People are vaxxed and theaters are back. Disney offers their Marvel addicts a fresh dish with the new Shang Chi film. Oh you didn’t know the famous Marvel super hero Shang Chi? That is fine as no one else does either except the comic book store guy from the ’90s. This movie isn’t for you. It’s for the average Asians who are comic fans.
Similar to Pixar’s Soul being not a children’s film but for the modern underachieving urbanite, Shang Chi is for the average Asian-American who loves Marvel products. The average Asian joke is decades old with Mad TV making it a consistent sketch decades ago. These are not the successful products of Tiger Moms but the average Asian-Americans of all stripes. Dr. Li and Professor Singh do not have time to be Marvel consumers with their 70 hour workweeks in a metropolis. They’ll watch this on Disney+ in a few months when they can schedule in the two hours. They do not need pacifying and validation from a Disney blockbuster.
This film is perfectly designed for the underachievers. Our lead has a job as a valet as does his bestie despite their degrees and natural intelligence. They do not reach their full potential as Asian relatives and friends repeatedly explain. This film is custom made for Asians. Chinese is used liberally. We have an introductory scene where the Asians (east and south) bond over discussing the jokes we usually get with knowing nods and the little touches like taking your shoes off before entering an apartment. These are little things that non-Asian kids will not get but are added for those in the know. Flyover Brayden just wants an action sequence and some origin story details.
Disney went out of their way to make this an Asian film. How many Marvel movie fans know this character? He was minor leagues. Nic Cage pointed out the discrimination against Asian male leads in Hollywood and rather than addressing it (consider blacks cast in Asian roles in The Martian), Disney made an Asian exploitation film. The Wiki entry for the film is rather explicit about Disney’s deliberate production process. Representation matters, even when it is an obvious cash grab.
This film is not for you non-Asians. It is an immigrant’s tale just updated for the post-Hart-Cellar wave. What’s sad is that the fantastic messaging of honoring family, considering your life as a product of thousands of years of history, cherishing tradition and loving your family is only A-OK for a non-white Hollywood vehicle. The paternal antagonist is given a nuanced portrayal. You will not see this in the standard, be yourself, dad is bad, and reject family/past offerings from Hollywood. Get ready viewers, because two kids movies coming up are all about shape shifters, including characters who can be male or female, but one is aimed at Latinos. They are coming for you, castizos.
This film was also blatant pandering for the China market. The film opens with a Chinese narration for a good chunk of time to the point where my thirteen year old son asked if this would all be in Chinese. This makes the CCP blocking of Shang Chi all the more delicious. Disney made the film equivalent of groveling for Chinese bucks and is denied buckets of cash. Just desserts.
Is the film fun? It’s standard issue Marvel CGI action, choreographed fight scenes and Millenial dialogue fare. These have been paint by numbers for a while. The flashback scenes add to the story and main character arc that are lacking in other Marvel movies but it’s cinematic fast food. The ending is rather drawn out and mismanaged. Unless you have a child or two asking to go, avoid this one. It’s not for 94% of you anyway. It’s for John Lee in accounts receivable who didn’t get his MBA, hasn’t made management track yet and still drives a Hyundai.