'Shang-Chi’ star Meng’er Zhang reveals a dream Avengers crossover

By Eric Francisco

You’d be forgiven for not recognizing Meng’er Zhang.

Of all the faces packing the frames of Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, including Simu Liu, Awkwafina, and Tony Leung, Meng’er Zhang is one of the least familiar.

That’s because Shang-Chi marks the first time this 40-year-old Chinese model and actress has ever performed in front of a camera. (Also, in case you’re wondering, her first name is pronounced “Mong-er.”)

“This is my very first film experience,” Zhang tells Inverse by phone. “I came from theater. I never did a film before this. It’s very new for me to work with cameras. I did work really hard.”

In an August 17 post on Instagram, Zhang calls herself “the new kid on the block,” but she’s hardly a stranger to the craft.

“My mom is an actor, and my dad used to be a stage designer,” says Zhang. “I was born and raised in theaters.” She studied acting for four years and holds two master's degrees in the arts, adds the actress, noting that she’s honed her craft across stage productions in both Shanghai and her eastern Chinese hometown of Nanjiang. Zhang also studied at London’s East 15 Acting School and the Russian Institute of Theatre.

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, she plays the role of “Xialing,” Shang-Chi’s estranged sister. Don’t bother Googling the character. In the Master of Kung Fu comics, Shang-Chi did have a half-sister, Fah Lo Suee, who was a part of a complicated connection to the problematic Fu Manchu copyright; but Xialing is a far cry from that character.

Suiting Zhang’s freshness and unpredictability as a newcomer to the film industry, Xialing is an original creation, exclusive to the Marvel Cinematic Universe; her future in the MCU is undecided and somewhat down to Zhang.

In an interview with Inverse, Zhang explains how this “new kid” made her screen debut within the world’s biggest film franchise, also revealing which Marvel hero she’d love to meet in a possible crossover.

I understand you sent in a self-tape audition for Shang-Chi not knowing you were trying out for a Marvel movie. What was your audition process like?

I didn’t know I was auditioning for a Marvel film. I just saw an audition call in a random group chat, and it said they needed a girl who can speak both Mandarin and English. I thought, “Well, I could be that girl.” So I sent my self-tape in. When I had a callback and they flew me to do a screen test with Simu, that's when I found out I was auditioning for Shang-Chi.

What was your familiarity with Marvel before auditioning for Shang-Chi?

I love Marvel films, I didn’t read comic books but I watched all the Marvel films. My favorite hero is Ant-Hero.

Wait, Ant-Man? Why?

Because I like the idea of shrinking things. I think it’d [be] so cool and useful in real life, if we could shrink things. I’m going to shrink my parents and put them in my pocket, so they go everywhere with me without buying plane tickets.

Xialing is a self-made individual; she taught herself everything she knows to succeed. How do you relate to her?

I love her. I love Xialing. I learned from her, too. She’s a very strong woman. She’s cold, unapproachable from the outside, but she also has a vulnerable, sensitive inside [to] her. I mean, she’s beautiful. She knows how to stand her own ground and find her own voice. I think the world is going to love her.

Xialing’s favorite weapon is a rope dart. Why does Xialing use that weapon? What was your training like to use it?

I think it’s just like her: it has the tough, strong parts and also a soft part that’s still powerful.

I have a great trainer, Master Tang. He helped me a lot. It’s pretty hard in the beginning because it’s a soft weapon. It’s not like a staff or sword. It’s a rope. So at first, I tried so hard to control it, but the harder I tried, I hit myself a lot. But I relaxed and tried to communicate with the weapon, [to] see the weapon as part of my own body. And I just felt like I started talking with the weapon, and we worked so smoothly. It turned out beautifully.

Is there someone in the Marvel Universe you would want Xialing to face? Either as friend or foe?

I would love to meet Ant-Man! You [saw] the amazing fights between Abomination and Wong in our films. I’m so excited; I think [that] opens the door to so many possibilities for characters to cross storylines.

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


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