Shang-Chi debuts first trailer but racism controversy persists among Chinese audience
Published: Apr 20, 2021 09:01 PM
Chinese actor Tony Leung Chiu Wai (left) and Shang-Chi (right) Screenshot from <em><em>Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings</em>'</em> official trailer

Chinese actor Tony Leung Chiu Wai (left) and Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu (right) who plays the role of Shang-Chi. Screenshot from Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings' official trailer

Marvel Studios' new superhero movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, whose production and screening were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, released a new trailer on Monday, but many Chinese moviegoers seemed underwhelmed by the first Asian hero in the Marvel Universe, while racism debates surrounding the movie recurred. 

The 125-second trailer revealed some aspects of the hero Shang-Chi's life, including his childhood, his rebellion against his father and how he saved people on a running bus. There were also scenes featuring characters doing kung fu in traditional Chinese attire. 

The trailer intrigued foreign Marvel fans and kung fu movie lovers, with some comparing it to the works of Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, but the Chinese market appeared less excited. 

The Global Times found many Chinese netizens' first impression of the film was that its story is associated with an early-20th century novel featuring Fu Manchu, a representative of the "Yellow Peril" in the West. The connection already sparked controversy in 2019 when Marvel announced the project. 

On China's popular video platform Bilibili, typical comments included "As I said when Marvel announced the casting — who they pick already said: Hollywood will never change its stereotype of Asians, slanted eyes." 

"After seeing a hodgepodge of Japanese ninja, US skyscrapers, gangs and Chinese ancient swordsmen, my brain turned to mush," a net user said jokingly. 

Shi Wenxue, a Beijing-based film critic, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the movie could be sold to some for its "oriental elements" and the presence of Tony Leung, who plays the role of Shang-Chi's father, but whether it can be a success depends on the story itself and how it is told.

Some Chinese netizens compared Shang-Chi to Mulan, another Disney movie that had ambitions to conquer the Chinese market but eventually failed in both box office and reputation. 

Disney messed up the well-known Chinese story in live-action film Mulan, while its poor artistic level and misrepresentation of Chinese culture led to its failure. Shi believed if the Shang-Chi movie could tell a good superhero story, it could still succeed among certain groups of moviegoers. 

Production of the movie was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning the trailer is being released at a time when hate crimes against Asians are peaking in the US. 

Some observers said Shang-Chi's lack of visibility in the Marvel Universe and the debut in theaters at the moment seem to be a metaphor of systemic "invisible discrimination" against Asians in the US and the recent hate crimes, including killings. 

It is just a popcorn superhero movie, which means it is tailored to the mainstream ideology of the US. "If you see Asian stereotypes in it, that's right, because that's American society," a Twitter user posted. 

Zuo Chufan contributed to the story