Marvel hasn’t introduced a new headlining hero since Captain Marvel unleashed the cosmic powers of Carol Danvers in 2019. That’s about to change in a big way with the introduction of Shang-Chi, the martial-arts master played by Kim's Convenience star Simu Liu in the upcoming Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
With roots dating back to the ‘70s, the Shang-Chi heralds a new era for Marvel, one drenched in Southeast Asian mythology and packed with martial-arts action previously unseen in the series' mix of intergalactic space beams and militaristic melees. Here’s what you need to know in advance of Shang-Chi's debut.
Who exactly is Shang-Chi?
Like the Guardians of the Galaxy before him, Shang-Chi has long existed in the margins of Marvel lore, known mostly to the more ardent comics fans. Canonically, he’s a China-born American immigrant and the son of the fiendish Fu Manchu. If that name sets off alarm bells, it’s for good reason: The Shang-Chi comic books were initially steeped in negative Asian stereotypes, something that director Destin Cretton says the film will be careful to avoid.
"Remember, the Asian culture is so diverse," he told EW. "I grew up in Hawaii, [and] Hawaiian food is like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Hawaiian, Filipino, all mixed together. That is kind of what our crew was: It's like this big mix of Asian cultures coming together and responding to the script and [saying things] like, 'Oh, that doesn't feel quite right.' All of that helped contribute to what I think is a really beautiful update to what started in the comics a few decades ago."
Shang-Chi is one of the most powerful non-superhero characters in Marvel’s roster: He’s an expert in various types of martial arts and possesses heightened senses that help him take on throngs of foes in addition to mythical beasts. Dubbed “The Master of Kung Fu,” he’s bested multiple enhanced enemies throughout his history, and from the looks of the trailer, he’ll continue that legacy by taking on armies of overpowered foes.
What is Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings about?
Marvel was long criticized for its repetitive origin stories, a problem that evaporated over the course of its 23 interconnected MCU films to date as established heroes like Iron Man, Thor and Captain America teamed up and took their own journeys.
Shang-Chi returns to Marvel's origin mode, but things look a little different here. Drawing from the traditions of Chinese mysticism and kung fu from the Shaw Brothers era all the way up to Crouching Tiger, Hero and beyond, the film looks epic in scope and full of otherworldly monsters and more grounded villains.
The film will find Shang-Chi exploring his roots, including a familial connection to the secretive Ten Rings organization. Much of the action appears to be rooted in San Francisco and includes Awkwafina as a friend and comic foil alongside Ronny Chieng. Legendary actors Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh will play Shang-Chi’s parents, who vie to pull the hero’s path toward darkness and light.
Not a whole lot is known beyond that, but from the looks of the trailer, the origin story looks to be a different type of bombastic action spectacle unlike any other Marvel offering to date. It includes titanic underwater dragons, marauding giant lions and close-combat with villains like the aptly named Razor Fist, who has razor-like lasers for hands and is seen battling the hero aboard a speeding tram.
How will this tie into the other Marvel movies?
The biggest tie-in is right there in the title: The Ten Rings has been alluded to since the first MCU movie, Iron Man, where it was depicted as a terrorist organization in Afghanistan responsible for kidnapping Tony Stark. The organization got further clout in Iron Man 3, where Ben Kingsley seemingly portrayed its villainous leader, The Mandarin. However, by the end of the movie it was revealed that it was all a hoax, with The Mandarin actually an actor serving as a boogeyman to distract from the film’s real villain, who had no real affiliation with the organization.
In the 2014 online short All the King, it was revealed that Kingsley’s imprisoned Trevor Slattery was living in fear of the real Mandarin, and in Shang-Chi he will make his first big appearance… as the hero’s father.
Retconning the original Fu Manchu nonsense, Leung is playing the new version of The Mandarin. Like Manchu, The Mandarin has historically been steeped in racial stereotypes, something that many fans feared would come to the fore in the Iron Man films, which drew concern of whitewashing. Those concerns were later realized with a different character when Tilda Swinton took the role of the Tibetan Ancient One in Dr. Strange.
With Leung in the role, the film will sidestep the more problematic aspects of the character while giving him a fully formed character to chew on, one who wields the mythical Ten Rings to achieve tremendous power, with which he seemingly hopes to corrupt his son, Vader style.
Speaking of Dr. Strange, Benedict Wong’s monk-like Wong is set to make an appearance, leading to speculation that he will draw Shang-Chi into the events of the Sam Raimi-directed Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which will likely dive deeper into the parallel-dimension set up in WandaVision and Loki and will continue in the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home and beyond.
The trailer also gives a brief glimpse of what looks to be Wong battling a hideous monster in a cage fight. That monster is The Abomination, a sort of anti-Bruce Banner introduced in the little-loved Edward Norton-starring 2008 MCU entry The Incredible Hulk. Played by Tim Roth, the mostly forgotten character links Shang-Chi to Marvel’s more militaristic side: He’s a super soldier whose experimentation with gamma radiation led him to become a rampaging monster.
So no, don’t go in expecting a one-off kung-fu romp. Shang-Chi will stick around for a while, and be folded into the greater narrative. Expect an Avengers team-up sooner than later.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings hits theaters September 3 after a long COVID delay.
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