Meng’er Zhang Is Perfect as Xialing in Shang-Chi and I Want All the Spinoffs
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings surprised me as a Marvel film. For being an origin story, it felt exciting, and the characters all really injected themselves right into my heart. But the standout for me was Meng’er Zhang, who played Xialing Xu.
The younger sister of the titular hero, Xialing was left behind by her brother when he left for America and neglected by her father, whose grief over losing their mother caused him to regress. Despite not being trained alongside her brother, Xialing became self-taught as a fighter and built her own empire. She is a total badass, but in being so, the narrative doesn’t put her into one box. She is kind, funny, and smart in addition to that.
I didn’t expect Xialing to be so awesome, coming in. Her character doesn’t have an equivalent in the comics, and I avoided trailers because I honestly feel like they do more harm than good sometimes. So when I saw that the film had multiple female characters who balanced the fighting competency with actual character depth, it made me happy.
So often, the “Strong Female Character” is just a stoic warrior who can give one-liners but really nothing else. Thankfully, since Black Panther, that trend has slowly evolved (sans Captain Marvel). Especially for an Asian female lead, you don’t want her to be limited by just being an expert martial artist.
Meng’er Zhang has been in theatre productions, but Shang-Chi was her first film, and she knocked it out of the park. I’m really glad that the film found some talent that would be new to us here, giving them two markets to be able to play in. Zhang already worked to ensure that Xialing didn’t have the clichéd dyed hair that gets put on “cool Asian female characters,” and learned several different martial art forms in order to sell the physical aspects of the character.
I grew up watching martial arts films and have seen many amazing female actresses pull stunts majestically. Hell, the first film I ever saw Michelle Yeoh in was Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. I loved Xialing as a supporting character, but I hope the love and excitement that is around the film and her character push Marvel to see that we are very thirsty for a non-white female-led film/production. We’ve done WandaVision, Black Widow, and Captain Marvel; it is time for a woman of color to lead a film, and I think Xialing is a great contender for that role.
(image: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Disney)
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