Shang Chi Director On Breaking Asian Stereotypes And How Jackie Chan Inspired His Action Scenes

Filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton talks about the comic book character he didn't want to include in the film and how his fight sequences each tell a story
Shang Chi Director On Breaking Asian Stereotypes And How Jackie Chan Inspired His Action Scenes

Shang Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings might be Destin Daniel Cretton's first big swing at a Marvel superhero movie, but its fantastical scope is grounded in themes he's explored throughout his career. The Short Term 12 and Just Mercy filmmaker returns to ideas of families and how they can grow apart and find their way back together in the film, which follows Shang Chi (Simu Liu), trained since childhood to be the perfect assassin. He manages to break away and spend a peaceful decade rebuilding his life until The 10 Rings, a terrorist organisation led by his father Wenwu (Tony Leung) comes calling. 

Ahead of the film's release on September 3, Cretton talks about the MCU's track record of Asian representation, how he did away with stereotypes from the comics and how he used the film's action sequences to tell a story:

I feel like the throughline of your movies is family, whether biological families or found families. What family dynamic did you want to explore with Shang Chi?

I wanted to explore a family dealing with grief and pain. It's a family that has been shattered by tragedy and we're watching them learn how to face that pain, redefine it, take steps closer to each other and begin to come back to each other as a family. These are all themes that are very close to me.

Before Shang Chi, the MCU didn't have the best track record when it came to Asian representation. The Ancient One from Doctor Strange being whitewashed, the  Shang Chi comics themselves were steeped in orientalist stereotypes. Were these concerns that you had when you came onboard?

Definitely. What was a pleasant surprise was that even during my first meeting, we were able to openly talk about those concerns, which the team at Marvel shared. It was something everyone wanted to make sure we got right during this movie and correct the course of for future movies to come.

What were some of those early conversations like?

The biggest hurdle that we had to jump over was breaking the stereotypes that had been perpetuated, not only by some of the characters in the comics, but also by cinema in general. One of those very clear characters that we needed to revamp in a big way was Fu Machu (Shang Chi's father in the comics), which we did not want to include in this movie at all. We wanted to make sure that Shang Chi's father was a character that was a fully realised human being who had enough dimension to him that we could realistically reach out to a caliber of actor as high as Tony Leung (to play him). The same is true with Shang Chi and with every character in this movie. We wanted to make sure that they represent people like me, like my friends, like people that I know and that they feel like real human beings that anyone could relate to. To me, that's how you break stereotypes.

You've described the film as a "classic kung fu movie". How did you envision the action sequences and what went into getting them right?

I was really excited to work with Brad Allan and his incredible stunt team who came out of Jackie Chan's camp. Jackie Chan's movies have been, to me, the pinnacle of action because there's so much physical storytelling happening throughout each action sequence. It's not just kicking and punching, there are so many intricate setups and payoffs and such real storytelling happening in every sequence. And that's the type of storytelling I wanted for this movie. Whether it's a really fun, joyous, adrenaline-pumping scene like the bus fight or the elegant, beautiful love story like the fight between Wenwu and Li (Fala Chen), all of the fights in this movie are telling a clear story, where you can track the characters, their relationships throughout the fight, you have reveals of new conflicts and new places that the characters are going. All of that was very important to making the action in this movie something special.

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