into the cast together.

The main character Shaun is played by Simu Liu. Having immigrated from China to Canada when he was merely five years old. His portrayal of the character Shaun is beautiful, and he himself has stated that the individual struggles Shaun has to go through are the main focus of the character instead of merely the action elements. 

A much wider known actress would be Awkwafina, who plays the character Katy and also Shaun’s best friend that supports him. Other honourable mentions are the actor Shaun’s father Tony Leung and recurring Benedict Wong as his namesake Wong.

Barring some exceptions, the entire cast is asian-led, bringing various actors together with varying degrees of asian descent that enrich the cultural standart of the movie greatly.

When talking about a movie with such a widespread audience, it is no shock that the OST is meticulously crafted and put together. In this case for “Shang-Chi”, there is something like a two-split album that  was created to accompany the film.

The movie consists of an ‘original score’ soundtrack composed by Joel P. West, known for working for other movies’ soundtracks like “Just Mercy” (2019) and “Glass Castle” (2017). His music has a very emotional tone that clings to the listener throughout the movie and switches quickly to an action-filled and loud atmosphere gracefully.

A modern touch is added with the second part of the OST that consists of the soundtrack album produced by Sean Miyashiro and 88rising that harbours many different artists, many of which are also asian descent to match the movie.

With a mixture of both soundtracks, ones that are typically the way movie music is made and the other full of underground sound and culturally appropriate ideals and mindset the movie does not let up on its representation of asian culture.

Speaking of which, there is a reason why the title is teasing the significance of this movie. So after talking much about facts and production, let us start the discussion about why this movie is so significant for many people out there.

Significance of Representation:

In modern media, there is more often than before a discussion of diverse representation in all sorts of media.

The world is full of many different kinds of people. It is no news that many narratives in movies and in the film industry in general have been influenced by a system that values certain groups more than others, leaving many minorities behind in any sort of positive media portrayal.

People are demanding that diversity should not only be something we are encountered with in real life, but also in everything we watch and consume.

But why is that so important?

Representation matters so much because media often mirrors what general society views to be interesting, trendy or even acceptable. Every circle of people, be it a small heap of friends or an entire country can have different do’s and don’ts, different values or a different mindset. What we put into our media shows what we currently enjoy to see, or what makes us feel some sort of way.

Whatever is seen as ‘good’ or ‘nice’ in wide-spread media will immediately be a mirror of what that society believes to be exactly those traits. In turn, whatever is seen as ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ in the media will automatically fall into a bad light and be merely a reflection of society’s views on it.

Now the reason why representation of all sorts of minorities is so important, is because in the face of systemic racism and general struggles that for example immigrants or other minorities have to go through can affect any person greatly. We need representation of the diversity in our real life, because so many people want to see themselves in the heroes and heroines of the stories told on the screen.

It shows even the tiniest child, that it doesn’t matter how they look or where they come from they can still be just as favoured as anyone else.

Now with this movie, Marvel has made a huge step toward a more diverse ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’. Especially since the original comic “Shang-Chi” was created with many different racial stereotypes, this movie was in turn made in a very sensitive environment that made sure the movie would become an empowering narrative.

For so many people out there, it must’ve been a great feeling to see someone who looks like them be a hero in one of the most watched production companies’ movies ever.

With an asian-led cast, directors who were finally able to tell a part of their own story as people of asian descent and culture, it had a similar impact as “Black Panther” which was also a historical moment for many people of colour out there. Keep in mind, this was the first time Marvel produced a movie with an asian lead, and not just that but a movie that showed a story that many asian-americans and even other minorities could relate to.

Representation matters, because so many more kids out there can feel like they are more in touch with their own cultures positively after seeing parts of them and their families on the big screen.

Expectation vs. Reality:

In looking at the premise of the movie and giving you my first impressions I hope to shed some light onto this film so you can decide for yourself if you want to watch it or not!

Marvel normally makes a big deal out of promoting its movies. Since I’ve watched almost all films of the MCU, I was quite shocked when I found out very late about this movie. Truth be told, I was quite confused and without watching the trailer, I had no idea what to expect.

Happy to see some asian representation, I kept the title in the back of my mind and left it there until I got the chance to watch it in the cinema for the first time.

Shang-Chi brings us a narrative that is packed with the usual superhero flair, with lots of action scenes and a dash of comedy here and there. The characters are very realistic and relatable, especially with themes of romance and mystical creatures also playing a part here.

The movie has something nostalgic to it. It feels like something you might have watched before, and yet it is totally unique in its storytelling. The landscapes and movie sets are incredible as is known for Marvel movies, but this one especially should hold a place in anyone’s heart who loves gorgeous landscapes.

We have the shift between the urban San Francisco and the mythical parts of the fantasy elements  full of ancient and whimsical life, which both have their interesting parts and intermingle just enough to keep a beautiful balance.

The characters are very believable and relatable, showing how any person can follow their calling and fulfill their destiny no matter what their past had in store for them. The general idea of the movie brings us near the principle of “you are the writer of your own destiny” from the perspective of a young adult that feels lost in the world.

We all feel a little lost sometimes, so if a movie about a character that tries hard to run away from his own dark experiences until he finally confronts them might be of interest to you, I would encourage you to give this movie a try.

Shang-Chi has left a permanent dent in my memory and I hope that after reading all of this, you will have just as much of a positive experience with this impactful film.

Have you already watched the movie? If so, please comment down below what your experience with this movie was like and let’s discuss together!

I hope you know that there is always a way to turn to your own good side…

Until then, I’ll see you at the next tea ceremony!

-Nissa

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