After SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS opens September 3, 2021 in U.S. theaters, boasting an all new origin story and several new characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. SHANG-CHI represents a departure from our current MCU storyline, while at the same time containing characters referred to all the way back in IRON MAN (2008). That’s how interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe storytelling is, throughout 24 films and 13 years. Read on to learn about the story, the characters and how this film was made.
SHANG-CHI (pronounced “Shong” – rhymes with “wrong”) stars Simu Liu as the titular character, whom we meet as “Shaun” – living in San Francisco and working as a parking valet. But this ordinary man doesn’t stay that way for long. A group of assassins acost him and his best friend Katy (Awkwafina) on a city bus, and take a pendant that Shang-Chi’s mother gave him when he was young. Shang-Chi and Katy leave their safe lives and journey to Macau, to warn Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing (Meng-er Zhang) that danger is coming for her as well. Shang-Chi and Xialing are descendants of one of the world’s greatest criminals, with connections to the Ten Rings organization. Yes, the same organization that initially kidnapped Tony Stark way back in IRON MAN (2008) and resurfaces again in IRON MAN 3.
The film explores the history of the real person who leads the Ten Rings—Xu Wenwu, Shang-Chi’s father (played by Tony Leung). The power of the actual Ten Rings, which are in Wenwu’s possession, allowed him to build the Ten Rings criminal organization. In a Luke vs. Vader moment, Shang-Chi gradually learns he must confront his father. Unlike Luke, Shang-Chi has the help of several amazing characters in this film – Katy, Xialing, his Aunt Ying Nan (Michelle Yeoh) and his mother’s village. Will Shang-Chi stop his father and the mysterious Ten Rings organization? And what will happen to the friends he’s made along the way? SHANG-CHI explores it all.
SHANG-CHI: From Comic Book to Screen
Shang-Chi was a fairly obscure character created by Marvel Comics in the 1970s. These 40-year-old comics represented a challenge to the creative team led by producers Kevin Feige and Jonathan Schwartz. After 40 years, the story needed a significant update.
Jonathan Schwartz (Producer): “In 1973, Shang-Chi was brought to life by big fans of Kung Fu cinema who put the character at the center of a spy-espionage story, which was very much in vogue after the release earlier that year of the martial arts film ‘Enter the Dragon.’ Looking at it today, over 40 years later, and looking at how stories are told, Shang-Chi didn’t really feel right for modern audiences. We had to think about how we wanted that voice to be heard in a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. The character spoke mostly in wise Zen Koans, and it didn’t quite feel right. We wanted to make him feel more like a modern Asian character, and more like someone who inhabited the world that we see and know around us.”
With that in mind, the creative team explored who Shang-Chi could be, beyond “the master of Kung Fu.” Producers Feige and Schwartz specifically wanted an Asian American director to bring this Asian American story to life authentically. The producers settled on Maui-born director Destin Daniel Cretton (The Glass Castle, Just Mercy) after Cretton expressed interest.
Growing up in Hawaii, Cretton says he didn’t have anyone besides Bruce Lee, Rufio from the film “Hook” and wrestler Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat to dress up as on Halloween. Ru-Fi-O!! “Those were my three options. So, the idea of the first Asian superhero was amazing to me.”
Destin Daniel Cretton (Director): “I didn’t think I was ever going to get this job. I thought I would have a meeting to get in Marvel’s ear what I would hope that this first Asian superhero could be, and what it would mean to me, but I also wanted to have the ability to express some of the pitfalls that I thought they should avoid. In that first meeting, I learned that they wanted to tell this story in the right way and look at every character as a multi-dimensional human being – to try to avoid every stereotype that has been hovering around Asian and Asian American characters for a long time. So, it was really inspiring to go in and talk to them at that first meeting.”
Casting Simu Liu as Shaun/Shang-Chi
Destin Daniel Cretton: “Shaun is just a guy who’s trying to figure himself out in the world. Hence, the actor we needed to find had to have the ability to learn incredible fighting skills, but had to also be highly relatable, who could compellingly go on this journey of self-discovery.”
Because they were dealing with an ordinary(ish) guy in an extraordinary situation, they needed someone real, grounded and believable. While still in the audition process, Simu Liu realized this.
Simu Liu: “There is an element of normalness to Marvel heroes. Deep down, they aren’t all six-foot-five Greek gods. They’re flawed. They’re ordinary people put into extraordinary circumstances who make heroic decisions.”
So, Liu crafted the rest of his choices during callbacks, and an eventual screen test, with that in mind. Awkwafina had already been cast at this point, and according to Schwartz, Simu just blew everyone else away.
A few days later, Liu’s phone rang and “all of a sudden my life changed forever.” When a call came in from Burbank, California as an unknown number, Liu knew it was Kevin Feige.
Simu Liu: “In my heart, I knew. I picked up the phone and heard his voice,” recalls Liu. “His voice is so recognizable. Kevin said, ‘I’m here with [Casting Director] Sarah Finn and Destin, and we want to tell you something.’ Then I heard Destin’s voice in the back, ‘We want you to be Shang-Chi.’”
Simu Liu on reading the script for the first time: “When I finally read it, I cried, because there is such an intimate relationship between Shang-Chi and the characters and his family. I realized that the movie is, at the end of the day, about family. I cried because we see an Asian superhero doing superhero things and saving the world. It was such a profound moment for me as a fan, as an actor, as an Asian person. Just incredible.”
Behind-The-Scenes SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS Production
Because SHANG-CHI blends huge action sequences with martial arts, stunts and costumed characters, several departments had to collaborate much more than usual.
Visual eﬀects supervisor Christopher Townsend worked next door to Brad Allan and his stunt team, who continually interacted with production designer Sue Chan, whose team was building sets and having to make sure that they could practically be climbed on and jumped from, as well as with costume designer Kym Barrett to ensure that the actors could move freely for their stunt work in their costumes.
Production Designer Sue Chan grew up watching Kung Fu movies in NYC’s Chinatown. She looked at how these movies and Ang Lee’s films were shot before beginning her design.
Sue Chan (Production Designer): “I realized that in order to shoot Kung Fu and other martial arts, you have a lot of top shots, so the floor really matters. Also, you have to make sure the set is built in such a way that you could use the walls and the columns as props, as well as the furnishings.”
The production team worked very closely with the stunt team to make sure their rigs were integrated into the big set pieces.
Costume Designer Kym Barrett worked closely with Sue Chan and the stunt team to further develop the visual language of SHANG-CHI. First and foremost, she was aware of the need for empowerment of women and different cultural groups.
Kym Barrett (Costume Designer): “We approached everything from that point of view, exploring where people find their own power. For the fight costumes I was interested in how a costume could enhance movement and give you a heightened appreciation of the skill of a performer. All of the elements on the robe are things that really did exist, down to the ties, which were used to attach armor plates to warriors’ robes.”
Early on, Barrett asked the stunt department to rehearse in the robes, to ensure the splits were in the right places and that they weren’t too tight for the required movements.
Kym Barrett (Costume Designer): “I’m most proud of the way Destin and the other writers’ script, and the worlds that Sue and I and our teams created, harmoniously gelled together and that we created a story where all our paths were heading in the same direction. I feel like we created a truly unified whole.”
Kung Fu Inspiration
As martial arts are at the core of the film, authenticity in the fight scenes was key from the outset. Because of the variety of martial arts styles and techniques required, the producers searched all over the world for stunt coordinators, fight coordinators and second unit directors who had done this kind of film before.
Cretton and the producers brought on Brad Allan as second unit director and supervising stunt coordinator, who then engaged expert choreographers from all over the world, as well as elite horseback riders and archers from Mongolia, and movement artists and parkour masters from the United States, Australia and Canada.
Destin Daniel Cretton: “Our goal was to honor the great works of Kung Fu cinema. This film would not exist without them. One thing that every member of the choreography team had in common was a deep, deep respect for the art form. Each one of these fights are not just people punching and kicking each other. Every move tells a story, and it was really enlightening for me to witness that.”
Andy Cheng (Fight coordinator): “We didn’t want to base the fighting style on one type. We wanted to base it on the character and the situation. And when we create that, it makes ‘Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ outstanding. People will know why Shang-Chi is called the Master of Kung Fu. You will have almost every kind of Kung Fu you can imagine.”
SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS Review
SHANG-CHI offers a completely unique perspective, distinct from any other MCU film. ANT-MAN is a comedy, THE WINTER SOLDIER is a conspiracy-thriller. SHANG-CHI draws on Kung Fu and martial arts movies, while at the same time creating fantastic origin stories for several characters in the film, not just Shang-Chi. After 23 films, Marvel Studios’ keeps knocking them out of the park, and SHANG-CHI is no exception. Above all, this film was made for a theater – fantastic imagery, great tone, great characters and an exciting story with stunning visuals.
The film balances deftly between character journeys and incredible action sequences. Not ten minutes in, you are watching an incredible fight scene on a moving bus throughout the hilly streets of San Francisco. This is deftly juxtaposed when Shang-Chi’s future parents Wenwu and Li encounter each other in the forest. They engage in a dance of courtship and kung-fu mastery, at the same time gauging each other’s combative powers.
Every fight scene is beautiful and emotional because each propels the story. I equate each stunning action sequence with songs in a musical. When done correctly, the music expands upon the story and the character’s emotional state. SHANG-CHI uses this trope for its action scenes.
Perhaps the cherry on top is the patented MCU humor. Humor was vital at key moments in the fight sequences, and happened naturally, in part, because of the casting. Awkwafina, in particular, shines in this role. Speaking of Awkwafina, Shang-Chi is surrounded by several strong women. His sister Xialing is even stronger and more driven than Shang-Chi. Awkwafina’s role goes beyond comic relief and she gets her own character journey. Shang-Chi’s mother and aunt both are strong figures in his life. This film just fires on all cylinders.
SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS opens in U.S. theaters on September 3, 2021. Will you see it in the theater? What did you think? Please let us know on Facebook or Instagram, and join our Facebook Group for family, friendly camaraderie.
All quotes are courtesy of Disney+ Media Production Notes and Press Releases.