Who Is Shang-Chi?
As we get closer to the September 3 premiere of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the anticipation is rising for the MCU debut of such an important Marvel hero. Shang-Chi will be the first Marvel film with an Asian lead and a primarily Asian cast, further expanding representation in the growing Multiverse. Simu Liu will play Shang-Chi, with Tony Leung as Shang’s father Wenwu, Michelle Yeoh as Jiang Nan, and Awkwafina as Shang’s friend Katy.
Behind the scenes, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is also being led by an Asian American director (Destin Daniel Cretton), writer (David Callaham), and production designer (Sue Chan). Cretton is known for Just Mercy, which starred Michael B. Jordan as civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevenson, and The Glass Castle, a film starring Brie Larson as she endures difficult family relationships (more on how that relates to Shang-Chi later). He has also worked with Black Panther director Ryan Coogler. The film most likely takes place after the events of Endgame, a time in which there’s room for new heroes to appear.
Shang-Chi’s road to an MCU debut has been, admittedly, a bit confusing. Characters close to Shang-Chi have had to be reimagined for 2021 audiences due to racist tropes. As a result, Shang’s own family history in the MCU will differ slightly from his origins in the comics. Let’s take a closer look at the comics history of Shang-Chi and the revisions made for the upcoming film.
Shang-Chi: Hero on the Rise
Shang-Chi first appeared during the Bronze Age of comics in Special Marvel Edition #15 (1973) as a character created by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin (also the creator of Thanos). Shang-Chi was initially conceptualized as the son of Fu Manchu, a villain from Sax Rohmer that Marvel had acquired the rights to and, as a result, many initial supporting characters for Shang-Chi were Rohmer creations as well. However, Fu Manchu’s basis in racist stereotypes has led to a complicated family history for Shang-Chi.
As with many heroes, and even everyday people, Shang-Chi struggles with his legacy. He must grapple with the shadow of his father’s criminal behavior while finding his own place within the super hero world, two obstacles that are difficult enough on their own, let alone together. Interestingly, the components of Shang-Chi’s name carry a meaning that also foreshadows hope for this conflicted hero. Translated from Mandarin, shàng can be interpreted as “ascending” or even “superior” while chi refers to a person’s spirit, or life force. In other words, Shang-Chi might struggle with his past but he’s destined to rise above.
Now, a new question surfaces: What’s the deal with Shang-Chi’s father? In bringing Shang-Chi’s criminal mastermind father to the big screen, director Cretton acknowledged that the film would have to avoid “creating a Mandarin that was further contributing to the ‘Yellow Peril’ type of stereotypes that are still flying around.” Everyone from Marvel to the character’s creator Starlin acknowledged that racism has no place in a modern version of Shang-Chi. Over the years, references to Shang-Chi’s parentage became purposely ambiguous in the comics until 2010, when it was revealed that his father is actually an ancient sorcerer, Zheng Zu. However, that won’t exactly be the case in the MCU.
Here is where things get a little tricky. Back in the Iron Man films, references were already being planted for the Mandarin. The Ten Rings was introduced as a terrorist organization and an imposter of the notorious villain was even featured in Iron Man 3. In Shang-Chi’s film debut, his father will be the actual Mandarin, a man named Wenwu.
In the comics, the Mandarin is a genius-level scientist who uses Makluan technology to construct a global web of criminal activity (with the guidance of the gargantuan Makluan dragon, Fin Fang Foom). He is also a legendary adversary of Iron Man. The alien technology that he harnesses comes in the form of ten rings, which grant him various elemental superpowers. Based on the prominence of the rings and a quick dragon’s appearance in the trailers, it would appear this is close to the MCU version of the Mandarin.
As previously stated, Shang-Chi’s story often has connections to Tony Stark, but Shang-Chi also has history with the famed Avengers and the X-Men. In fact, Shang-Chi has contributed to multiple teams over the years, such as the Secret Avengers, Heroes for Hire, and Greg Pak and Gang Hyuk Lim’s recent Agents of Atlas series. He has assisted both Spider-Man and Wolverine on various adventures, and he even briefly tried his luck with Domino. Shang-Chi has also been closely associated with MI6 since the beginning of his career as a hero.
In the comics, Shang-Chi’s father has spun a convoluted web of betrayal and deception among his many children, making sibling rivalry a common conflict for Shang-Chi. One of his sisters, Zheng Bao Yu, stands out in particular as a formidable opponent. In the upcoming film, Meng’er Zhang will play Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing and there will most certainly be tension between these two skilled fighters.
Future MCU Connections
Solely based on casting credits, there could also be some connections between what we see in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and future MCU titles. At this point it’s purely conjecture since Phase 4 is still in development, but a little prophecy never hurt, right?
Benedict Wong will return as Wong, Doctor Strange’s close mystical associate, which plants a connection to another upcoming Marvel title, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Likewise, we’ve seen Abomination make an appearance in the Shang-Chi trailer, and Abomination is a frequent antagonist to Jennifer Walters, who is getting her own series in 2022 with She-Hulk on Disney+. Another 2022 Disney+ premiere, Moon Knight, could be hinted at in Shang-Chi since both titular heroes have worked together multiple times throughout the years.
The premiere of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will be a momentous achievement for Marvel cinematic history. As the MCU expands, fans remain hopeful to see increasingly diverse and inclusive stories and characters leap from the page to the screen. In addition, this film will help usher in a new era of MCU content, in which the new heroes of Phase 4 begin to assemble. Shang-Chi promises plenty of family rivalries, betrayals, and classic Marvel movie action.
What are you most looking forward to from Shang-Chi? Let us know in the comments and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!