Marvel’s First Asian Superhero ‘Shang-Chi’ Battles Hollywood’s Kung Fu Stereotypes

The emergence of an Asian superhero is no insignificant thing. Generation of Asian Americans is molded by the difficulties quietly endured by their parents, the heartbreak in their long-held chase to feel you belong and the discrimination experienced especially during the pandemic, calls for the recognition of their dilemma.

Credit: Courtesy of MCU | Twitter

Simu Liu, who plays the warrior Shang-Chi in Marvel’s first Asian superhero movie, the upcoming “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” said he’s up for the challenge.

However, with the glory that comes with the role is also the question of whether Liu’s character, who is literally referred to in the decades-old source material as the “Master of Kung Fu,” will be able to personalize a culture rather than fall into a flattened martial arts trope Asian Americans, too often, have been relegated to in Hollywood.


Shang-Chi’s Liu, who’s just weeks off filming of the trailblazing Asian Canadian sitcom “Kim’s Convenience” and recently promoting a partnership with No Kid Hungry, shared the team wasn’t afraid to depart from any elements of the source material.

From the moment that Marvel Studios decided that there needed to be a voice for Asian characters and a lead Asian character in the space of the [Marvel Cinematic Universe], they have all kind of considered what the best way was ... to incorporate a story that both celebrates ‘Asianness’ and all of its wonderful dimensions, and its facets and its nuances, and also celebrates martial arts.

– Simu Liu


Liu also pointed out that Shang-Chi’s arc was introduced into the Marvel franchise by writer Steve Englehart and artist Jim Starlin in December 1973, a time when the term “Asian American” was only in its genesis and interpretations of Asian people were limited to reductive portrayals like the sexually deviant Da Nang Hooker from Vietnam War movie “Full Metal Jacket.” Even though kung fu had gained widespread popularity in the West, those who were responsible for popularizing it were not always respected or given appropriate recognition.

“We saw David Carradine, who is not of Asian descent, playing an Asian man on the show ‘Kung Fu’ that originally should have, and was developed for, Bruce Lee,” Liu said of the ‘70s series in which Carradine was cast as Kwai Chang Caine, a Shaolin monk.


I grew up loving Jackie Chan and Jet Li and certainly Bruce Lee. But as I got older, I started to question: Is that all we have? Is that all that the world sees in us — that that is the only value that we have, particularly in the entertainment industry? 

– Simu Liu

Liu underscored, however, that a heavy use of martial arts elements and a layered, sophisticated translation of an Asian story are not mutually exclusive. In the end, the storyline, birthed from that outside of the culture, has now been placed in the hands of people who know it well, including Asian American director Destin Daniel Cretton. Liu insisted the film still honors an age-old Asian art form but also makes room for a web of faces, personalities and, most importantly, heroes.

We have Asian heroes, we have Asian American heroes, men, women, of all ages, and not all of them do martial arts.

– Simu Liu


Simu Liu has been part of a chorus of voices, for years now, challenging the entertainment industry to expand beyond the confines of the templates it has overused on Asian American stories and characters in the past.

Then again, even as the face of an upcoming Marvel film that’s nearly guaranteed to make a cultural impact, the actor remains less than censorious about his activism in the field.

Liu said his formative years were shaped by immigrant parents who were driven by a yearning for stability, though did not yet have the necessary footing in their new country to speak out.

Check out Shang-Chi's trailer below...

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