Asian superheroes have long been lacking in the mainstream Hollywood comic book movie boom – but even though it took 25 films to get there, Marvel Studios’ next cinematic outing is about to finally change that. Enter Simu Liu in the MCU as Shang-Chi, a martial arts hero with a powerful destiny ahead of him and a complex family history stretching behind him, in Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings – an action blockbuster that draws just as much from classic East-Asian action cinema as it does from the Marvel playbook.

For director Destin Daniel Cretton – the filmmaker lauded for intimate character dramas like Short Term 12 and Just Mercy – taking the film on was a vital chance to portray Asian-American identity on the biggest stage possible. “I grew up with Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan and Jet Li,” he tells Empire in the new Shang-Chi issue. “But I haven’t seen a hero on screen that really walks and talks like me, dresses like me, listens to the music that me and my friends listen to; somebody truly Asian-American. And that was what was really exciting to me, to create something that just shows the Asian-American experience through the eyes of a budding superhero.”

Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings – exclusive

For Liu, making his feature film debut after years as a favourite on sitcom Kim’s Convenience, it’s technically not his first time portraying a Marvel hero – but the days when he used to play Spider-Man at kids’ birthday parties left him in a particular conundrum. “As an Asian man, I could never show my face,” he says. “It was only once I put the mask on that the illusion of the superhero would be sold. The moment that I took it off, nobody would ever think I could be that. That’s something I was keenly aware of.” Even in his full costume, as seen below, Shang-Chi isn’t a hero who hides his face from the world.

Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings – exclusive

Marvel boss Kevin Feige tells Empire that Shang-Chi was on the studio’s radar as a potential big-screen hero long before Black Panther broke ground as a major Black superhero movie (with box office-shattering results). What that film’s reception did solidify, though, was the other representation the MCU had been missing until that point. “I remember seeing a viral video when the Black Panther poster first came out,” recalls Feige. “It was some young men in a movie theatre overwhelmed with excitement at seeing the poster, and it was moving because people were excited about the movie we were making. But it was also a harsh realisation that they were reacting that way because they had not seen it before. So Panther really coalesced the notion of, ‘Everybody deserves to see themselves portrayed in these larger-than-life ways.’” Mythical battles? Super-powered arena brawls? Underwater dragons? Let Marvel’s larger-than-life Asian-American adventure begin.

Empire – September 2021 cover

Read Empire’s full Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings cover story – speaking to Liu, Cretton, Feige, as well as Awkwafina and Meng’er Zhang – in the new issue, on sale Thursday 5 August. Shang-Chi comes to UK cinemas from 3 September.

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