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Simu Liu goes back to his physics class when trying to put into words the power of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings — Marvel’s first Asian-led superhero movie — and its arrival at this specific moment in time.
Namely, Newton’s Third Law of Physics: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
“You learn of equal and opposing forces,” Liu tells us during a recent group chat alongside co-stars Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang and Florian Munteanu (watch above). “When you see so much prejudice and hate going around you, we all want to meet that with an equal and opposing force of positivity and joy and celebration. And I very much think that that’s what this movie is.”
Liu becomes the most high-profile Marvel superhero to hit the big screen since Brie Larson’s introduction to Captain Marvel in early 2019. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (who cowrote the script with Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham), Shang-Chi centers the eponymous martial artist as he’s lured out of his mundane life as a San Francisco valet attendant and forced to confront his dangerous past, when he escaped the clutches of his militaristic, all-powerful father, Wenwu, aka The Mandarin (Tony Leung).
The empowering actioner arrives in theaters in a year that’s seen a deeply troubling uptick in hate crimes and violence against Asians and Asian Americans across the U.S. as the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on the nation. The attacks have spurred the #StopAsianHate movement on social media and beyond.
“It’s a celebration of our culture, of our very varied perspectives across an entire spectrum of Asian characters, some of whom are from America, some of whom are from Asia, but all of whom embody a small piece of what it means to be Asian,” Liu continues.
The film also makes very conscious efforts to correct the blights of the hero's past. In the source material, Marvel’s original 1970s Master of Kung Fu comic books, Shang-Chi’s father was Fu Manchu, a notoriously racist stereotype of a character, but here is replaced by Wenwu. (Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige has said Fu Manchu “is not a character we own or would ever want to own” in the MCU.) Shang-Chi also cleverly comments on criticisms over Ben Kingsley originally portraying the Mandarin — sort of — in 2013’s Iron Man 3.
“Anything that shines a light on groups that have not had their moment [is a positive], and I think in the superhero world, what it means for there to be a superhero like Shang-Chi, is important for kids to see a piece of themselves,” says Awkwafina, who plays Katy, Shang-Chi’s best friend-turned-sidekick of sorts, and who starred in another major touchstone for Asian-led films in Hollywood, 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians.
“We’re asking people to see our culture from a specific perspective that I think is universal in a lot of ways. So I think in that way, it does really lend itself to a conversation about openness and understanding,” she says.
As for Zhang, who makes her film debut as Shang-Chi’s equally as skilled sister, Xialing, it’s all pretty simple: "I think the world is ready for an Asian superhero."
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings opens in theaters Friday.
— Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by Jason Fitzpatrick
Watch the trailer: