“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” has been released in theaters in France but not yet in China, where its arrival on the screens is more than uncertain. But for what reason and what danger does this decision represent for the studios?
It all started on May 11, 2021, when the Chinese government channel CCTV6 has announced the release date for all Marvel Universe Phase 4 movies … except those of Shang-Chi and Eternals. Forgetting was not, and it was a political act of China, as we will see.
An inaccessible Chinese market
Shang-Chi has no release date in China for the moment, but this is not an isolated case since before him, Black Widow had finally been deprived of the theaters of the Middle Empire in July.
Indeed, to celebrate 100 years of the advent of its political regime on July 1, China has released since the reopening of cinemas patriotic films meeting success and occupying the main theaters.
American studios have therefore not been able to penetrate the Chinese market for several months now, no summer blockbuster having been able to obtain from the government the visa allowing its diffusion in theaters. The authorities were intractable and blocked American cinema, whose economic and generally Western values are hardly compatible with a commemoration of communism.
At the very end of the summer, however, China ended its systematic boycott of American films by authorizing the releases of Free Guy with Ryan Reynolds (Disney), Luca (Pixar) and The Tomorrow War (Amazon) and numbers are rather at the rendezvous. But for Marvel films, the situation remains complex.
Black widow attacking in particular the Soviet Union and Russia, a country that China considers its ally, we understand that the Marvel / Disney film has not yet received the approval allowing its distribution. Asked by SCMP, some major Chinese exhibitors admit not knowing when the film will be released due to sanitary conditions.
Shang-Chi has other problems
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings suffered a “bad buzz” long before its release, with many Chinese commentators writing on social media that “the film will only show stereotypes” where it is “a tasteless attempt to steal money from the Chinese public.”
The superhero is played by Canadian actor Simu Liu, his father played by Hong Kong-born Tony Leung, and director Destin Daniel Cretton is American, which does not help Chinese audiences.
In addition, the most recurring criticisms of Shang-Chi are that it was created in the 1970s to surf a stereotype: that of the Asian martial arts enthusiast and conveying the worst clichés. In addition, in these comics, the hero’s father was none other than Fu Manchu.
The latter is today a very controversial character since he was anchored in the era of the Yellow Peril, this fantasy that the Asian world could represent a danger if it wanted to conquer the Earth. Producer Kevin Feige had to explain himself about Fu Manchu last August:
[C’est] a character that we do not have the rights to and that we do not want to own. (…) We never intended to [l’avoir] in this film.
Fu Manchu is therefore definitely not [présent], isn’t Shang-Chi’s father, and hasn’t been a Marvel character for decades.
Indeed, Fu Manchu has been left out of Marvel comics for years. but besides this comment, Feige also had to justify the plot of his film. Indeed, in the comics, Shang-Chi rejects his native country to become American, which is the exact opposite of what takes place in the feature film, since the superhero goes back to his roots:
“His escape [aux Etats-Unis] is presented as one of his mistakes. It is a mistake to flee to the West to hide your heritage and family – this is what our film presents. Our story is about how he will face and overcome this. “
This is the first time that before the release of one of his films, the MCU’s mastermind is so forced to take a grain of salt and if he does, it’s because only the Chinese market can achieve the box office figures that Phase 3 Marvel films such as Infinity War or Endgame have achieved.
China and Marvel: a future still uncertain
It is also with a view to an upcoming release, The Eternals, that Feige bends to reassure a suspicious public. Indeed, this Marvel feature film, scheduled for the month of November, is directed and co-written by Chloé Zhao, the first Oscar-winning Asian director in the history of cinema.
An award obtained last April but which was censored by the Chinese authorities, following comments made by the filmmaker in 2013, describing the China of her adolescence as a country where the education she had received “was not true”. This earned him a wave of boycott and censorship from part of the Chinese public.
Whatever happens to Eternals, with two films for the moment ignored by the government, what will Marvel do, whose revenues depend greatly on the Chinese market, especially in a context where few countries have reopened their entire theaters? Vast question to which they will have to quickly find an answer.
In France, Shang-Chi did well in theaters, and here is our meeting with the cast: