The Legend of the Perpetual Foreigner

Picture from “The Vide Times” review of the movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Well Shang-Chi came out two weeks ago to boffo box office. It appears from the headlines that it is the best-reviewed, most money-making movie of the summer. Kudos to Marvel for finally giving us a modern-day superhero-wuxia movie.
I follow a YouTube channel called “Accented Cinema”. The YouTuber had a few other comments about Shang-Chi here.
What he said really resonated with me. First, I think he liked the film, but articulated some concerns he had with the narrative (please note: I have not seen the film yet. I will see it when it comes to streaming and may have more to say then. Blame the pandemic).
The author said that Shang-Chi did not look at the Asian-American experience of being “perpetual foreigners” but instead looked at how a Chinese man, who immigrated to the US 10 years ago and has now spent half his life here, returns home and finds himself…home. The Asian-American (and if we’re being fair, Asian-Canadian) experience is that of never feeling at home anywhere. We’re exoticized at home as being “Oriental” and “mysterious” and when we travel to Asia, we don’t feel at home either because of language barriers or actual physical differences that make us stand out.
These experiences are not unique. I can definitely relate. To all of it. As a half-Japanese-Canadian (the other half being Chinese), I have always been taught to fit in. It’s hard to fit in when you’re one of only two kids in your class of 30 students, who isn’t White. And sometimes, as the Japanese saying goes, ‘the nail that sticks out, gets hammered.’ And I got hammered enough, thank you. And I’ve had my fair share of being asked “where are you really from?” even as an adult. What I was not aware was that reconnecting with your culture was also a part of the same experience (which, as you can see, is also what I am trying to do through my writing).
So what the author of Accented Cinema wants is a story that represents the Asian-American experience now, not to take stories from an exotic fantasy past. I am not sure how that would have translated into a Marvel movie, but perhaps they can touch upon these ideas in the next movie – allow Shang-Chi to feel like an outsider in America. Given Marvel’s track record, that might be a great movie.
For representation of the Asian-American experience, I point you to another film that Awkwafina was also in (no, not Crazy Rich Asians): The Farewell. I have gone back to Japan and although have very few close relatives there, was still welcomed with open arms for a few days in Kyoto. But the language barrier still made things a bit awkward at times, much like in The Farewell. And whenever I visit my partner’s extended family, I am reminded repeatedly (but not verbally) about how much of a Canadian born and raised, I really am.
I would also point you to a graphic novel: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. Not a movie, but such a great graphic novel about identity issues and what it is like being Chinese when all you have ever known is in North America.

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