Take it easy or serious? Marvel’s first Asian superhero sparks debate
Published: Jul 21, 2019 06:13 PM

The stage photo of 1966 movie The Brides of Fu Manchu Photo: IC


Superhero comic character Shang-Chi Photo: Screenshot from Sina Weibo

With the Marvel's announcement of the actor for the superhero film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings at San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday, Chinese netizens started another round of debate about the Marvel Cinematic Universe's first Asian superhero Shang-Chi.

Marvel announced that Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu has been chosen to play Shang-Chi and Hong Kong actor Tony Leung will play the Mandarin.

At first, many netizens including Marvel comic fans were surprised to find out that Shang-Chi's father Fu Manchu fit the Western stereotype for Asians.

Even though Shang-Chi is a superhero of justice, netizens were not happy to learn about this fact about his father.

The character Fu Manchu comes from British novelist Sax Rohmer's novel The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu in 1913. Fu Manchu was seen as the representative of the "Yellow Peril" in the West and eventually made his way into other mediums such as TV series, films and comics.

In Marvel's comic book Shang-Chi: The Master of Kung Fu, Fu Manchu is the main character Shang-Chi's father. However, due to copyright issues, Marvel later became unable to use the name Fu Manchu anymore and so changed his name to Zheng-Zu.

However, while the names have changed, everyone knows that they are the same character.

While we have to admit that Hollywood films have great influence around the world, we also need to understand that the China that exists in the minds of Chinese and Western audiences is very different.

The China in Hollywood films springs from the minds of Western filmmakers not Chinese people. As such they will put any content which is more "Chinese" into their films, but this often leads to laughable results, such as Disney's live-action Mulan. Many Chinese netizens noted numerous mistakes in the recent trailer for the film.

When seeing these Chinese elements in Hollywood films, Chinese audiences need to take things with a grain of salt.

While it's a guarantee that Marvel will go to great lengths to not upset audiences in China and so will make sure to keep Shang-Chi away from being associated with Fu Manchu, the fact that Shang-Chi once had a close relation with a racist caricature cannot be ignored.

As such, Chinese audiences should continue to discuss these issues to help pressure Hollywood studios to take more care with their films.