The 25th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” will introduce viewers to a brand new superhero when it hits theaters on Sept. 3, 2021. Simu Liu stars as the titular character, who must confront the past he thought he left behind after he’s drawn into the web of the mysterious Ten Rings organization. The skilled martial artist is surrounded by an ensemble that includes Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh and Tony Leung. Wonderwall.com rounded up everything you need to know about the latest entry in cinema’s biggest franchise.
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Shang-Chi is a skilled martial artist who was trained to be an assassin by his father at a young age. He doesn’t have a traditional superpower, but he has enough abilities to earn the nickname “Master of Kung Fu.” The character was inspired by the Chinese American character Kwai Chang Caine from the TV show “Kung Fu” and was originally developed as an unparalleled hand-to-hand fighter who fought his father’s global criminal machinations as part of Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency. In the comics, Shang-Chi eventually gained the ability to create duplicates of himself and carried various pieces of Tony Stark-built tech. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, director Destin Daniel Cretton described the film version as a fish-out-of-water and compared him to the character Will from “Good Will Hunting,” who’s a “mixture of masculinity and vulnerability,” noting that both characters had secrets and superpowers they do not understand. Star Simu Liu told Men’s Health that Shang-Chi’s struggles with identity are the core of the character, rather than his martial arts skills.
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Shang-Chi was created by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin and debuted in “Special Marvel Edition” #15 in December 1973 after Marvel Comics failed to acquire the rights to adapt the “Kung Fu” TV show. Up to that point, the comic series had followed Thor and Nick Fury. Shang-Chi was originally modeled after Bruce Lee and, as the martial arts craze swept the U.S. in the ’70s, Shang-Chi, from from 1974 to 1983, ran in a solo comic entitled “The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu” and enjoyed crossovers with other Marvel martial artists like White Tiger, Iron Fist and the Daughters of the Dragon. He’s one of the strongest non-superhumans in Marvel Comics and has been sought out by many other characters including Captain America, Spider-Man and Wolverine to help them strengthen their own hand-to-hand combat skills. The Shang-Chi comic book became massive in the ’70s, but the Kung Fu craze died down in the ’80s, and so did Shang-Chi’s popularity — eventually relegating the character to occasional guest appearances. He made his way back into the spotlight as part of 2010’s “Secret Avengers” series, eventually making it to the core Avengers team and the new Agents of Atlas. In anticipation of the film, Marvel debuted a new ongoing series in May 2021.
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The Ten Rings were originally established as the once-dormant international terrorist group that kidnaps Tony Stark in the first “Iron Man” movie in 2008. Tony builds his first Iron Man suit while being held captive by them. Members of the organization include Shang-Chi’s father, Wenwu (aka The Mandarin). In the film’s trailer, Wenwu tells his son that “throughout my life, the Ten Rings gave our family power,” and the rings are shown as physical bracelets with eerie lights and some kind of superpower. The movie seemingly depicts Shang-Chi’s father as leader of the Ten Rings whoattempts to bring his son into the fold. But our hero appears to be a on a journey to free himself from his evil destiny.
It was quite the journey getting Shang-Chi to the big screen, with attempts dating as far back as the ’80s. During a 2018 interview with Inverse, former president and CEO of Marvel Productions Margaret Loesch revealed that Stan Lee considered Bruce Lee’s son Brandon to play the role and met with the actor and his mother, Linda Lee, to discuss a potential movie or television series starring the character. “Stan did believe in the character,” Margaret said. “He used that as an example of the comic that could transition into the movie and television world.” Unfortunately, Brandon tragically passed away in 1993 at 28. Then in 2001, “Blade” director Stephen Norrington signed on to direct the film “The Hands of Shang-Chi” but was replaced by famed martials arts choreographer and director Yuen Woo-ping when the project moved to DreamWorks a few years later. After getting stuck in development, the rights to the character reverted back to Marvel and it was listed as one of many potential projects in its new film deal with Paramount Pictures. Marvel eventually signed a deal with Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures before it could get made, which led to the current release schedule.
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” gave actor Simu Liu his breakout role. He was raised in Ontario, Canada, and worked as an accountant before eventually getting laid off. Simu then used his background in martial arts such as Taekwondo and Wing Chun, as well as gymnastics, to pursue a career as an actor and stuntman. His first role was as an extra in the 2013 blockbuster “Pacific Rim,” which led to small roles on TV shows like “Nikita” and “Beauty and the Beast” and a stunt-double gig on “Heroes Reborn.” He then nabbed lead roles on the acclaimed Canadian programs “Blood and Water” and “Kim’s Convenience” before Marvel gave him the chance of a lifetime in 2019: Simu petitioned for the role of Shang-Chi on Twitter in 2018 when the movie was revealed to be in development and it was announced during Comic-Con 2019 that he’d landed the part.
Following her breakout turn in 2018’s “Crazy Rich Asians” and her Golden Globe-winning work in 2019’s “The Farewell,” Awkwafina makes her Marvel debut as Katy. Little is known about the character other than that she works as a hotel valet alongside Shang-Chi and is the hero’s closest confidant. That said, she doesn’t know much about his history or his action-packed world of assassins and kung fu masters. The funnywoman told StyleCaster in 2020 that Katy “is thrust into a world where she doesn’t really know what to do. At the same time, she’s discovering things about herself.” Awkwafina also told Entertainment Weekly that the character “doesn’t do a lot of the heavy lifting. But at the end of the day, she has a real heart, and she has a loyalty and dedication to her friendship with Shang-Chi. She’s super brave.” Katy isn’t sourced from the comics and, based on her poster image, this original character might just know how to use a bow and arrows.
Michelle Yeoh is best known for her work in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Tomorrow Never Dies,” “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Star Trek: Discovery.” She made her Marvel debut in 2017’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” as space pirate Aleta Ogord. Now the Malaysian actress is taking on a new role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Ying Nan, a guardian of a mythical city. Michelle told Collider that the film’s other characters come to her to “learn how to protect history and to protect not just this world but the worlds that are around us from the demons that are locked away. So it’s magic, it’s reality, so many things happening and it’s a lot of fun.”
Tony Leung is considered one of Asia’s most successful and internationally recognized actors. The Hong Kong-born star, who’s best known for his numerous collaborations with legendary director Wong Kar-wai, makes his Marvel debut in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” He stars as Wenwu, Shang-Chi’s father and the leader of the Ten Rings. Wenwu is a hybrid character for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, replacing Shang-Chi’s original comic book father, Fu Manchu. The character has many different names — including The Mandarin — which producer Jonathan Schwartz told Entertainment Weekly was due to audience expectations based on The Mandarin’s comic book history. He described Wenwu as a more complex and layered character than the comic book version. Director Destin Daniel Cretton explained to the outlet that Tony avoided Asian stereotypes and a one-dimensional portrayal by bringing humanity and love to the role.
Meng’er Zhang portrays Xialing, Shang-Chi’s estranged sister and Wenwu’s daughter. Meng’er is a relative newcomer and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” marks her first big screen credit. Xialing is based on the comic book character Fah Lo Suee, who was raised to be The Mandarin’s right hand, but eventually attempts to subvert her father’s control by leaving the Ten Rings. In the film, Xialing is similarly estranged from her father and partners with her brother to take him down once and for all. Meng’er told Comic Book Resources that she underwent four months of training before shooting began, explaining, “I didn’t have any martial arts background. I did muay thai, tai chi and some weapons work. They’re all hard but so much fun.” She also called the role “monumental, like a dream come true.”
Andy Le has been revealed as the masked actor portraying the villainous Death Dealer. It’s a huge moment for the star, who up until this point had worked as a stuntman and acted in small roles in “The Paper Tigers” and “Wu-Tang: An American Saga.” In the comics, Death Dealer is an MI6 double agent — and one of Shang-Chi’s closest confidants — who also betrays the hero and his sister by teaming up with their dad and becoming one of the Ten Rings’ deadliest warriors. The stories find the brutal fighter and Shang-Chi fighting to the death, with our hero coming out victorious. The film’s trailer keeps Death Dealer’s identity a secret, only showing them clad in a mask with red, black and white face paint. But given their origins, it’s safe to assume Wenwu will dispatch him to take down his son in a fight for power.
Florian Munteanu is a German Romanian actor, model and former heavyweight boxer who’s best known for his role as boxer Viktor Drago, the son of Ivan Drago, in the 2018 sports drama “Creed II.” Now he’s taking on Shang-Chi as Razor Fist, a skilled martial artist and mercenary with steel blades for hands. The villain is hired to assassinate Shang-Chi, and in the comics, he has a storied history with the Master of Kung Fu, having fought and been defeated by him multiple times. Razor Fist is also known for having served as a nemesis for numerous other Marvel heroes including Wolverine, Hawkeye and Elektra. The film’s trailer teases a a massive fight between Shang-Chi and Razor Fist aboard a San Francisco bus.
Ronny Chieng is a senior correspondent on “The Daily Show” and creator and star of the sitcom “Ronny Chieng: International Student.” The Malaysian comedian and actor had a breakout feature role as the over-ambitious Eddie Cheng in 2018’s “Crazy Rich Asians” before nabbing the part of Jon Jon in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” Not much is known about the character other than that he’s a close friend of both Shang-Chi and Katy. We’ll have to wait until the film’s release to find out if there is more to Jon Jon or if he’ll act as the story’s comic relief.
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton. The Hawaiian-born filmmaker worked at a group home for at-risk teenagers while attending film school. He then used both of those experiences to create the 2009 short film “Short Term 12,” which received acclaim when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It wasn’t long before he moved into feature-length films, writing and directing the indie dramas “I Am Not a Hipster” and the theatrical adaptation of “Short Term 12,” which was nominated for multiple Independent Spirit Awards and served as a breakout for Captain Marvel herself, Brie Larson. Destin then directed the major studio films “The Glass Castle” and “Just Mercy,” both of which reunited him with Brie and received critical raves. In 2019, Marvel announced he would be helming his first blockbuster. He told The Hollywood Reporter in 2020 that he wanted the departure to create a hero he could identify with. “I grew up without a superhero to look up to,” he told the outlet. “I gravitated to Spider-Man when I was a kid, primarily because he had a mask covering his face and I could imagine myself under that mask. I would love to give my son a superhero to look up to. I feel very privileged to be a part of telling that story.”
While “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” marks the title character’s debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, elements of the story do have connections to previous films. Shang-Chi’s father in the movie is The Mandarin, a villain long teased in the “Iron Man” film series. He surfaced in 2013’s “Iron Man 3” as the leader of the Ten Rings before eventually being unmasked as a struggling British actor, played by Ben Kingsley, who was hired to play the villain in order to cover up the story’s true antagonist, Aldrich Killian. As mentioned, the Ten Rings have also played a part in the “Iron Man” movies, starting with overseeing Tony Stark’s capturing in the first film, which prompted him to create the first Iron Man suit. He then spends much of that movie dismantling the organization’s operations in the Middle East. The Ten Rings also appeared in the Marvel One-Shot short “All Hail the King” on the “Thor: The Dark World” Blu-ray and in a deleted scene from “Ant-Man.”
One of the biggest changes in the “Shang-Chi” film is an update to his famous parentage. In the comics, he’s the secret son of the villainous Dr. Fu Manchu, a character who’s also been steeped in racial stereotypes. Marvel Studios doesn’t have the film rights for that character and it’s doubtful it wanted to unearth that problematic elements of the comics. Hence the character has been reconceived as known Marvel supervillain The Mandarin in the movie. The version of The Mandarin portrayed in “Iron Man 3” was essentially a parody version of Fu Manchu, intact with all the same racist tropes. But Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige described Tony Leung’s casting in 2019 as a chance for him to play “the real Mandarin.” As director Destin Daniel Cretton told Observer that same year, “We are not looking to contribute anymore to the Asian stereotypes that we have seen both in cinema and pop culture. We’re hoping to just show some different sides to both Asian Americans and Chinese Americans and Mainland Chinese characters. Tommy is such an incredible actor and I’m excited to have him help us break some of those stereotypes because that villain could easily become a punchline.”
Production on “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” wasn’t without its complications. Filming began in February 2020 but was put on hold in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Work building sets for the film resumed at the end of July 2020, and by the next month, all cast and crew members had arrived in Sydney to begin shooting. Any cast and crew members returning to Australia from outside the country had to be quarantined for two weeks upon arrival before returning to work, according to Australia’s guidelines. Shooting then moved to San Francisco and wrapped by October 2020. As a result of the pandemic, the film’s release date shifted multiple times, originally going from February 2021 to May to July and, ultimately, September. Unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s previous entry, July’s “Black Widow,” “Shang-Chi” won’t be released simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+. Instead, it will be in theaters exclusively for 45 days before being added to the streaming platform.
Following the success of 2018’s “Black Panther” as well as repeated calls for more diversity and “less Chris” in Marvel movies, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is helping expand the scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe while also breaking ground for Asian representation on a blockbuster scale. Star Simu Liu discussed the film’s significance with Entertainment Weekly, calling it “a celebration of our culture” while also pointing out that this is just one step in the battle for visibility in media. “Just because there’s one Asian American superhero in the MCU, it does not by any means imply that our fight is finished right there,” he told the outlet. “When we don’t have to celebrate every single win, I think we’ll be a little bit closer to our goal, but until then, there’s just so much left to do. I’m ready to be in a position where I can effect real change, amplify voices and put people in positions to get stories told that wouldn’t ordinarily get that opportunity. So, yes, all of that stuff I’m ready for. It couldn’t come fast enough, actually.”
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