The Who, What, and Why of Marvel’s Epic New Movie, ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’

Well, this is kind of embarrassing. Monday, April 19, was Simu Liu’s birthday, and all I got him was an edible arrangement. In any other instance, that would be a perfectly safe and standard gift, in my opinion. But of course, here comes Marvel in an epic move of one-upmanship with the release of the Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings teaser trailer! Though in all fairness, their gift is way more universal than mine.

That’s right, after years of anticipation, the first trailer for Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has arrived. Surprising Simu Liu and everyone else on his birthday, Marvel released the two-minute trailer online on their official Marvel Entertainment YouTube channel. The trailer’s full of martial arts action and an ominous voiceover that perfectly sets the tone for Marvel’s first Asian-led feature film. If you haven’t already (or if you have and you just really want to watch it again), check the trailer out below:

Marvel Entertainment

After you’ve finished over-utilizing YouTube’s replay button, keep on reading to get the 411 on Shang-Chi, including the characters, the cast bringing them to life, and why Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings should absolutely be high up on your MCU watchlist.

Who is Shang-Chi?

There’s no other way to start off an article detailing a Shang-Chi movie without first getting into who the titular character is. Shang-Chi isn’t as household a name as some of his fellow MCU heroes. A fact that will hopefully change when the movie comes out. Shang-Chi’s comic book history is one muddled with several retcons and rewrites as a direct result of some legal issues surrounding interpretations of less-than-respectful Sax Rohmer characters like Fu Manchu.

Originally, Marvel tried to get the rights to adapt Kung Fu, a television program following a Shaolin monk’s journey through the American Wild Wild West. When the show’s distributor, Warner Communications (i.e., the owner of DC Comics) denied Marvel the rights, the story of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu, and his father Fu Manchu was born.

Since his debut in 1972, Shang-Chi has become Marvel’s premiere martial arts expert, and their primary guide to the comic company’s interpretation of the ancient art of Kung-Fu and stories of the mystic variety. The Fu Manchu connection has thankfully been dropped, and Shang-Chi has instead used his endless knowledge of martial arts and weapon mastery to face off against some of Marvel’s strongest. He’s battled Gods and trained superheroes like Spider-Man and Captain America, all without any superhuman abilities!

When Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings makes its way to theaters, the titular hero will be portrayed by actor Simu Liu. Liu was born in Harbin, Heilongjiang, China, before moving to Canada when he was five years old. Though he started his career with smaller roles in films like Pacific Rim and shows like Warehouse 13 and Nikita, his biggest role pre-Shang-Chi is undoubtedly as Jung Kim in the hit series, Kim’s Convenience. The criminally underrated show focused on the every day life of the Kim family and their convenience store in Toronto. Liu practiced and performed a majority of his own stunts in preparation for the role, something clearly seen in the trailer and that we’ll get to see in fuller detail when he brings Shang-Chi’s heart and martial prowess to the big screen.

Who is Katy?

Next up is Katy, Shang-Chi’s civilian friend who (for the time being) has no idea about his past or his connection to The Mandarin and the Ten Rings. As far as can be told at the moment, Katy isn’t actually a character adapted from any existing Marvel Comics character. With that in mind, her role will likely be that of the “completely normal character who gets whisked into the magical and dangerous side of the MCU.” Think something along the lines of Darcy Lewis from WandaVision and the first two Thor films.

That isn’t to say Katy won’t have a huge role to play in the story of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Her actor, Awkwafina, describes Katy as a dedicated character with “real heart,” someone that Shang-Chi can absolutely rely on when things get hairy. We saw proof of that in the trailer, when she narrowly rescued herself, Shang-Chi, and bus full of citizens from certain death.

Speaking of Awkwafina, the actor has more than enough talent and experience to make Katy a character to keep a watchful eye on. Real name Nora Lum, she was born on Long Island, New York. An actor, musician, and celebrated comedian, Awkwafina’s credentials are too much to list here in their entirety. But some of her most notable appearances include Ocean’s 8, Crazy Rich Asians, and Raya and the Last Dragon. Right now, you can watch her play Nora Lin, a fictionalized version of herself in the Comedy Central original series Awkwafina is Nora from Queens.

Who is Wenwu?

Getting to the main antagonist of the film, Wenwu is not a villain to scoff at. Though, like Katy, Wenwu is an original creation for the MCU, he isn’t entirely new. Instead, Wenwu will be taking on the role and title of “The Mandarin,” an historic Marvel villain that dates back all the way to 1964. Wenwu will also take on the role of Shang-Chi’s father, replacing the problematic stereotype that was Fu Manchu from the comics.

But because of this, it’s unclear just how much inspiration from the comics Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will employ when it comes to Wenwu. We know he’ll be a master of martial arts on par with, if not stronger than, Shang-Chi, given he’s his father and The Mandarin in the comics is already an expert fighter. Judging by the title of the movie, it’s safe to assume he’ll come into contact with The Mandarin’s fabled ten rings, each of them imbued with a different kind of magical ability. Though it’s not a perfect comparison, they sort of operate in a manner similar to the Green Lantern rings from DC Comics.

What we know for sure is that Wenwu will be portrayed by the legendary Tony Leung. Though every name on the cast list is one to make note of, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention just how exciting it is to see Leung in action in the trailer. Born in Hong Kong, Tony Leung began his acting career on television and starring in several films, including People’s Hero and A City of Sadness, before becoming one of legendary director Wong Kar Wai’s muses in films like Chungking Express, Happy Together, In the Mood for Love, and The Grandmaster. The latter of which is one of several film adaptations focused on the life and musings of the legendary martial arts master, Ip Man.

Leung’s portrayal of Wenwu/The Mandarin will be vastly different from the usual portrayal of villains in these kinds of stories. He won’t be as one-note or cliché, and certainly won’t be as troubling and offensive as Fu Manchu, or even The Mandarin often was in the early comics. Director Destin Daniel Cretton describes Wenwu as a “complex and layered take,” assuring that Leung’s acting ability will bring out the humanity and the love within the character. So it’s safe to say you’ll want to bring some tissues with you to the theater.

Who is Destin Daniel Cretton?

Finally, we have the co-writer and director of the film, the one with a huge hand in bringing Shang-Chi to the MCU: Destin Daniel Cretton. If that name already sounds familiar to you, it should. Born in Haiku, Hawaii, and graduating from film school at San Diego State, Cretton is still a fairly new face in Hollywood. But he’s already made a name for himself by attaching it to some truly incredible films that have come out in recent years.

He started with the drama film I Am Not A Hipster, his directorial debut that Cretton also wrote and produced. After that he wrote and directed Short Term 12, The Glass Castle, and Just Mercy. All three of which starred Marvel-familiar Brie Larson (the latter of which also starred Killmonger himself, Michael B. Jordan).

With a handful of successful indie titles under his belt, it was only a matter of time before Cretton got the keys to a really big project, and that project is Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Though he didn’t initially have the desire to make a big-budget superhero film, Cretton accepted the task from Marvel in an effort to create larger stories full of characters that Asian children could look up to and see themselves in.

So, Why Shang-Chi?

You’re probably asking yourself that question if you aren’t already excited for the film. With the sheer massive size of the MCU landscape, and the nature of the stories they seem to be telling right now, it’s understandable why Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings might be falling under some people’s radar. A radar that’s already making room for the upcoming Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, and Thor projects, on top of the Disney+ shows. All of which seem to be promoting some kind of interconnectivity that will transform the Marvel Cinematic Universe into some kind of Marvel Cinematic Multiverse. That’s all exciting, but don’t count Shang-Chi out just yet.

For one thing, Destin Daniel Cretton’s aim to give Asian youth a live-action superhero they can look up to is a very important mission. The simple fact is there still isn’t a ton of diverse representation in comics, even less so in the live-action aspect. It’s important that characters like Shang-Chi, T’Challa, and Kamala Khan receive live-action projects so that people of all kinds, from everywhere, can have representation in a medium that they love. Comics are universal, so it’s time they start reflecting that in any way that they can.

On the more in-universe side of things, Shang-Chi is more than just necessary representation — he’s a martial arts powerhouse. As I mentioned before, he’s trained several of Marvel’s strongest and most proficient fighters, teaching them techniques and helping them realize things about their particular style of fighting that they hadn’t before. This is an aspect of the character I can’t see Marvel neglecting to bring to the MCU. On top of that, his connection to The Mandarin and the Ten Rings loops his story back to the very beginning of the MCU. After all, the terrorist group that kidnapped Tony Stark (an act that directly led to him becoming Iron Man) in the first Iron Man film were followers of The Mandarin and the legend of his magic rings.

We don’t yet know how much this version of The Mandarin will connect to the version seen in Iron Man 3, if at all, but we know that the inclusion of his rings will likely see Shang-Chi’s world crossover with that of Doctor Strange and other mystical aspects of the MCU. So yeah, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a movie that you don’t want to miss for several reasons. You can find out for yourself when the film releases in theaters worldwide on September 3, 2021.

2 thoughts on “The Who, What, and Why of Marvel’s Epic New Movie, ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’

  1. Katy really looks like a great character in the bus scene. Reminds me a little of Sandra Bullock driving the bus in Speed (which is a good thing).
    “As I mentioned before, he’s trained several of Marvel’s strongest and most proficient fighters, teaching them techniques and helping them realize things about their particular style of fighting that they hadn’t before.” I wasn’t aware of that as my comics reading is a lot more erratic these days. Cool idea, though — DC’s done the same thing with Wildcat.

    1. You can’t go wrong with a little “Speed” homage in your movie haha. Oh yeah, Shang-Chi has tussled with the best and taught a few of them some lessons here and there in Marvel Comics. My favorite is when he develops the “Way of the Spider” with Peter Parker! Wildcat is a great character! I’m hoping DC utilizes him in their live action films one day.

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