Destin Daniel Cretton directs and co-writes “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”

Lee A. Tonouchi
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Destin Daniel Cretton shows off his love for the Fukushima Store in Ha‘ikü, Maui. (Photo by Lee Tonouchi)
Destin Daniel Cretton shows off his love for the Fukushima Store in Ha‘ikü, Maui. (Photo by Lee Tonouchi)

LT: Braddah Destin, what school you went? What year you grad?

DDC: Maui High School, ‘96, the class that really kicks!

LT: I know you told me before you part Okinawan, but what’s your full ethnic backgrounds?

DDC: My great grandparents came to Hawai‘i from Okinawa and Japan, so I’m a quarter Okinawan and a quarter Japanese. On my dad’s side I’m another quarter Czechoslovakian and French and Irish, a bit of British. I think I might have some German in there maybe.

LT: Try tell me about your fondest small-kid-time memories growing up in Haiku.

DDC: Growing up in Ha‘ikü is the best. My mom didn’t really let us watch much TV so we were always outside playing. We were right next to a big pineapple field so we had endless days of making ramps for our BMX bikes and then we would ride our bikes down to the end of the pineapple field and get a bunch of grass and sticks and put ‘em over our bikes so that people wouldn’t see them. Then we would go hike down into the gulch and go catch prawns and crayfish and swim in the ponds. I have endless memories of growing up in Ha‘ikü.

LT: I seen you post on Instagram about Fukushima Store hot dogs before. Do you get one cut for each hot dog sold? Will dey be changing da name to da Destin Dog? 

DDC: Yeeeeeee! (As if on cue, Destin reveals da sleeve on top his bright yellow jacket that says Fukushima’s!)

LT: Hahahaha. Stay all planned, ah. What makes their hot dogs da best hot dog?

DCC: The secret sauce. That was one of my first jobs. I was a stock boy at Fukushima Store. And my older brother, that was his first job. Two of my sisters worked there. But none of us know what the secret sauce is (laughing). All I know it’s in a tub and it’s definitely got mayonnaise as some key ingredient.

LT: You no more even movie theatre in Ha‘ikü so it’s one crazy dream your dream. So what made you tink hey, maybe I can be one filmmaker someday? 

DDC: I used to go on special occasions down to the Ka‘ahumanu Theatre. My brain was not open enough to even consider doing this for a job, but movies were starting to open my mind to the possibilities of creativity and the power and excitement of it. I actually got kind of addicted to going to the theatre to watch literally anything. It didn’t matter what the movie was, I was never disappointed. I just loving going into a theatre and peering in through that window to outside worlds that I wasn’t able to visit at the time.

LT: You get any Pidgin phrases that you unconsciously find yourself bussing out on set and people all looking at you like, “Huh, what did he he say? What is Gunfunnit?”

DDC: (Laughs) I mean choke is really weird to people, because they have no idea what you’re saying. Like, “How many extras were there on set?” “Choke.” People are all like, “What? Are you mad? Do you want to choke somebody?” If something is really delicious and they ask, “How is it?” and you say ‘ono. They would think you’re saying “Oh, no” and they think you don’t like it.

LT: Hahaha. How did Marvel Studios chose you for “Shang-Chi”? You had connections?

DDC: I don’t think it was connections that got me the job. I pitched the drama of this family that was torn apart by something tragic and seeing these characters learn how to find their way back together again over the course of the movie.

LT: Who would win one fight between Shang-Chi and Kikaida?

DDC: (Laughs) I’m never good at choosing who’s going to win in fights like this, but those ten rings are pretty powerful. (laughing)

LT: In da 1970’s Shang-Chi wuz created in da comics for capitalize on da martial arts craze started in America by Bruce Lee. I figured for honor da character’s roots, da movie would have some kinda nod to Bruce, but I nevah see.

DDC: There actually are nods to Bruce Lee sprinkled throughout the movie. I mean one of the biggest nods is the way that Shang-Chi fights. The sequences are very inspired by Jackie Chan, but the choreography of the actual style of fighting that Shang-Chi does particularly in the bus fight is very inspired by Bruce Lee. It’s more aggressive. Jackie is a bit more comedy based and Shang-Chi’s style of fighting is like Bruce Lee in that there isn’t a specific style attached to [him]. I mean that first punch that Shang-Chi does in slow-mo, that’s definitely inspired by Bruce Lee’s one inch punch.

LT: When da title “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” wuz announced, fans immediately thought of da Mandarin, da villain from da comic. But in da movie, da 10 power rings wuzn’t worn on da fingers, but around da wrists. I know how you came up with that, brah. Small kid time, you wen catch ride from Ha‘ikü to Pukalani Superette for play Street FIghter II. You wuz waiting in line for change your dollah to quarters and das when you saw da lady in front of you, she had 10 Hawaiian bracelets! Das how, ah wuz?!

DDC: (Laughing) That’s pretty good. Um no, that’s not how it was. But why not? You can start that rumor.

LT: Sometimes Hollywood can be all like one Asian, two Asian, all same to dem. So for “Shang-Chi,” if da studio had wanted some non-Chinese actor for be Shang-Chi what would you have told dem?

DDC: For us, in this movie, we wanted to search high and low to make sure these characters were played by people who fully understood the cultural background of them. For our movie it’s even more specific than just Chinese or Chinese American. We wanted the Katy character to be very connected to the Asian American experience and Awkafina is kind of the perfect person for that character. For Shang-Chi we wanted somebody who really had one foot in China and one foot in Western culture. Simu Liu was born in China and speaks fluent Mandarin, but was raised in Canada so he was the perfect person to bridge those two cultures. The Xialing character, Shang-Chi’s sister we wanted to make sure she felt like a modern young woman who grew up in the culture of China and the East and so Meng’er Zhang grew up in China and she lived in Shanghai. Mandarin is her primary first language, but she also does speak very good English. So each of these characters we wanted to have the actors playing them be really connected to the cultural backgrounds of the characters.

LT: Knowing da power China get in terms of box office, did that influence any of your creative choices? Like did you purposely cast Chinese superstar actor Tony Leung specifically for appeal to da Chinese market?

DDC: We casted Tony Leung because he’s one of my favorite actors on the planet. I think we would be crazy to pass up an opportunity to work with legends like Tony and Michelle Yeoh. These are all our personal favorite actors and they also just felt perfect to play these roles. I think it’s really dangerous to start making decisions based on money or commerce or trying to appease a specific market. But in the context of this movie, we wanted to be culturally appropriate and respectful and show the proper respect to every culture we are representing including the Chinese culture.

LT: I impressed by how yo mama raised you. On top your Instagram you post pictures of all da behind da scenes people who helped make “Shang-Chi” happen, like da makeup people, da boom operators, da lighting crew, da production designer, etc., etc. You bring faces to da names that only appear in da end credits for couple seconds. How wuz you taught for be so humble and appreciative like dat?

DDC: I don’t know. My mom’s just like that. My mom’s very humble so you learn by example more than anything when you’re a kid and my mom has always been very humble. My grandma, the same. There is always a level of deep appreciation for anybody who is working alongside you and helping you do a project and for me that’s one of the biggest reasons I make movies. It’s because I get to work alongside so many wonderful creative people to tell these stories. It’s not a big effort for me to appreciate them. I just do. I don’t feel like this is my movie. I feel like this is our movie and the result of it is a collective voice, not just my own.

Lee A. Tonouchi’s book “Significant Moments in da Life of Oriental Faddah and Son” won da Association for Asian American Studies Book Award. An’den his East West Players play ”Three Year Swim Club” wuz one Los Angeles Times Critic’s Choice Selection.


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