Film & TV

Marvel’s Shang-Chi — Crouching Cinema, Hidden Agenda

Simu Liu in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. (Marvel)
Its anti-Western formula will find favor in China.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is sly, globalist trash. Marvel-Disney shamelessly attempt to repeat the same segregation bonanza it pulled off with the silly ethnic hoax Black Panther. Problem is, Black Panther’s relatively novel concept imagined the faux African kingdom Wakanda, whereas Shang-Chi pilfers from already familiar and much more original and artistic Chinese martial-arts genre movies — reducing them to the level of Marvel junk.

San Francisco car-hop Shaun (born Shang-Chi, played by the nondescript but athletic Simu Liu) at first reluctantly reclaims his family’s superpower legacy, particularly that of his wayward father Xu Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung). This juvenile heroes-and-villains, back-to-the-homeland setup overloads the Marvel Comics trademark with phony indigenous-culture gravitas.

Black Panther’s naïve fans let Marvel get away with portraying Afrocentric fantasy as both pretend-history and the Afro-punk future (catnip to an ignorant generation so desperate for any folklore to call its own that it submits to Hollywood’s escapist propaganda). But Shang-Chi will need viewers who pretend they’ve never seen better than this poor Hollywood imitation of Hong Kong movie mastery, which has a long tradition.

After enjoying Hong Kong movie thrills, whether A Touch of Zen, Chinese Ghost Story, Ashes of Time, Hero, or even Ang Lee’s synthetic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the mangy copycat Shang-Chi can’t help but seem third-rate — if not downright foreign.

Running longer than two hours, Shang-Chi makes narrative detours into the past, initially to pad out its protagonist’s character but mainly to display bogus ancient Chinese characteristics (such as the titular “Ten Rings,” which are exotic, magically empowering talisman). It exploits ethnic ethos to make Shaun/Shang-Chi blend into Marvel’s franchise of motley eccentrics. Another market conquered.

Yet there’s clearly a bigger intent than just entertaining the kids with sci-fi enchantment. Through the enervating excess of trite jokes and inane fight scenes, Marvel and Disney also practice insidious racial indoctrination — Karate Kid–level piety that, for the non-Marvel fan, pounds the brain like an ersatz form of Chinese water torture.

Behind Marvel’s affectation of comic-book/wuxia worldliness, one spots a scheme of arch tribalism and, inevitably, self-conscious exoticism — the exact opposite of celebrating “diversity.” Marvel’s Asian emphasis is not simply respect and parity. Again, as Black Panther demonstrated, this is really an exercise in national disaffection — where “anti-racist” (if not anti-American) fashion morphs into superiority of the other. Hollywood’s extreme political correctness shouldn’t be ignored by regarding Shang-Chi as innocuous escapism or diversion.

Notice the political settings of Black Panther and Shang-Chi, both originating within ideological proximity of the progressive Bay Area. Note, too, the specifically chosen personnel: Director Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, Just Mercy) and his co-writers Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham (Wonder Woman 1984), who are proven, second-class proselytizers for liberalism. They fit Hollywood’s new quotas for ethnic- and gender-based hiring — as if racial identity itself guaranteed a particular quality or aesthetic essence. (That idea used to be considered racist.)

At its third-rate best, Shang-Chi merely reminds one that exquisite moments by Chinese filmmaking powerhouses — Tsui Hark to Stephen Chow, King Hu to Wong Kar-wai — were genuine artistic expressions, not cartoonish fabrications of ethnicity. And the tokenistic inclusion of Tony Leung (wily here but suave and soulful in Happy Together, 2046, and Infernal Affairs) and Michelle Yeoh (dynamic and intelligent in Yes, Madam, The Heroic Trio, and The Lady) is no less insulting than Disney’s bait-and-switch casting of Gong Li in the live-action Mulan. None of these memorable veteran players receive their due from Hollywood, but Shang-Chi makes it indisputable that the globalist product coming from Marvel and out of the Disney maw of exploitation is ruthlessly demeaning to all global cultures and should, in decent marketing terms, be wholly unacceptable. Using Shang-Chi and Black Panther as models from homogeneous cultures to rival, contrast with, and outwit heterogeneous American culture is a foolhardy errand that can only please a Hollywood-CCP alliance.

Armond White, a culture critic, writes about movies for National Review and is the author of New Position: The Prince Chronicles. His new book, Make Spielberg Great Again: The Steven Spielberg Chronicles, is available at Amazon.

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We had substantial disagreements but recognize that he will be remembered for a long, consequential career of service to a country that he loved.