'Shang-Chi' Fans in China Call Government Decision Not to Release Movie a 'Tragedy'

Moviegoers in China have described their government's decision to indefinitely delay the release of Marvel's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings as a "tragedy" in light of the film's star-studded Asian cast.

The latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe smashed North American Labor Day box office records over the weekend, but there is still no release date in sight for those waiting to see the movie in China, where the story of the titular character begins.

The film stars Simu Liu and Awkwafina, and features silver-screen icons Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh, who are considered acting royalty in Asia. Chinese actor and breakout star Meng'er Zhang, from Nanjing, also appears in the picture, along with Mandarin dialogue.

In the United States and Canada, Shang-Chi is being discussed as a milestone for Asian representation in Hollywood. Film critics have seen parallels with Marvel's Black Panther and the creative space given to its director and actors of color.

With Shang-Chi featuring a Chinese backstory as well as martial arts, many comics fans in China expected the film to be welcomed, especially after Marvel Studios tweaked potentially controversial elements of the narrative.

There is no official explanation for the Chinese government's current refusal to release the movie, although observers say the country's politically sensitive regulators have likely taken issue with Shang-Chi's source material, which carried racial stereotypes through its portrayal of the comics villain Fu Manchu, the father and arch-enemy of Shang-Chi.

Marvel has since retconned the old origin story and changed the characters involved—the character Fu Manchu does not appear in the movie—but that has not been enough to gain approval in China, which is a major market where other MCU features—most notably the Avengers films—have thrived.

On Weibo, China's largest social media service, users who have seen the movie while living abroad have sought to dispel concerns that Shang-Chi is in any way "insulting" to China or Chinese culture—a narrative that continues to grip the country's nationalistic circles that believe the government is censoring the film for a good reason.

One popular comment read: "This is a movie about a Chinese hero. Although the source material contained controversial characters, they were all removed from the film, which contains a lot of Mandarin dialogue and Chinese elements. It's a tragedy that this movie can't be released in China. Where is the cultural confidence and tolerance we speak of?"

Others have described regulators as "overly sensitive" and absorbed with "self-pity," while calling on Chinese fans not to jump to conclusions about the movie before watching it.

While Shang-Chi continues to perform in North America and other parts of the world, it appears Disney will have to do without ticket sales in China in another year that has seen the movie industry ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.

Film critics are watching how Chinese regulators react to the November release of Marvel blockbuster The Eternals, which some have predicted could also be banned due to its Beijing-born director Chloé Zhao.

When Zhao and her film Nomadland bagged Oscars glory in April, the news was censored on Weibo, likely because of past seemingly critical comments about China's political atmosphere. The decision was equally divisive and came after Nomadland's theatrical release had already been canceled across the country.

China's Marvel Fans Denied Shang-Chi Release
Simu Liu attends the Toronto Premiere of "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" at Shangri-La Hotel on September 01, 2021, in Toronto, Canada. Chinese fans have described their government's decision to delay the release of Marvel's "Shang-Chi" as a "tragedy." Ryan Emberley/Getty Images for Disney