AAPI Representation in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

By Staff Writer;  Roxanne K Hepburn <rhepburn@umassd.edu>

Marvel’s latest movie, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, is a breakthrough for proper AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) representation in the film industry as it ushers in the fourth phase of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). 

Shang-Chi is the first Marvel movie to feature an Asian character as their lead hero; moreover, it almost entirely features well-known Asian actors, employing white performers as comic relief and background characters. The film follows a Chinese immigrant whose dangerous and twisted past finds him after over a decade of a new peaceful life in America. The film heavily draws on vintage Chinese kung-fu movies to inspire its dramatic and sometimes cheesy fight scenes while still preserving typical marvel film tropes to maintain that superhero movie aspect. 

Many of the characters speak in fluent Chinese for significant chunks of the film, which can increase accuracy in films (speaking Chinese while in China, etc.) when proper actors are cast. There was only one Asian character, Katy, who could not speak fluent Chinese. Katy was written as a third generation immigrant raised in America. She was created to represent the large population of immigrant children who have grown to resent their parents’ lack of effort to educate them on speaking the language of their ancestors.

It is evident that the writers of Shang-Chi did their research on Chinese mythology and tied it into the film perfectly. The incorporation of mythical creatures, such as dragons from Chinese folklore, was seamless. The proper depiction of Chinese dragons was key to the film’s success as these creatures are vastly different from that of classic European dragons. According to the Museum Center, Chinese dragons have been depicted throughout history as slender, winding, serpentine creatures who possess features from other prominent animals in Chinese folklore such as tigers and oxen. They tend to dwell deep within large bodies of water or high above the clouds in the sky and are closely associated with the elements of wind and water. These creatures can be seen using magic to fly rather than with wings like their European counterparts. They are benevolent beings who work harmoniously with the world.

A close-up of a snake

Description automatically generated with medium confidence

Figure A Chinese Dragon

On the other hand, European dragons are closer related in imagery to that of lizards and crocodiles. They can be seen depicted with horns and spines, but almost always have enormous looming wings. These beasts are characterized by their need to hide in their lairs (which are typically mountain caves or castles). They have been characterized by their monstrous behavior where they are portrayed from harassing to completely decimating humankind.

Figure B European Dragon

Marvel’s decision to cast Simu Liu as Shang-Chi, the film’s hero, was quite insightful when looking at what he has been doing for the AAPI community as of late. Most recently, Simu Liu starred in Kim’s Convenience, a Canadian tv comedy based off a play following Korean immigrants and their children as they adjust to new societal norms and run a convenience store in Toronto. The show initially had a Korean producer (the original author of the play the show was based on) who kept the episodes in line; however, when they were replaced with a white producer for the later seasons, Kim’s Convenience strikingly pivoted from relatable immigrant content to racist stereotyping. To make matters worse, when the show ended, a spin-off was created. Unfortunately, it was to feature one of the only white characters on the show. Simu Liu stood his ground and fought back against these changes as much as possible, firmly putting his foot down by refusing to return for the spin-off. He is a constant advocate for those in the AAPI community and is the perfect choice to introduce appropriate Asian representation into the MCU.


One thought on “AAPI Representation in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

  1. Cool article. I’ve never thought of dragons being that different in different cultures, didn’t know that!


Leave a Reply