EXCLUSIVE: Fala Chen Talks Tony Leung and Being the Heart of ‘SHANG-CHI’

Shang-Chi and The Legend Of The Ten Rings features plenty of action. Each action set piece is bigger than the last until the film’s explosive third act. Now everything that leads into that action is surrounded by the heart of the movie: Jiang Li, mother of Shang-Chi, played by Fala Chen. Murphy’s Multiverse was fortunate enough to talk with Chen recently about her role, working with Tony Leung and more.

Chen’s Jiang Li makes a big impact as the moral center of the film. Chen addressed how she stepped into that central role:

I feel it was very natural for me to step into that role. I got to spend a lot of time with the cast prior to the beginning of filming. We trained together for so long that we hung out after our training sessions. We got to really know each other so well and we became best friends. So I think that really helped me to imagine some of the character I didn’t get to play with on screen but have a relationship with that was really helpful.

Chen gave director Destin Daniel Cretton credit for not only helping her create what is an entirely original character but also creating an authentic vibe for Ta-Lo, they mystical realm from which Jiang Li hails.

Then Destin (Director Destin Daniel Cretton), I have to give him so much credit for spending so much time with me to map out the journey of my character. He explained the backstories, and asked me what ideas I had for the character. There are imaginary backstories that we mapped out together. I feel like I was very lucky to not only play the character but have a lot of personal input as well. Here’s a small example particularly with the language. My character spoke Chinese in the film, and there are so many dialects in the Chinese language. Even with Jiang Li coming from Ta-Lo, which is a mystical village we wanted to be very specific about every word that she was using. It’s precise, it’s part of the spirit. The language we used is such an ancient, nuanced language we wanted to make sure it’s authentic. In order to do that we spent a lot of time with a translator. I had a lot of personal input in the translation of that. It was a lot of collaboration amongst us all.

Chen absolutely stole the show in her role, a role, as it turns out, she never auditioned for as Marvel Studios was eager to work with her.

I was offered the role and never had to audition for it, which was like, “What? “I was so honored and so happy. I almost didn’t even get the call that came through, because they’ve been tracking my availability. For a long time we didn’t know what the project was about. I had heard in the news that Shang-Chi was in the making, so I’ve been tracking it. We never know because they (Marvel) have been so secretive. I then went on a honeymoon with my husband. Then suddenly, my agent was trying to reach me and I didn’t hear from them for the longest time. Eventually we got a call from a satellite phone as we were literally out of this world, and they made an offer.

Jiang Li’s tragic story was such a necessary part of this movie. It provides the context for Shang-Chi, Xialing, and specifically Wenwu’s journeys. The opening scene between Chen’s Jiang Li and Tony Leung’s Wenwu was a beautiful homage to Asian cinema. Chen talked about that scene and working with Hong Kong legend Leung:

I have to say that was the most difficult scene to play but also the easiest thing to play. The difficult part obviously being the physical fighting. It was the intricate choreography and also being 50 feet in the air flipping around. Doing all that physically is really difficult as well as pretending to be such a master of a high power. At the same time the easiest part is looking into his eyes and just being a fan girl.

Chen also echoed the sentiments of much of the film’s Asian and Asian-American cast when asked how she felt being a part of the production that brought Marvel Studios first Asian hero the big screen

While I was a part of making this, I’m still kind of in disbelief that I’m lucky enough to be a part of this amazing story that’s going to be an historic film. Obviously not only for the Marvel Universe, but for especially the Asian-American community.

Marvel Studios Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings is in theaters now.

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