(AFP) – To penetrate the juicy but tightly controlled Chinese market, Hollywood has aimed for simplicity: to put an Asian actor at the heart of a Marvel superhero film, a first in the history of this all-record franchise .
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” continues the saga inaugurated in 2008 with “Iron-Man” in an imaginary China mixing gigantic creatures, mysticism and kung-fu against the backdrop of a difficult relationship between a son and his father.
Played by Chinese-born Canadian actor Simu Liu, Shang-Chi fled an overbearing father when he was still a teenager – destined to become a ruthless assassin – and finds himself roaming the United States. .
He leads an uneventful life there, befriending Katy, played by Awkwafina (“Crazy Rich Asians”), until his father sends him a team of big guys to bring him home.
It is Wong Kar-wai’s favorite actor, Tony Leung (“In the Mood for Love”) who plays the father, Wenwu: a villain not quite mean and full of complexity who draws his superpowers from the ten magic rings encircling his arms.
“Shang-Chi” is definitely part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with strong nods to previous games such as the return of Ben Kingsley as the failed actor of “Iron Man 3” .
World number one in entertainment, Disney hopes to make a breakthrough in the Chinese market, where certain episodes of the Marvel saga have already paid off.
“It’s moving, because we’ve been waiting for a long time to have an Asian superhero and a film that celebrates not only our culture, but also our human dimension,” the American actress told AFP. Chinese-born Jodi Long, during the presentation of the film in Los Angeles.
“And I think it’s really important in these times of Covid and xenophobia,” she notes.
– Stereotypes? –
But even with a predominantly Asian cast and lengthy Mandarin Chinese dialogue, success is not guaranteed.
Like the previous Marvel, “Black Widow,” the film still has no date for a possible release in China. A veiled form of censorship against Marvel, whose next super-production will be “The Eternals”, directed by Chloe Zhao.
The Oscar winner this year for “Nomadland” has come under heavy criticism in China, after comments attributed to her in an American magazine in 2013, where she appeared to criticize her country of birth.
Even if “Shang-Chi” has not yet made a name for itself in the general public, it has been quite freshly received by Chinese professionals. “This film will only aggravate the stereotypes of the world towards us,” wrote one of them on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of the social network Twitter.
“Marvel may not want to insult China, but the point is that when it comes to casting, it has to respond to the American social aesthetic of humiliating China,” he said.
Another subscriber describes the film as “a poor attempt to make money off the backs of Chinese audiences.”
A user of the popular film critic site Duoban grumbles at the idea that an Americanized Chinese is coming home to fight with his traditional-minded father. “Marvel, do you really want to enter the Chinese market with a plot like this?” He wrote.
Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige tried to defuse such criticism in an interview with a Chinese film critic, assuring that the core of Shang-Chi’s story was instead a return to his roots. “This tendency to run away … that’s one of his flaws,” he said according to Variety.
Director Destin Daniel Cretton insists on the efforts of filmmakers to dispel “obvious stereotypes” against Asians “in life and society, stereotypes that were also present in the original comics.”
“For me, the most important thing to achieve in this movie was the characters: whether they were endearing and contrasting, whether they were the hero Shang-Chi or the villainous.”