Disney and Marvel's film "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" was one of the highest grossing movies of 2021, becoming the first pandemic era movie to surpass the US$200 million box office milestone, and later S$400 million.
Its stellar performance in international markets was notable, as it was the first pandemic era Hollywood movie to have done so without a release in China, according to Hypebeast.
Although the movie was made with Asian audiences in mind, with some of East Asian cinema's biggest names, like Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh, making up the cast, as well as a significant amount of dialogue in Mandarin Chinese, Chinese regulators have not approved of its release.
Even so, it has an entry on Chinese movie review site Douban -- albeit with a relatively low rating of 6.2 -- and has sparked a good amount of discussion on Weibo.
Eagle-eyed Chinese social media users, who likely saw the movie through pirated means as it was not available through official channels, have since found another plausible reason for the movie's ban.
In a screenshot of the thrilling fight scene at the start of the movie, Chinese Weibo users pointed out that the bus driver's sleeve had a set of numbers that happened to be the date of the Tiananmen Square incident, which took place on June 4, 1989.
Some netizens discovered that '8964' was inscribed on the bus driver's attire in the Marvel movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings pic.twitter.com/V70XX3z3Ud— Studio Incendo (@studioincendo) November 12, 2021
The reference was not unnoticed by Taiwanese forum users as well.
The numbers were positioned in such a way that corresponded to the Chinese date format too, which is written with the year first, month next, and day last.
Social media users wondered whether the reference was an intentional one made by Marvel. They also speculated that perhaps due to the reference to the sensitive date, the movie was not released in China.
The Tiananmen Square massacre saw hundreds of demonstrators, mostly young students, gunned down and killed by Chinese soldiers.
The incident, as well as all other remote references, like the "tank man", are censored in China. Many websites and forums conveniently go into "site maintenance" mode ahead of the June 4 anniversary as well, in a bid to avoid posting content that the authorities deem as sensitive.
Marvel fans in Hong Kong discovered another set of numbers that happen to coincide with the day the Yuen Long attack took place, July 21 in 2019.
The attack, which saw a white-clad mob attacking pro-democracy demonstrators and commuters alike at a train station, was widely referred to as the 721 incident.
The police were also widely criticised for only arriving 35 minutes later, after receiving the first report of attacks.
Prior speculations surrounding ban
Simu Liu's "anti-China" comments
It is unknown why the movie was barred from China's theatres, but two notable reasons stand out from among the speculations, which include U.S.-China tensions and rising Chinese nationalism.
In the interview, which has since been taken down by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Liu said his parents had immigrated to Canada as they thought it was a place that can give him a better future than China, which they described as "the third world where you have people dying of starvation".
Liu's past comments, where he criticised "countries that try to censor and cover up dissenting ideas" as being "out of touch with reality", had also been dug up and added to "evidence" that supposedly pointed to his "China-hating" persona.
Previously, when it was revealed that Liu would be cast in the role of Shang Chi, he was also criticised by Chinese netizens who felt that he was too ugly to play the lead character of a big Hollywood movie.
Tony Leung's supposedly "racist" character
It has also been speculated that Leung's character, Xu Wenwu, didn't pass Chinese censors as it was a composite character that combines the villain Fu Manchu -- originally Shang Chi's father in the comics -- and another villain, the Mandarin.
Fu Manchu, a moustachioed character with slanted eyes, was commonly associated with anti-Asian stereotypes.
When Marvel announced that Leung would be playing the role of the Mandarin, Chinese social media users reacted with disdain, and even flocked to his wife Carina Lau's social media page to implore him not to take up the role.
Beijing-based film critic told state-controlled media Global Times that "Chinese audiences cannot accept a prejudiced character from 100 years ago" that is appearing in a new Marvel film.
Global Times also previously commented that while the name has been changed to Zheng Zu after Marvel lost the rights to the Fu Manchu character, "everyone knows that they are the same character".
And although Marvel president Kevin Feige said that Leung's character had no connection to Fu Manchu, his answer was unable to appease Chinese Weibo users, who felt that he was simply saying that to maximise his revenue from the Chinese market.
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Top image via Marvel & Twitter