Marvel’s ‘Shang-Chi’ shatters Asian-American cliches in film

Alex Holwerda and Alex Holwerda

​​The newest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,”is flipping Asian-American cliches, according to a September 2021 AP News article.

Sarah Ross, TikTok content creator and a member of the cosplay community, said the film is a step in the right direction when being compared to older films.

 “(In) older movies like “Indiana Jones and the  Temple of Doom,” the women in that movie are very much more seen as objects and just entertainment for the people in the restaurant in the first 10 minutes of the movie,” she said. “Whereas in Shang-Chi (in Ta-Lo) all of the men and women are working together, training together and essentially being more of a community instead of having one status higher than the other.”

“Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” was released in 1984 and serves as an example of Asian-American actors and actresses being reduced to minor supporting roles, with the stereotypical Dragon Lady or the Sensei who is an expert in martial arts. Additionally, many women feel that they were often sexualized and seen as objects in movies released during that period.

Written and directed by Asian-Americans, the movie “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” follows the journey of trained assassin Shang-Chi, who is trying to live an ordinary life in San Francisco. Actress Awkwafina and comedian Ronny Chieng also star in the film.

Awkwafina’s character, Katie, brings a sense of comic relief throughout the duration of the film. Second-year graduate student and Popular Culture major Alex Kostrewza said the character pushes back against the cliches.

“I think it is playing against stereotypes with Awkwafina’s character,” he said. “This is what Awkwafina does. She pretty much plays the same character in every movie. She’s the same character in Shang-Chi that she was in ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ but it is a character which really, strongly goes against both race and sex stereotypes. We don’t get Asian female comic relief.”

Second-year graduate student and Popular Culture major Shane Hesketh said the two main characters, Shang-Chi , played by Simu Liu and Katie Awkwafina would rather work a lower-paying job and be happy, rather than going along with the cliches that Asian-Americans should have to have a more successful occupation and always be family-oriented. Shang-Chi ends up leaving his family so he can live a life that best suits him.

“In a lot of movies that depict Asian characters, there’s that stereotype of like that hard-working, family-dedicated Asian. It’s about school, being the best you can be. And here we’re given a character with Shang-Chi, who left his family behind,” he said. “It’s kind of playing to a comedic effect that (Shang-Chi and Katie) are both valets. They are not super successful. They are not like what that stereotype would be, such as doctors, lawyers or something with a high pedigree.”

A national survey commissioned by nonprofit ‘Leading Asian Americans to Unite for Change’ in the spring found that out of 2,766 adults, 42% of those polled could not name a current famous Asian American. The two other popular responses in the survey were Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.