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LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - Like a lot of Asian actors, Simu Liu has played the nameless guy who can do martial arts but inevitably loses out to a more skilled white guy. It was one of his very first stunt jobs.
"Yeah, I took my paycheck and I went home. I didn't really complain about it," said the Chinese-Canadian actor. "But then, you look at the bigger picture and you look at the opportunities that are available to Asian performers. You see that yeah, past a certain point, there really isn't that deeper representation."
Now, it's Liu's time to take out baddies and be No. 1 on the call sheet. He is taking on the titular role in Marvel Studios' first Asian-led superhero flick, "Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings." The highly anticipated movie, which opens Friday, has all the bells and whistles of a Marvel tentpole — huge fight sequences, dizzying stunts and sweeping locales. While Shang-Chi can high-fly kick and punch any opponent, is the "master of kung fu" powerful enough to make Hollywood finally bury tired story tropes and support projects by actors and filmmakers of Asian descent?
The movie, directed and written by Asian Americans, centers on trained assassin Shang-Chi trying to live an ordinary life in San Francisco. Awkwafina and comedian Ronny Chieng also star. The original comic book was inspired by the popular '70s kung fu films. It pays homage to those but also strives to bring humanity outside of the action. Liu, known for the sitcom "Kim's Convenience," won the role for his acting chops, not karate chops.
"It's his comedy. It's his ability to show simultaneous strength and vulnerability," said director Destin Daniel Cretton. "It's his humanity that breaks stereotypes."
The martial arts movie genre has been a double-edged sword for Asian Americans for decades. Bruce Lee, who was born in San Francisco, is credited with bringing Hong Kong kung fu films to non-Asian audiences because of his jaw-dropping martial arts prowess. But for many Asian American males, it's still an unfortunate rite of passage to be mockingly called Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan or asked about knowing karate.
This image released by Marvel Studios shows Meng'er Zhang, Simu Liu, and Awkwafina in a scene from "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" Image source: voavoa
"When I moved over to California from Hawaii, it was the first time that just a random person in a bar just, you know, lightly and jokingly called me Bruce Lee," Cretton said. "I love Bruce Lee. He is awesome. The only problem is that's all we had."
In fact, a national survey commissioned by nonprofit Leading Asian Americans to Unite for Change in the spring found 42% of 2,766 adults polled could not name a current famous Asian American. The next two most popular responses? Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee.
Phil Yu, who comments on Asian American pop culture on his longtime "Angry Asian Man" blog, also co-hosts a podcast, "They Call Us Bruce." Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan themselves were never the problem, he said. It was the way Hollywood ran with the formula.
"It does feel like martial arts, the concept as it's been distorted through a Western lens, is used to pigeonhole us, to make us feel smaller and to mock us," Yu said. In "Shang-Chi," "when you have a movie that is nearly all Asian ... or almost every face is Asian, you have room for everyone to serve a different narrative purpose."
Another cliche narrative that persists is the mystical Asian mentor who trains a white protagonist in martial arts. The white pupil then gets to be the savior back home in the U.S. It's a story that Marvel drew backlash for when, in 2017, they cast a white lead in their "Iron Fist" Netflix series.
The "Shang-Chi" team assures that their foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is something that speaks to the Asian American experience. The high-octane adventure is ultimately a family drama about a young Asian immigrant who shuns his father's wishes to live his own life in America. Dave Callaham, a co-writer, found himself getting emotional over the screenplay.
This image released by Marvel Studios shows Simu Liu in a scene from "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" Image source: voavoa
"I've been writing professionally for 19 years. It's the first time I've ever been asked to write from my own perspective," Callaham said. "Every other movie I've ever written it's 'Step one: Imagine you're a beautiful man named Chris' — a white man usually."
Shang-Chi" is the latest in a cluster of martial arts-theme productions with Asian actors front and center. "Snake Eyes," with "Crazy Rich Asians" star Henry Golding and based on the "G.I. Joe" character, opened in July. That movie also starred Andrew Koji, who is the lead in the HBO Max series "Warrior." The historical drama, which has been renewed for a third season, was inspired by a pitch Bruce Lee wrote. Then there's the recently renewed CW Network's "Kung Fu," a remake of the 1970s show where the white David Carradine played a Shaolin monk.
Olivia Liang, star of the new "Kung Fu," said it feels like Asians are reclaiming something.
"We get to have fully fleshed out characters who also kick (butt) and do martial arts. ... That's the biggest difference that I feel right now," said Liang, at last month's "Shang-Chi" premiere. Entertainment "shapes our world view. For us having been so under-represented for so long, people who don't see a lot of Asians in the community forget we are part of the fabric of their world."
"Angry Asian Man" blogger Yu is glad to see these more progressive adaptations but is ready to see Asian talent move beyond this arena.
"We're still playing in this box of Asians as martial arts heroes," Yu said. "There's nothing inherently wrong with that. But that box should be wider. Look at all these things that are Asian-led stories that have come out in the last couple of years."
"Shang-Chi" comes at a time when Asian Americans are looking for escapism but also to feel more visible. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Asians and Asian Americans have been targets of race-based verbal and physical assault because the virus was first reported in China. All the actors in "Shang-Chi" have used their platform to speak out or donate money.
From left, Awkwafina, Meng'er Zhang, Simu Liu, and Fala Chen arrive at the screening of "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" at Regal Union Square, Aug. 30, 2021, in New York Image source: voavoa
Like rom-com "Crazy Rich Asians" three years ago, "Shang-Chi" has more pressure than most of its fellow MCU movies. It's that pressure that somehow the future of Asian-led projects is tied to box office success.
"We're always seen as the 'other,'" said Jodi Long, who plays Mrs. Chen in the movie. "I just don't think we're considered sometimes. I think this movie hopefully will change that because it's our first Asian superhero. We have a lot of heroes in our Asian American community." (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Marvel, Asia, America, Filmography, Kung fu
Great historic events that have shaped the world and changed the outlines of countries are often not recorded in memory, or so we think. Wars made sure to destroy evidence and heritage, and the ones who survived told the tale of what really happened. Folklore, albeit through oral tradition kept alive many such stories, hidden in verse, limericks, and rhymes.
Ringa-ringa-roses, a common playtime rhyme among children across the world, is an example of folklore that has survived for many centuries. It tells the story of the The Great Plague of London which ravaged the city between 1665-1666.
The Plague broke out from improper disposal of garbage and poor sewage conditions. Fleas from the rats that lived in the sewers spread the disease that killed more than half of London's population. Many people fled from their homes as there was no medicine available for those who were infected.
Beak-shaped masks worn during the Great Plague of London Image source: wikimedia commons
It was around this time that masks began to be invented. The first masks were shaped like beaks, and were worn not to protect the wearer from the disease, but to the prevent them from being able to smell the decay and death around them, which they called 'miasma'. The beaks were filled with floral herbs that allowed doctors and nurses to tend to the sick without being reviled from the smell.
Children are often seen forming circles by holding hands and reciting loudly,
Pockets full of posies
We all fall down"
An illustration of the Great Plague of London, 1665 Image source: wikimedia commons
When the last line is sung, they break the circle and fall down. The roses and posies are believed to be the preferred fragrances inside the masks, and a single sneeze (a-tishoo) was enough to infect the one who was exposed to the disease. Consequently, they fell down, ill, and later died.
An alternative version of this rhyme is sung about the fall of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the aftermath of World War II. The roses and posies are interchanged with geranium and uranium, to symbolise what was used in the atomic bomb. But this version is not as famous the original.
Keywords: Rhymes, Ringa-ringa-roses, Great Plague of London, WWII, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Folklore
In modern times, many social movements aim to bring reform to the society we live in, on the basis of certain existing patterns. Patriarchy is something that many aim to cleanse our cultures of, to usher in the era of social and gender equality. Despite all these so-called movements, in southern India, certain societies that patronise matriarchy have existed since before India's independence. The Nairs and Ezhavas of Kerala, and Bunts and Billavas of Karnataka are matrilineal societies that continue to thrive in a patriarchal country.
Kerala remains separate from the rest of India in many ways. Be it literacy policy, form of government, or cultural practices, this state does not always conform to the ideal that India is known for. Even so with their social structure. Certain tribes have remained matrilineal, where the decision-making power rests with the eldest female of the family.
The Nairs and Ezhavas of Kerala, and Bunts and Billavas of Karnataka are matrilineal societies that continue to thrive in a patriarchal country. Image source: wikimedia commons
A male member, who is the close confidante of the matriarch is chosen. He plays a crucial role in representing the male members of his family, and his opinion is highly valued. He is called karavanan. The men reside in separate rooms or in separate houses, and do not interfere in the upbringing of children. Property is also passed down along the lineage of the eldest female. Among the Nairs, matriarchy is more prominently adhered to than the Ezhavas, who have some patrilocal connections.
In Karnataka, the Bunts and Billavas belong to the Tuluva ethnic group. They are also a predominantly matriarchal society, founded on the belief in a legend. Their matrilineal descent is known as Aliyasantana.
The story is told of a demon who threatened to destroy a kingdom if the king did not sacrifice his sons, but the king's sister comes forward to offer her children in sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom. The demon is touched and does not destroy the city. Since then, the kingdom, or the property is inherited through female lineage.
In Karnataka, the Bunts and Billavas belong to the Tuluva ethnic group. They are also a predominantly matriarchal society, founded on the belief in a legend. Image source: wikimedia commons
In the recent past, many of these matriarchal societies have been reduced to matrilineal societies by certain governmental laws. They fall under the patriarchal scheme of the rest of the state but have reserved the right to pass on property and heritage through the female line. In the North east of India, matriarchal dominance is far more resilient than the south.
Keywords: Bunts, Billava, Nair, Ezhava, Aliyasantana, Matrilineal, South India, Karnataka, Kerala
Apple inc. Is an American multinational tech firm specialized in consumer electronics, computer programs, and internet services founded by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne in 1976 to manufacture Wozniak's Apple iComputer. It is the world's top tech company in turnover (totaling $274.5 billion in 2020) and its most valuable corporation. Apple is the fourth-largest PC seller by unit sales and the fourth-largest smartphone manufacturer in the world.
Apple has revealed a slew of new products at a special launch event that has been long-awaited. On the day of the live event, Apple announced the iPad mini, Apple Watch Series 7, iPhone 13 mini, and iPhone 13, as well as the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max.
Apple has revealed a slew of new products at a special launch event that has been long-awaited. | Photo by Daniel Romero on Unsplash
In the first major product announcement during the event, Apple introduced the newest edition of the iPad and a 5G-capable iPad Mini.
iPad: The 10.2-inch iPad is equipped with a solid A13 processor that delivers 20 percent quicker performance than the preceding version. According to Apple, it is now three times faster than a Chromebook. A new 12MP ultra-wide camera with Center Stage, which utilizes machine learning to optimize the front-facing camera during FaceTime video chats, as well as more incredible accessory support, including compatibility with the first-generation Apple Pencil, are among the new features. For 64GB of storage, the iPad costs $329.
iPad Mini: In addition to reduced borders and more rounded edges, the 8.3-inch iPad mini also has improved front and back cameras. A liquid retina display, USB-C compatibility, magnetic support for the Apple Pencil, an enhanced speaker system, and new hues such as pink and purple are all features of the new Apple iPad Mini. The starting price is $499.
In the first major product announcement during the event, Apple introduced the newest edition of the iPad and a 5G-capable iPad Mini. | Photo by Leone Venter on Unsplash
The other major unveiled products include:
iPhone 13 and other variants: The iPhone 13 range is almost identical to the iPhone 12 lineup, with a 5.4-inch iPhone 13 Mini, a 6.1-inch iPhone 13, a 6.1-inch iPhone 13 Pro, and a 6.7-inch iPhone 13 Pro Max. It was also revealed that the Watch Series 7 has a smaller "S7" processor, which may allow for a bigger battery or other components to be housed in a smaller footprint. The gadgets have a revolutionary design that includes a dual-camera system, placed diagonally. Apple's iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini have longer-lasting batteries than the previous generation of devices. In addition, Apple claims that the iPhone 13 will have a battery life that is 2.5 hours longer than the iPhone 12, and the iPhone 13 mini will have a battery life that is 1.5 hours longer. A more energy-efficient display, an upgraded 5G chip, and functionality called "Cinematic Mode," similar to the famous Portrait mode function but is only available for movies, are among the other enhancements. The A15 Bionic chip present in the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini is also used in the 6.1-inch iPhone 13 Pro and 6.7-inch iPhone 13 Pro Max, also 6.1-inch devices. However, it also has a five-core CPU, which promises graphics that are 50% quicker than previous models. Other notable features of the Pro devices include a brilliant Super Retna XDR display with a higher refresh rate and long-lasting battery life. Now, for the price, it will start at $699 for the iPhone 13 mini with 128 GB of storage, $799 for the iPhone 13 with 128 GB of storage, and the Pro and Pro Max have starting prices of $999 $1,099, respectively.
Apple Watch Series 7: The new Apple Watch Series 7, which is smaller and has a larger screen than its previous model, was introduced by Apple on Wednesday. There is a 20% increase in screen size over Series 6 on the new watch. A complete keyboard that you can touch or slide to write out text messages can show 50% more text. It starts at $399.
Keywords: Apple, iPad, iPad Mini, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 pro, iPhone 13 Pro Max, iPhone Mini, Apple event 2021