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Lewis Tan and the awkward case of what Iron Fist could have been

Much has been said about the casting problems in Iron Fist, a show centered around the trope of a Western white man adapting the practices of a mystical Eastern society. Danny Rand, in keeping true to the character’s original appearance, is played by blonde-haired, blue-eyed Finn Jones.

But in casting the show’s lead, Marvel did consider other actors, including Lewis Tan. The half-Chinese actor and son of award-winning martial artist and stunt coordinator Philip Tan was eventually cast as a villain — a drunk fighter who has one scene in the 13-hour series.

Vulture has an interview with the actor, who outlines the possibilities of playing Iron Fist — a character who is defined by being an outsider — in a particularly heartbreaking way. “There’s no more of an outsider than an Asian-American: We feel like outsiders in Asia, and we feel like outsiders at home,” he told the site. He points to casting calls, where he’s dissected as being a six-foot-two, 180 pound, “muscular half-Asian” that no one quite knows what to do with. “That’s what I’ve been dealing with my whole life. So I understand those frustrations of being an outsider. Like Danny’s character. I understand him very well.”

Tan’s presence would have changed the role in a compelling way. As he puts it, “it would have been a really interesting dynamic to see this Asian-American guy who’s not in touch with his Asian roots go and get in touch with them and discover this power.” Instead of reusing the same tired “fish out of water” narrative that appropriates an often misconstrued culture, Iron Fist could have provided a fresh, much needed perspective.

Netflix released Iron Fist on March 17th. The show has been widely panned by critics; it currently holds a 17 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Theorizing that the show might have been more successful with a different lead is an alluring fantasy, if not at least an interesting thought experiment.

Lewis Tan might have made a phenomenal Iron Fist. All we know for sure is that Finn Jones did not.


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