Marvel Studios is bringing its first Asian-led superhero film to its Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it’s long overdue, with 1970s comic book star Shang-Chi reportedly getting the silver screen treatment. It sounds promising – Marvel wants to follow the Black Panther blueprint and Ryan Coogler’s example, with a film about an Asian protagonist and predominantly Asian cast, written by Asian writers and filmed by Asian filmmakers. American director Destin Daniel Cretton is on board, according to reports, with a screenplay by Chinese-American screenwriter Dave Callaham in place. The Academy Award-winning Black Panther , with its majority black cast, was lauded for its cultural impact as a groundbreaking celebration of black culture. It seems Marvel wants to do something similar with its Shang-Chi film by creating a love letter of sorts to traditional martial arts. Which is fine on the face of it – who doesn’t love a good kung fu flick? – but it may only help perpetuate the current debate surrounding its effectiveness as a form of modern combat. You can probably picture Xu Xiaodong, the outspoken Chinese mixed martial arts fighter, sounding off about the film on social media already. The fighter known as “Mad Dog” has made it his mission to expose “kung fu fakery”, or what he sees as fraudulent martial arts “masters” pretending they have special powers to con people into parting with their money. He’s exposed some of these chumps to devastating effect – it took him 11 seconds to pulverise tai chi “master” Wei Lei, who had claimed he could smash the inside of a watermelon without damaging its rind, and keep a dove standing on his hand with an invisible force field. For his troubles, Xu has had to put up with defenders of the traditional martial arts community ganging up to harass him in public, and even coming to his Beijing gym to challenge him to fights, all to defend the honour of kung fu. While Shang-Chi has traditionally been depicted in Marvel comics as an ordinary man with no superhuman abilities, he is able to shatter metal and is quick enough to dodge and deflect bullets by mastering his body’s chi. Sound familiar? He’s made out to be the best hand-to-hand fighter in the Marvel universe, even stronger than genetically enhanced super soldier Captain America. He doesn’t even have a powerful suit of armour or infinite bank resources like Iron Man; nor the heightened senses of Daredevil; nor the unbreakable hands of Iron Fist. Netflix’s Iron Fist series sparked a backlash because of its orientalist stereotypes, with the trope of a white protagonist becoming the world’s greatest martial artist. The show was cancelled after two seasons. Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film Doctor Strange was also criticised for whitewashing a central character with its casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, and with its stereotypical storyline of a white guy going to Tibet to learn from a wise Asian man and becoming a powerful hero. Thankfully, the Shang-Chi film looks determined to ignore all that nonsense in what is a good step forward for diversity in the Marvel universe. There is just a danger the film could perpetuate the myth of martial arts being all powerful, which is problematic in today’s world. The original creation of the Shang-Chi character was a shameless attempt to milk the cash cow of the 1970s Bruce Lee-inspired martial arts movie craze. Shang-Chi was the son of infamous villain Dr Fu Manchu, a Chinese criminal mastermind and a racially insensitive character who will be nowhere near this new film, thankfully. But the special Marvel edition The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu (sounds just like what a comic about one of Xu’s opponents would be titled) was an immediate hit in 1973. The character’s popularity waned in the 1980s, but he’s had a bit of a resurrection in recent years, with some revisionist history in the 2010 series Secret Avengers effectively eliminating his link to Fu Manchu. Shang-Chi’s motivations also make for a great protagonist on paper – after growing up to learn the truth about his father’s evil criminal empire, he travels the world giving wrongdoers their comeuppance, fighting alongside other Avengers every now and then. Presenting an all-powerful martial artist with no superhuman powers though, in a universe about superhuman characters, will only further deify kung fu and its practitioners, at a time when serious questions are being asked about its effectiveness as a modern form of combat. I know, I know. This is fiction, it’s cinema, it’s entertainment. But traditional martial arts has been feeding off the films empowering its myths for decades, to dangerous effect. There is a danger Marvel’s resurrection of the Shang-Chi character could be just as cynical a ploy as the original comics, hidden behind the huge commercial and critical success of Black Panther . Hopefully the film’s villain isn’t an outspoken MMA fighter who gets his comeuppance at the hands of a kung fu master.