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Why 'Shang-Chi' star Simu Liu sees Marvel's first Asian-led superhero flick as a way 'to reclaim' kung fu

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Jul 6, 2021, 2:16 PM EDT

In the words of Carl Douglas: "Everybody was kung fu fighting." And that's exactly what was going on during the 1970s. America was absolutely obsessed with the Chinese martial art, which gained cultural prominence through such films as Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon and The Way of the Dragon, as well as the creation of Marvel comic book characters like Iron Fist and Shang-Chi.

The fighting style went from obscure to mainstream, and continues to enjoy that status almost five decades later. With the imminent release of Marvel Studios' Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings in two months, central cast member, Simu Liu, sees the project as a chance "to reclaim that sh**" (meaning kung fu) for the Asian American community.

"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," the actor said during a cover story interview for Entertainment Weekly. "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."

Credit: Marvel Studios/Disney

Helmed by Short Term 12 director Destin Daniel Cretton, Shang-Chi is set to build on the MCU's commitment to providing audiences with a diverse roster of superheroes who represent all different races, genders, and sexual orientations. Ryan Coogler's Black Panther was the first Marvel film to really break new ground by featuring a Black hero at the center of its story. The movie made over $1 billion at the global box office, took home three Oscars at the 91st Academy Awards, and introduced the "Wakanda Forever!" salute into our shared pop culture lexicon.

Shang-Chi is looking to do the same thing for the Asian American community, but even if it does do gangbusters (both financially and critically), Liu won't see it as the ultimate victory.

"Just because there's one Asian American superhero in the MCU, it does not by any means imply that our fight is finished right there," the actor concluded. "When we don't have to celebrate every single win, I think we'll be a little bit closer to our goal, but until then, there's just so much left to do. I'm ready to be in a position where I can effect real change, amplify voices, and put people in positions to get stories told that wouldn't ordinarily get that opportunity."

Written by Cretton, David Callaham, Andrew Lanham, Shang-Chi co-stars , Tony Leung, Awkwafina, Fala Chen, Meng’er Zhang, Florian Munteanu, Ronny Chieng, and Michelle Yeoh. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige recently confirmed that Doctor Strange's Wong (Benedict Wong) and The Incredible Hulk's Abomination (Tim Roth) will be making appearances.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings arrives in theaters Friday, Sep. 3.