When Marvel announced Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings many fans were unfamiliar with the superhero. That is all about to change as Marvel brings their first Asian-American superhero and film to the big screens this weekend. In doing so, it does more than provide us with new Marvel characters to fall in love with, and an incredibly entertaining story. It also provides representation to a whole population of people who have been critically underserved – through awesome, well-developed characters who are a ton of fun to watch.
Some of the stars and team behind Marvel’s newest superhero film sat to discuss the film. The cast included some of the biggest names like Michelle Yeoh, Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Awkwafina and (until now) less familiar faces like Ronny Chieng, Fala Chen and Shang-Chi himself, Sumi Liu. Director Destin Daniel Cretton and his team went further than great casting, they incorporated the use of traditional languages, cultural references, art, costumes, and more. In the end, as you can read in our review, the results were something special – not only one of the best Marvel films, but surprisingly, one of the funniest as well.
Director, Destin Daniel Cretton spoke about what drew him to telling the story of Shang-Chi and his connection to the character.
DESTIN: I feel like the stories that I am drawn to are a combination of humor, optimism but also not shying away from the very real darkness and pain that we all experience as humans. I think this movie really does encapsulate a lot of the things that I really believe in.
I really, personally connect with Shang-Chi’s journey. I love that this is a superhero that doesn’t get splashed with chemicals to get his superpower. It is a journey of self-discovery, of growing up, of learning how to finally deal with pain that he’s been running away from his entire life. And that when he is finally able to look inside into his past and embrace good, bad, the joy, the pain, and accept it all as a part of himself, that’s when he finally steps into his big boy shoes. I think that’s kind of what we’re all doing as hu-humans in some way or another.
With a list of legendary names connected to the film, and the legacy of Marvel on top of that, taking part in such a massive film would intimidate anyone, even a superhero. Simu spoke about the experience of working with the cast and each other.
SIMU LIU: It was like imposter syndrome every single day. It truly was such a treat and it was all I could do just not to mess it up. When I was first cast I did my final screen test with Nora (Awkwafina)and she did such a wonderful job of putting me at ease.
My nerves were sky high. I was an actor from Toronto, and I really had never allowed myself to imagine being a part of the MCU. I mean, it’s the craziest dream that someone can possibly dream. And Nora did such a great job of putting me at ease and just being in the moment with me. We had such a beautiful chemistry.
SIMU LIU: This, like bickery old couple chemistry like right from the get-go.
AWKWAFINA: Yeah. We slip into that very quickly, yeah.
SIMU LIU: And that was so beautiful and just as I met more of the members of the cast like Tony and Michelle, I mean, every day it was like waking up to another dream.
The friendship between Shang-Chi and Katy is unique in that it is platonic. While romantic relationships are fun, platonic can also be just as rewarding.
DESTIN DANIEL CRETTON: When one of our co-writers, Dave Callahan, and I were creating this relationship, we actually have a lot of friends who are not the same gender as us, and it is strictly platonic but also very intimate, caring, and we haven’t seen a lot of that on screen. We’re really excited to-to create that relationship between Shang-Chi and Katy. It also just naturally felt like the only way to go with this movie because Shang-Chi is so deep in his own inner struggle.
Before auditioning Simu for the lead role of Shang-Chi, the team didn’t know about his acrobatic ability and he surprised them with his moves during the audition. They all quickly found out he was a ‘poser’ in the best of ways – and the audience benefits from his impressive skillset.
DESTIN DANIEL CRETTON: He did a backflip into the Black Widow kneel pose, hair flip up, looking straight into the camera as the closer to his first audition.
SIMU LIU: Yeah.
AWKWAFINA: Right down the barrel, wow!
SIMU LIU: I thought it couldn’t hurt. I was auditioning for a Marvel movie which was a superhero franchise…
AWKWAFINA: I did a somersault. I did a really slow somersault at mine. Yeah.
SIMU LIU: You know, if I could show them that I could pull off the superhero pose, I thought maybe that would help.
AWKWAFINA: You do a great superhero pose.
The decision to have the characters speak a good amount of Mandarin in the film did not go unnoticed. Much of it felt very conversational which is something not often seen in Western cinema. Director Destin talked about the thought process behind that decision.
DESTIN DANIEL CRETTON: I mean the conversation behind which language should be speaking was always rooted in just the logic of the characters. And, who would naturally be speaking what language.
That conversation started in the writer’s room. Then once our actors came in it was always a dialog ‘what these are all bilingual, trilingual, quadrilingual, characters who could speak whatever made sense at the time. So, we were constantly having the discussion of what made sense for the scene.
SIMU LIU: What I really loved is that moment where, I don’t think it’s a spoiler, but where, you know, your character (Ronny) is talking to Awkwafina’s character…
SIMU LIU: …and, she’s like ‘oh, no, my Chinese isn’t good.’ And you’re like ‘no worries, I speak ABC.’
AWKWAFINA: That was really a big moment
RONNY CHIENG: Oh. I appreciate it.
AWKWAFINA: I think, culturally, you just never see that. You never see that referred to.
SIMU: So, they called it out. And ABC, of course, means American born Chinese, but it’s just the first time that you really see it in a movie – someone just calling out a lived experience.
Delivering a film like Shang-Chi is not a one person job, it takes a team. Destin talked about the experience of working with Marvel to create this film.
DESTIN DANIEL CRETTON: This is like a very special place to work where, um, not to toot Kevin’s (Feige) horn, but there is an environment of curiosity, of exploration that comes from the top down. There is no fear based mentality in this studio – which has really allowed us to take risks and chances and be able to instill that same fearless exploration with everybody involved in this film. I think that’s a huge reason that the movie turned out the way that it did.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings opens exclusively in theaters on September 3rd and is must see entertainment. Like its mild-mannered titled superhero character, it packs a lot more of a punch behind it.