With the passing of Stan Lee last year, it was reported that one of his unfulfilled wishes was to see the well-known Marvel character and kung fu master Shang-Chi, created in the 1970s, appear on the big screen. Now the film is in the works, and it will be the first Marvel Studios production with a Chinese superhero as its protagonist. Marvel’s first Chinese hero: Kung fu and beyond In the original comic, Shang-Chi’s sole “superpower” is his mastery of martial arts fighting and meditation skills, as well as various cold weapons.
He later becomes one of the masters who trains Spider-Man. His appearance and movement were modeled after Bruce Lee, the Chinese kung fu megastar who gained widespread popularity in Hollywood starting in the 1970s, and of whom Stan Lee was reportedly a big fan.
A classic figure from the Shang-Chi comic is likely to cause controversy in the making of the film, however, is his father, Dr. Fu Manchu. With narrow eyes and dark eyebrows, and a treacherous and deceitful personality, Fu Manchu is a composite of negative Chinese stereotypes shaped by various Western cultural products for nearly a hundred years. The character represents the West’s misunderstanding, fear and discrimination against people from the East at the beginning of the 20th century, and could still be said to influence Westerners’ perceptions of the Chinese even today.
The appearance of such a figure in the film would undoubtedly be inappropriate in today’s climate – even if he appears as a villain. Coupled with copyright issues, it is likely Marvel Studios will modify the setting for this part.
Of course, we will be happy to see such modifications, and naturally we would also like to see Shang-Chi portrayed as a protagonist with humanity and a unique aura, rather than a one-dimensional kung fu machine or an American-born Chinese superhero. Last year, Marvel’s “Black Panther” achieved both box office success and popular accolades by sincerely depicting elements of African culture. If Marvel Studios wants to repeat that success, it also needs to seriously study Asian and Chinese cultures.
The name Shang-Chi itself has the meaning of “spirit rising” in Chinese. We expect that he will carry the spirit and philosophy of Chinese traditional martial artists. At the same time, we also hope that he will face complex motivations, troubles and growth in his development as a character, no less than the popular white superheroes.
Marvel Studios is looking for directors and actors who are Asian or of Asian descent. We genuinely hope this film will become another breakthrough success following on “Black Panther.” After all, audiences, too, are eager to see more and more diversified cultural elements represented on the big screen.