Marvel was worried about audience reaction to ‘Shang-Chi’ non-English opening
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was the first MCU movie to feature a predominantly Asian cast, with the Simu Liu vehicle drawing heavily from both kung-fu films and Chinese fantasy and mythology. Its opening scenes, for instance, introduced the hero’s immortal father Wenwu (Tony Leung) as he discovered the mystical realm of Ta-Lo and met its guardian, Ying Li (Fala Chen), Shang-Chi’s mother, who he quickly fell in love with.
These scenes, in which the actors speak in Mandarin with English subtitles translating, meant that the movie kicked off without the English language being heard for a fair amount of time. That was a pretty bold move for Marvel Studios and it turns out that producers were worried about this for a long while.
In a piece looking back at the hit movie, Marvel president Kevin Feige told The Hollywood Reporter that director Destin Daniel Cretton fought to retain the use of Mandarin and argued that audiences would accept it. Feige admitted that he was absolutely right as there was no negative feedback to the opening whatsoever.
“Frankly, we were always ready to see if the audience would reject it in our test screenings and to see, ‘OK, are we going to have to pull a ripcord here in any way?’ Which was not our first instinct,” says Feige. “Destin very much believed in the fact that audiences would go with it, and sure enough they did. It wasn’t even a question. It wasn’t even a concern. On the contrary, I think it added to the authenticity in the way the movie started.”
The opening scenes of Shang-Chi are the perfect introduction to the film, establishing its tone and style as well as the story’s emotional grounding and explaining the hero’s origins. Cretton was definitely right to fight to keep it and his instincts turned out to be spot-on. Rewriting the scene somehow to make the characters speak English would’ve been contrived and done a disservice to the culture Shang-Chi is celebrating.
There’s a widespread belief that audiences are put off by subtitles, and maybe a lot of people are initially, but in most cases it seems cinema-goers quickly adjust to them. Like Parasite director Bong Joon-Ho said in his Golden Globe acceptance speech: “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” Maybe the opening of Shang-Chi, in a small way, helped some folks realize that.