Better representation leads to better storytelling in ‘Shang-Chi’

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(Graphic illustration by Robbie Haynes | The Collegian)

CTV Geeks: Alex Prast

Ivy Secrest

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, is the perfect Marvel Studios movie for a new Marvel fan. With no ties to previous series or films, this movie brings audiences into the world of Marvel in a new and unexplored way. 

Focusing on Shang-Chi, or Shaun, this story follows his journey to becoming the master of the 10 rings. The actor, Simu Liu, does an excellent job playing trained assassin-turned-valet. With his quick wit and nonchalance about his abilities, Liu’s portrayal of Shang-Chi is sure to make audiences laugh and feel connected to the character’s experiences. 

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Like with “Black Panther” and “Black Widow,” Marvel has taken yet another stab at the family dynamic and nailed it. Though their experiences of abandonment and loss may not be relatable for everyone, many will be able to see a bit of their own families in this film. 

Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing, played by Meng’er Zhang, is the epitome of a girlboss badass who had to cut off her family to make it. In an intimate moment between her and Shang-Chi’s best friend Katy (Awkwafina), the two recognize how hard it is to make it as a woman, particularly in the cultures the two were brought up in.

This scene allows Xialing’s accomplishments to be brought to light. It reveals that, while it was hard for Shang-Chi to leave, it was a thousand times harder for Xialing to stay. 

This movie was not only well executed in regards to plot and character development but also representation. It seems Marvel is learning its lesson with representing women on screen and continuing that practice beyond female-starring films. 

The inclusion of several strong Asian female characters gave this plot so much more depth. The contrast between Xialing and her aunt, Ying Nan (Michelle Yeoh), is the perfect example of this.

Xialing was raised without formal training and had to teach herself to fight to compete with the warriors around her. She was pushed into typical gender norms and had to quite literally fight for her place as a warrior. Ying Nan is from the village of Ta Lo, where Xialing and Shang-Chi’s mother grew up. In this village, women train side by side with men and all are trained in different types of combat. 

Upon their entrance into the village, Katy and Xialing are immediately welcome to train and uncover their own talents. It’s in this moment that these women aren’t only badasses but supported badasses with a network of women to lean on. 

Shang-Chi also goes through his own kind of inner growth in Ta Lo. While he has spent his whole adult life fighting off the influences of his heritage, his aunt shows him that he is doing himself a disservice by avoiding his past. 

“You are a product of all who came before you,” Ying Nan tells him. “The legacy of your family, the good and the bad — it is all a part of who you are.”

This theme of accepting one’s self and coming to terms with the good and bad that we all can find within is truly moving. Often it seems we live in a world that wishes to paint people in the stark black and white of right and wrong, but we are all much more complex than that, aren’t we?

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“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” creates characters we both love and hate, and it plays well with the duality of human personality. It’s a sign of not only better representation in the Marvel franchise for people of Asian descent but a sign of better storytelling as a whole. 

Ivy Secrest can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @IvySecrest.