The relationship between Hollywood and the Asian American community has been rocky, to say the least, and as such the news of Marvel’s first Asian-led film proved to be an exciting and conflict-filled moment. Some are excited, while others are wary due to Shang-Chi’s early Marvel history. Shang-Chi’s prominent use of kung fu has emerged as one of the the biggest hang-up, given existing stereotypes – but Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings star Simu Liu knew that even before taking on the coveted role. After years of criticism, Liu decided to break down his complicated feelings about doing kung fu as an Asian actor.
As Hollywood tries to embrace diversity and inclusion, moviegoers have been divided over the Marvel character. This has led to Simu Liu having to defend his biggest role so far. But Liu has shown that he isn’t afraid to back away from any subject, especially this one. The Shang-Chi star said about the complicated relationship between kung fu and the Asian American community, recently telling Entertainment Weekly,
There are two paradigms that are completely at odds with each other. One being, as a progressive Asian American man, I've always wanted to shatter barriers and expectations of what Asian men are and be very aware of the boxes that we're put into — martial artists, sidekicks, exotic, or Orientalist. And then the other paradigm is, like, kung fu is objectively super fucking cool. There is a reason why kung fu caught fire and the world became obsessed with it, because it's incredible to watch.
Simu Liu discussed the dichotomy of being an Asian actor in Hollywood. As Liu pointed out, kung fu has been perceived as cool since becoming a part of American pop culture in the1970s. But in turn, it limited perception of what Asian actors could do in movies, and added to the fight towards achieving true representation in media. He previously mentioned his issue with the Marvel character. Liu, at least, knew what he was getting into before taking the role. But the MCU star wasn’t done breaking things down.
Simu Liu delved even more into Asian Americans’ reception of Shang-Chi during the recent interview. Liu appeared aware of his community’s apprehension. When speaking on perceived stereotypes, the MCU star revealed his own complicated relationship with martial arts and Hollywood’s portrayal. Said the actor,
There was a time [as an Asian actor], I didn't want anybody to see me doing martial arts... but I grew up watching Jet Li and Jackie Chan, and I remember the immense amount of pride that I felt watching them kick ass. I think Shang-Chi can absolutely be that for Asian Americans. It means that kids growing up today will have what we never did — the ability to watch the screen and to really feel seen.
It was sad to learn that Simu Liu felt the need to hide his appreciation for martial arts as to not feed into a stereotype. As Liu pointed out, most Asian major stars in Hollywood have been from outside of the U.S. But according to the MCU star, Shang-Chi will be a hero Asian Americans will be proud of.
Simu Liu’s words revealed the pressure being the first can hold. Given Shang-Chi's past in Marvel Comics, the initial criticisms were warranted. Soon fans and moviegoers get to see what Liu can do and make further assessments, as the blockbuster is getting closer and closer to its theatrical debut. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will be released on September 3.