Shang-Chi Made Me Feel Seen Like No Other Hollywood Film Has

It wasn ’ t a profound scene in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings that made me feel instantaneously connected to the film—not the Mandarin narrative that opened the movie or even the early references to customs specific to chinese culture like eating zhou, or conge, for breakfast and tomb-sweeping on the annual Qingming Festival. Of course, those storytelling choices told me that the latest marvel superhero movie was crafted with viewers like me in mind. But it was a moment around 30 minutes in that let me know for certain I was watching my biography experiences reflected on the big screen in a direction Hollywood has rarely done : when Ronny Chieng ’ south character, Jon Jon, exclaims, “ Wakao ! ”
This Mandarin news does not have a conduct translation in English, though it could be likened to “ damn. ” It ’ s a term I grew up hearing in Taipei, Taiwan—where I spent the first 18 years of my life—and one I was told to use meagerly. I did not expect to hear it on the other side of the global, in a New York City theater, much less in a major production from Hollywood, whose projects centering asian stories have been few and far between. As cockamamie as it may seem, Jon Jon ’ mho ecphonesis made me feel like I was in on an inside joke with the filmmakers. It was barely one of many knowing moments I experienced throughout Marvel ’ s first Asian-led superhero film, out in theaters Sept. 3. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton ( Just Mercy ), Shang-Chi follows the titular character, played by Simu Liu, who leaves an average life as a valet parker in San Francisco to confront the family bequest built by his estrange father Wenwu ( Tony Leung ) —both the drawing card of the Ten Rings crime arrangement and the owner of the ten-spot rings with supernatural office to which its diagnose refers. Heading into the movie, I knew from teasers that it would celebrate asian culture through martial arts-inspired battle sequences and a soundtrack featuring artists of divers asian descent including Jhené Aiko, Rich Brian and Niki. What I didn ’ triiodothyronine anticipate was that the movie ’ s distinctly taiwanese details would connect me to Shang-Chi in a way I ’ ve not experienced with any other blockbuster made in Hollywood.

I ’ ve been thinking about why representation in entertainment matters so much to me, as person who grew up in Asia where I was not depart of a minority group. It ’ second partially because I experienced such a drastic shift from regularly seeing faces and stories like my own on the screen throughout my childhood and adolescence, to barely seeing any in the past eight years since I moved to the U.S.—just one of many reasons I find comfort in watching korean drama and japanese zanzibar copal nowadays. then there ’ s the fact that series and films produced in Hollywood were a large part of my media diet growing up. Yes, I watched taiwanese drama. But I besides constantly had Cartoon Network and the Disney Channel on, devouring shows from Mandarin-dubbed versions of Dexter’s Laboratory and The Powerpuff Girls to The Suite Life of Zack & Cody. As for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, its superheroes have been a significant part of Taiwan ’ s pop culture— Avengers: Endgame broke opening day records in 2019 before becoming Taiwan ’ sulfur second highest-grossing movie of all meter after Avatar, and MCU-themed action figures are omnipresent. My companion student politics members and I dressed up to reenact the 2012 Avengers preview for a back-to-school video recording. All of which is to say, I ’ ve experienced first-hand how Hollywood ’ south influences spread far and wide, for good and for ill, and know that Marvel is introducing its inaugural asian superhero not good to the U.S. but the world. Which is why it meant even more to see parts of my identity reflected onscreen, in this genre where there has been a glaring absence of asian characters .
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From left : Awkwafina as Katy, Ronny Chieng as Jon Jon and Simu Liu as Shang-Chi in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings .
Jasin Boland—Marvel Studios
The film ’ sulfur function of the Mandarin language, for starters, encompasses everything from gull to chengyu —idioms with roots in chinese history that are primarily formed by four characters. In the opening scene, where Shang-Chi ’ second mother Jiang Li ( Fala Chen ) talk of the origins of Wenwu and the ten rings, she describes him as having had the option to “ cheng e yang shan ” ( 懲惡揚善 ) —suppress malefic and do good—but having chosen alternatively to use the weapon to conquer lands for his own derive. Hearing the formulation brought me back to the classrooms of my taiwanese elementary school, where memorizing pages upon pages of chengyu was part of the regular course of study. And listening to a drawn-out opening segment in Mandarin reminded me of hearing narrations of chinese legends and tales while growing up, like when my brother and I crowded around the television receiver to watch a cartoon adaptation of Xi You Ji, or Journey to the West, and savored every detail. The movie ’ s handle of Mandarin names besides struck a chord, flush in elusive instances, like when Shang-Chi calls his young sister, Xialing ( Meng ’ er Zhang ), “ Lingling ” in a flashback scene. This small detail felt fabulously authentic, as nicknames in the Chinese community are normally formed through doubling up on the final character. My broad name is Meng Xiang Yue, and most of my extended family called me Yueyue throughout my childhood. then there are more obvious examples, as when Shang-Chi confesses to his best ally Katy ( Awkwafina ) that Shaun is not his actual mention, but an alias he has used in the U.S. since leaving home. “ Shang. Chi, ” he enunciates slowly, repeating the first base syllable after Katy, who does not speak Mandarin well, fails to get the fathom right. He then spells it out in a last-ditch campaign. The commute made me recall all of my own attempts at teaching English-speaking friends how to say my Mandarin name during my years in the U.S. I am delighted when person asks about this congress of racial equality depart of my identity, but stumped when I try to answer. The truth is, there is no combination of English letters that would capture how to say many characters, including “ Shang. ” And that ’ s not even accounting for the tones—four pitched and one neutral—that accompany the characters. As person accustomed to taking five or six attempts for the person I ’ thousand talk with to reach 70 % accuracy in pronouncing my list, Shang-Chi ’ mho efforts felt deeply familiar. One particular syndicate interaction in Mandarin surprised me for how closely it reflected a common exchange in my life : When Jiang Li asks her children, Shang-Chi and Xialing, to go inside the sign of the zodiac ahead of a pivotal confrontation. “ I have to talk to the guests, ” she tells them. In that consequence, I knew the manner of speaking in this film was approached with caution and intentionality. I can ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate count the number of times the accurate phrase in Mandarin, “ wo gen ke ren you hua yao shuo ” ( “ 我跟客人有話要說 ” ), was used by my parents when I was a kid. particularly in the presence of said guests, the line is code for : please leave the board, immediately .
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Tony Leung, left, as Wenwu and Fala Chen as Jiang Li in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

Marvel Studios
That is not to say the lyric, and particularly the translation, international relations and security network ’ triiodothyronine without flaws. I chuckled at a key signature taiwanese liquor, baijiu, translated as “ whiskey ” in the subtitles, when the two are not the lapp. I raised an eyebrow at the aforesaid tomb-sweeping day, Qingming Festival, translated as “ Day of the Dead ” —which most normally refers to the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos. But despite these odd translations, I found the lines in my mother tongue to be thoughtfully infused with realistic expressions that helped create an suggest see know. Shang-Chi besides impressed me with its portrayal of a kin whose dynamics are rooted in values characteristic of chinese polish. Most notably, the way in which Wenwu treats his son is the polar opposite of how he treats his daughter. Yes, the drawing card of the Ten Rings is harsh toward Shang-Chi—but at least they have a relationship. In contrast, a young Xialing watches her founder beckon her brother toward soldierly arts training while she stands alone in the doorway. “ Just nod. Don ’ thymine spill. He ’ ll forget you ’ re there, ” Xialing tells Katy when they arrive in her childhood home. This is moments after her father, upon landing in the headquarters of his operation with both his children, announces, “ My son is home. Take the girls to their room. ” The chengyu that jump to my mind when viewing these interactions is zhong nan qing nü ( 重男輕女 ), which literally translates to “ heavy male light female. ” The saying refers to unequal treatment between genders and a patriarchal opinion of the world that has been prevalent in the history of chinese society and through the teachings of scholars like Confucius. In the film, Xialing explains that Wenwu barely nods in her focus because he said she reminded him excessively much of her mother who is absolutely. This could be true, as a shot from a flashback shows the integral family, including Xialing, practicing martial arts forms together when Jiang Li was animated. But even with that reasoning, Wenwu ’ s dismissiveness toward his daughter is extreme. Given that the Ten Rings leader has lived for one thousand years ( the rings offer immortality ), his demeanor can be at least partially explained by the traditional values that shaped him. The zhong nan qing nü worldview has waned over time, and I thankfully grew up in a family where there was no major deviation in how my younger brother and I were treated. But I see remnants of the bias in older generations of my family, with sons who have been favored and daughters frequently expected to support or follow rather than lead. That ’ mho why I have a deep wonder for Xialing ’ south quality, who refuses to stay in the shadows and takes up a weapon—a r-2 flit, to be exact—to discipline herself when there was no indication that Wenwu would. Being able to imagine the prejudice she faced, I cheered for Xialing all the more when she described the contend ring she had built, saying, “ If my dad won ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate let me into his empire, I ’ meter going to build my own. ”
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Meng ’ emergency room Zhang as Xialing in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings .
Jasin Boland—Marvel Studios
In a late Marvel featurette, Cretton said, “ I wanted to look at what [ a ] superhero could be, what it would mean to me to be able to add not only one character, Shang-Chi, but to add a solid horn of plenty of asian faces that are representing something I ’ ve never seen before. ” I can ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate speak for how asian viewers of other ethnicities will respond to the film—as it ’ mho been said over and over again, the asian American and Pacific Islander community is not a monolith. But as a Mandarin-speaking viewer who grew up in a home with chinese values and traditions, I was moved by its efforts at portraying characters with experiences exchangeable to my own. I besides will have a different viewing know from asian Americans born and raised in the U.S. and from those who have lived in Asia for most of their lives. But as person with a bicultural, bilingual identity, it was refreshing to see the differences between the two experiences cleverly addressed with sealed details. In one setting, Xialing, who lives in Macau, gives a measurement in meters and Katy, an american, responds, “ What is that in feet ” ? In another, after Jon Jon, who besides lives in Macau, speaks in Mandarin and Katy says she is not a eloquent speaker, he switches to English and replies, “ All dependable, I speak ABC. ” The filmmakers don ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate expand on the abbreviation, in another know blink to asian american audiences who need no explanation on what it stands for : “ American-born Chinese. ”

In one of the shots of what appears to be Xialing ’ second childhood bedroom, a light pink graffiti-styled art piece on the wall reads wei xiao de mian ju ( 微笑的面具 ), which translates to “ a mask for smiling ” or “ a smiling mask. ” It ’ s a detail that, even if you read Mandarin, could be easily missed. The teaching of putting on a smile so as not to wear a sour attend in public has been ingrained in me since I was a kyd, and is intrinsic to the idea of saving face in taiwanese culture. I am not the first to say that when it comes to representation, specificity creates authenticity. For me, it doesn ’ t get much more specific than little words in the background of a fixed bringing agile tears to my eyes as I recall myself as a girl, trying to hold them back. Contact us at letters @ time.com.

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