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China more excited for Thor and Doctor Strange than Shang-Chi

Abacus logo Abacus 23/7/2019 Karen Chiu
Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Simu Liu are posing for a picture: Chinese Canadian actor Simu Liu (right) and Hong Kong actor Tony Leung (left) have been cast as Shang-Chi and the Mandarin respectively. (Picture: Marvel Studios via Weibo) © Staff Chinese Canadian actor Simu Liu (right) and Hong Kong actor Tony Leung (left) have been cast as Shang-Chi and the Mandarin respectively. (Picture: Marvel Studios via Weibo)

After nearly two dozen films spanning over a decade, Marvel Studios is finally working on a film with an Asian superhero in the lead role. But Marvel-mad Chinese fans are actually more excited about other sequels than seeing Shang-Chi.

At San Diego Comic-Con International over the weekend, the studio teased a tantalizing lineup of at least 10 new movies and shows slated for up to 2021. The majority of titles will see the return of familiar characters like Doctor Strange, Scarlet Witch and Black Widow, but others will debut brand new stories and superheroes.

The Eternals, starring an ensemble cast including Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayak, will focus on a team of superhumans tasked with protecting the world. Chinese netizens were quick to point out that the film will be directed by Chloé Zhao, the first Chinese woman to helm a major Marvel movie.

In China, though, the most talked-about project is Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the first Marvel movie to feature a Chinese actor in the title role. In an apparent attempt to woo Asian audiences, the movie is scheduled for a North American release on February 12, 2021 -- the first day of the Lunar New Year.

But if Marvel is also hoping to cash in on a major holiday turnout in China, it looks like an uncertain bet. The country's movie regulator usually shuts out foreign films during Chinese New Year in a bid to boost ticket sales of domestic movies. As some on Weibo noted, last year's Black Panther debuted around the Lunar New Year in most parts of the world, yet China didn't get to see it until weeks later.

Not that Chinese netizens seem particularly tickled by Shang-Chi for now.

Several blog posts on Weibo asked readers to name their most anticipated Marvel title. The most common answers were Thor: Love and Thunder and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

"I'm torn between wanting and not wanting to see Thor," said one tormented fan. "I want to know how Thor will leave, but I don't want to say goodbye either."

The upcoming Thor movie will star Natalie Portman as Jane Foster. In the original comic, she took up the mantle of Thor after he was no longer able to wield the hammer, prompting rumors that this will be the last film starring Chris Hemsworth as Thor.

"[My most anticipated film] is of course the first Marvel horror movie," wrote another fan. It's a reference to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which director Scott Derrickson said would dip into "the Gothic and the horror," making it "the first scary MCU movie."

As for Shang-Chi, many netizens seem disappointed by the casting of an actor relatively unknown in China.

Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Simu Liu are posing for a picture © Provided by South China Morning Post Publishers Limited

"Marvel took so much profit from the Chinese market, but it still didn't cast a Chinese [national]," wrote one person in a comment that was liked more than 800 times.

"A plain face that no one would bother to take another look at on the street," said another harsh commenter.

"Can't find his entry on Baidu Baike," one person wrote, referring to Baidu's equivalent to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that's banned in China.

Many others brought up the racist history of the character.

"Picking an American-born Chinese [sic] to star as Shang-Chi and a Chinese person to star as villain Fu Manchu [sic]," commented a Weibo user who erroneously stated that Hong Kong actor Tony Leung will play Fu Manchu. The character today is known as a racist caricature who appeared in the original Shang-Chi comics as the protagonist's evil father. Leung will actually play the Mandarin, a different character seemingly alluded to in Iron Man 3.

The Mandarin has also been seen as a racist, Fu Manchu-type character. So some Chinese netizens said it doesn't matter whether the antagonist is Fu Manchu or the Mandarin.

"The villain is always Chinese," one person wrote in a popular comment.

This article originally appeared on Abacus, which focuses on China consumer tech for a global audience. For more Abacus stories, please follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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