Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a 2021 American superhero film based on Marvel Comics featuring the character Shang-Chi. Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, it is the 25th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film was directed by Destin Daniel Cretton from a screenplay he wrote with Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham, and stars Simu Liu as Shang-Chi alongside Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Yuen Wah, Michelle Yeoh, Ben Kingsley, and Tony Leung. In the film, Shang-Chi is forced to confront his past when his father Wenwu (Leung), the leader of the Ten Rings terrorist organization, draws Shang-Chi and his sister Xialing (Zhang) into a search for a mythical village.
A film based on Shang-Chi entered development in 2001, but work did not begin in earnest until December 2018 when Callaham was hired. Cretton joined in March 2019, and the film’s title and primary cast were announced that July. This revealed the film’s connection to the Ten Rings organization, which previously appeared throughout the MCU, and its leader Wenwu who was adapted from the problematic comic book characters Fu Manchu and the Mandarin. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the first Marvel Studios film with an Asian director and a predominantly Asian cast. Filming began in Sydney in February 2020 but was put on hold in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Production resumed in August and ended in October, with additional filming in San Francisco. Brad Allan and other members of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team coordinated the fight sequences.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings premiered in Los Angeles on August 16, 2021, and was released in the United States on September 3 as part of Phase Four of the MCU. It grossed over $432 million worldwide, making it the ninth-highest-grossing film of 2021. It set several box office records and received positive reviews from critics, many of whom praised the action sequences, exploration and representation of Asian culture, Cretton’s direction, and the performances of Liu and Leung. The film received various accolades, including a nomination for Best Visual Effects at the 94th Academy Awards. A sequel is in development.
According to Margaret Loesch, former president and CEO of Marvel Productions, Stan Lee discussed a potential film or television series based on the Marvel Comics character Shang-Chi with actor Brandon Lee and his mother Linda Lee during the 1980s, with the intention of having Brandon Lee star as the character. Brandon’s father, martial arts legend Bruce Lee, was the visual inspiration for artist Paul Gulacy when drawing Shang-Chi during his tenure on the Master of Kung Fu comic book in the 1970s. In 2001, Stephen Norrington signed on to direct a Shang-Chi film entitled The Hands of Shang-Chi. By 2003, it was in development at DreamWorks Pictures with Yuen Woo-Ping replacing Norrington as director and Bruce C. McKenna writing the screenplay. Ang Lee joined the project as a producer in 2004, but it did not materialize and the rights to the character reverted to Marvel. In September 2005, Marvel chairman and CEO Avi Arad announced Shang-Chi as one of ten properties being developed as films by the newly formed Marvel Studios, after the company received financing to produce the slate with Paramount Pictures as distributor. Marvel thought the character could make a great film, despite being relatively unknown, because he has a “very Disney story” in the comic books.
The Ten Rings organization were introduced in Marvel Studios’ first Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film, Iron Man (2008), without their leader the Mandarin. Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige felt they could not do the character justice in the Iron Man films because they focused on Tony Stark / Iron Man, and planned to introduce him in a later film instead. According to Chris Fenton, former president of the Chinese-based film production company DMG Entertainment that was in talks with Marvel Studios to co-produce their films, Marvel offered to create a teaser featuring either Shang-Chi or the Mandarin for the Chinese market that would be featured at the end of The Avengers (2012). DMG balked at the offer since the Mandarin’s negative stereotypical portrayal in the comics could potentially prevent the film from releasing in China and risk DMG being shut down. The Mandarin would eventually appear in the DMG co-produced film Iron Man 3 (2013) portrayed by Ben Kingsley, but he is revealed to be an actor named Trevor Slattery who was hired to pose as the Mandarin. Feige felt this did not necessarily mean a more faithful version of the character did not exist in the MCU, and this was confirmed in the Marvel One-Shot short film All Hail the King (2014) in which Kingsley reprised his role as Slattery.
By December 2018, Marvel had fast-tracked development of a Shang-Chi film with the intent of making it their first film with an Asian lead. Marvel hired Chinese-American writer Dave Callaham to write the screenplay, and began looking at Asian and Asian-American filmmakers to potentially direct the film. The studios’ goal was to explore Asian and Asian-American themes presented by Asian and Asian-American filmmakers, as they had done for African and African-American culture with Black Panther earlier in 2018. Development of the film also came following the success of the film Crazy Rich Asians that was likewise released earlier in 2018 and led to several other Asian-led properties being developed by Hollywood studios. Callaham’s script was expected to modernize elements of the comic book story, which was first written in the 1970s, to avoid what modern audiences would consider to be negative stereotypes. When Callaham began work on the script, he became emotional realizing it was the first project where he was asked to write “from my own experience, from my own perspective”. Jessica Gao, who would later become the head writer of the Marvel Studios television series She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (2022), also presented a pitch for the film. Richard Newby of The Hollywood Reporter said the film could “break out in a way similar to Black Panther” by bringing a new perspective to the character. Newby felt Shang-Chi could have worked well as a television series, and said it “speaks volumes” that Marvel would decide to make a feature film about the character instead. Newby concluded that the film was an opportunity to avoid stereotypes about Asian martial artists and be “more than Marvel’s Bruce Lee”.
Marvel Studios hired Japanese-American filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton to direct the film in March 2019. Deborah Chow—who previously directed episodes of Marvel Television’s Iron Fist and Jessica Jones series—Justin Tipping, and Alan Yang were also considered. Cretton had previously not been interested in directing a superhero film, but was drawn to the project to help create a world and character that Asian children could look up to and see themselves in. His pitch included visual inspiration from Chinese, South Korean, Japanese, and other Asian cinema, including anime, to highlight a tone that showed “the drama and the pain of life, but also show[ed] the humor of life”. In April, Marvel Studios and Australian Arts Minister Mitch Fifield announced that an upcoming Marvel film, believed to be Shang-Chi, would be filmed at Fox Studios Australia in Sydney and on location throughout the state of New South Wales. The production received AU$24 million (US$18 million) in one-off funding from the Australian government, as well as backing from the AU$10 million (US$8 million) “Made in NSW” state fund. The production was expected to generate AU$150 million (US$113 million) for the Australian economy as well as 4,700 new jobs, while taking advantage of around 1,200 local businesses. Don Harwin, the New South Wales Arts Minister, confirmed in July that this film was Shang-Chi and it would be produced back-to-back with Marvel Studios’ Thor: Love and Thunder (2022). Production on Shang-Chi was set to begin in early 2020 and be completed later that year.
- Simu Liu as Xu Shang-Chi / Shaun:
A skilled martial artist who was trained at a young age to be an assassin by his father Wenwu. Shang-Chi left the Ten Rings organization for a normal life in San Francisco, and changed his name to “Shaun”. Director Destin Daniel Cretton characterized Shang-Chi as a fish out of water in the U.S. who attempts to hide that with his charisma, and does not know “who he really is”. Cretton also compared Shang-Chi to Matt Damon’s character Will Hunting from Good Will Hunting (1997), with both characters combining masculinity and vulnerability, and having secrets and superpowers that they do not understand. Cretton said the film was a journey for Shang-Chi to discover his place in the world, and Liu added that Shang-Chi’s identity struggles are the core of the character rather than his martial arts skills. Liu performed many of his own stunts since the character does not wear a mask, and put on 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of muscle for the role while working on his flexibility. Liu was knowledgeable in taekwondo, gymnastics, and Wing Chun, and learned and trained in tai chi, wushu, Muay Thai, silat, Krav Maga, jiu-jitsu, boxing, and street fighting for the film. Jayden Zhang and Arnold Sun portray Shang-Chi as a child and teenager, respectively.
- Awkwafina as Katy:
A hotel valet and Shang-Chi’s best friend in San Francisco who is unaware of his past. Awkwafina described Katy as relatable, with a “real heart” and dedication to Shang-Chi, who is “thrust into a world where she doesn’t really know what to do discovering things about herself”. Katy has difficulty committing to a direction in her life, something Awkwafina felt was a relatable struggle for a lot of Asian Americans due to their own expectations as well as those of their parents and society.
- Meng’er Zhang as Xu Xialing:
Shang-Chi’s estranged younger sister and Wenwu’s daughter, who was excluded from the Ten Rings organization by her father due to his traditional gender bias. Xialing is an amalgamation of several comic book characters, particularly inspired by Zheng Bao Yu. This was Zhang’s first film role, and she said the character was vulnerable behind her tough exterior. She originally had a red streak in her hair but Zhang asked for this to be removed during filming after discovering the style’s association with the “rebellious Asian girl” stereotype; the streak was removed from existing footage in post-production with visual effects. For the role, Zhang trained in MMA, tai chi, and rope dart. Elodie Fong and Harmonie He portray Xialing as a child and teenager, respectively.
- Fala Chen as Ying Li: Wenwu’s wife and the mother of Shang-Chi and Xialing who was a guardian of Ta Lo. Chen studied tai chi for the role.
- Florian Munteanu as Razor Fist: A member of the Ten Rings who has a machete blade for his right hand.
- Benedict Wong as Wong: A Master of the Mystic Arts participating in a cage fighting tournament with Emil Blonsky.
- Yuen Wah as Guang Bo: One of the leaders of Ta Lo.
- Michelle Yeoh as Ying Nan: A guardian of Ta Lo who is Shang-Chi and Xialing’s aunt.
- Ben Kingsley as Trevor Slattery:
An actor who previously took on the guise of the Mandarin and was abducted by the Ten Rings, becoming a “court jester” or Shakespearean fool for Wenwu. He has a close relationship with the mythical hundun Morris, and journeys to Ta Lo with Shang-Chi. Cretton felt it was “essential to hear [Slattery] admit how ridiculous that whole [Mandarin impersonation] situation was”, as seen in Iron Man 3 (2013) and the Marvel One-Shot short film All Hail the King (2014), feeling that having Slattery apologize for impersonating Wenwu was the perfect way to apologize for the racial stereotypes surrounding the Mandarin. Kingsley enjoyed revisiting and developing the character, with Cretton saying Kingsley was able to portray “a Trevor who has actually benefited from being in prison and has come out a clean and sober version of himself”.
- Tony Leung as Xu Wenwu:
Shang-Chi and Xialing’s father and the leader of the Ten Rings. Wenwu is an original character created for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) who replaces Shang-Chi’s original comic book father Fu Manchu, a “problematic character” associated with racist stereotypes to whom Marvel Studios does not hold the film rights. In the film, Wenwu has taken on many different names, including “The Mandarin”, which is a name that producer Jonathan Schwartz noted comes with audience expectations due to its comic book history. He said Wenwu was a more complex and layered character than the comic book version, with Cretton adding that there were problematic aspects of the Mandarin’s comic book portrayal that he wanted to change. He felt Leung avoided Asian stereotypes and a one-dimensional portrayal by bringing humanity and love to the role, describing Wenwu as a “fully realized human” with relatable reasons for his bad decisions. Leung did not want to approach the character as a villain, instead hoping to explore the reasons behind why he is “a man with history, who craves to be loved”, describing him as “a sociopath, a narcissist, a bigot”. This was Leung’s first Hollywood film after a long career primarily in Hong Kong action cinema.
September 2, 2021
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