Shang-Chi
Marvel Cinematic Universe character
Simu Liu as Shang-Chi.jpg
Simu Liu as Shang-Chi shang chi full in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021).
First appearanceShang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
Based on
Adapted by
Portrayed by
  • Simu Liu
  • Jayden Tianyi Zhang (young)
  • Arnold Sun (teenager)
In-universe information
Full nameXu Shang-Chi
AliasShaun
Occupation
Affiliation
Weapon
Family
RelativesYing Nan (aunt)
NationalityChinese-American
Xu Shang-Chi
Simplified Chinese徐尚气
Traditional Chinese徐尚氣

Xu Shang-Chi (English: /ˈʃ ʃɑːŋˈ/ SHOO shahng-CHEE; Chinese: 徐尚气; pinyin: Xú Shàngqì) is a fictional character portrayed by Simu Liu in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) multimedia franchise, based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. In the franchise, Shang-Chi is the son of Ying Li and Wenwu, the founder and first leader of the Ten Rings terrorist organization. Trained to be a highly skilled martial artist and assassin by his father, alongside his sister Xialing, Shang-Chi left the Ten Rings for a normal life in San Francisco, only to be drawn back into the world he left behind when Wenwu seeks him out.

Shang-Chi has been noted as being the first Asian superhero to lead a large-budget film, and Liu's portrayal has been positively received. He first appeared in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021), and will return in the film's sequel. An alternate version of the character is set to appear in the animated series Marvel Zombies (2024).[1]

Concept and creation

The character was conceived in late 1972 by writer Steve Englehart and artist Jim Starlin. Marvel Comics had wished to acquire the rights to adapt the Kung Fu television program, but were denied permission by Warner Communications, who was also the owner of Marvel's primary rival, DC Comics.[2] Instead, Marvel acquired the comic book rights to Sax Rohmer's pulp villain Dr. Fu Manchu.[3] Englehart and Starlin developed Shang-Chi, a master of kung fu, who was introduced as a previously unknown son of Fu Manchu.[4][5] Though an original character himself, many of Shang-Chi's supporting characters were Rohmer creations. Starlin left the series after #17 (replaced by Paul Gulacy) and Englehart after #19 (replaced by Doug Moench). No characters from the Kung Fu television series were officially included in the comic series, though in the #19 issue the character Lu Sun bore such a strong resemblance to Kwai Chang Caine that to avoid copyright issues, the character was given a mustache throughout the issue.[6] With artist Paul Gulacy, Shang-Chi's visual appearance was modeled after that of Bruce Lee.[7] According to Englehart, his name was influenced by his study of the I-Ching,[8] composed of 升 (shēng) meaning "ascending" and chi meaning vital energy.[9]

Shang-Chi first appeared in Special Marvel Edition #15 (December 1973).[10] He appeared again in issue #16, and with issue #17 (April 1974) the title was changed to The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu. Amidst the martial arts craze in the United States in the 1970s, the book became very popular, surviving until issue #125 (June 1983), a run including four giant-size issues and an annual.[11] In the comics, Shang-Chi is raised by his father Dr. Fu Manchu to be the ultimate assassin for the would-be world conqueror. After learning Fu Manchu's evil nature, Shang-Chi swears eternal opposition to his father's ambitions and fights him as a force for good. As the result of Marvel later losing the rights to the Rohmer estate, Fu Manchu was later renamed Zheng Zu.[12][13] Starlin, who was previously unfamiliar with Fu Manchu until Larry Hama informed him of the racist nature of the Rohmer novels, attributed his early departure from the series due to his embarrassment over the revelation.[14] In the 2015 "Secret Wars" storyline, a version of Shang-Chi resides in the wuxia-inspired K'un-Lun region of Battleworld. In this continuity, he is the exiled son of Emperor Zheng Zu, master of the Ten Rings, a ruthless martial arts clan that uses mystical powers and techniques based on the powers of the Mandarin's ten rings from the mainstream continuity.[15][13]

According to Ed Brubaker, the copyright issue was one of the reasons for using the Mandarin as Shang-Chi's father.[16] In the main continuity, the Mandarin had a son called Temugin who was trained in a monastery in martial arts and philosophy, his name is inspired by the real name of Genghis Khan, ancestor of the Mandarin.[17]

According to Margaret Loesch, former president and CEO of Marvel Productions, in the 1980s Stan Lee approached Brandon Lee to play Shang-Chi for a movie or television series starring the character.[18] In 2001, a Shang-Chi film entered development at DreamWorks Pictures but after failing to materialize by 2004, the rights to the character were reverted to Marvel.[19][20][21] In 2004, David Maisel was hired as chief operating officer of Marvel Studios as he had a plan for the studio to self-finance movies.[22] Marvel entered into a non-recourse debt structure with Merrill Lynch, under which Marvel got $525 million to make a maximum of 10 movies based on the company's properties over eight years, collateralized by certain movie rights to a total of 10 characters, including Shang-Chi.[23] Following the successes of Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians (both 2018), Marvel fast-tracked development of a Shang-Chi film, hiring David Callaham in December 2018 to write the screenplay and Destin Daniel Cretton to direct in March 2019.[24][25][26] Cretton also contributed to Callaham's screenplay.[27] Chinese Canadian actor Simu Liu, who had previously expressed interest in the role, was cast as Shang-Chi in July 2019, which was publicly announced by Cretton and Kevin Feige days later, along with the film's full title to be Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.[28] After he was cast, Liu was called by Feige, saying that Liu's life was "about to change",[29] having previously petitioning for the role since December 2018.[30]

Characterization

Simu Liu promoting Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con

Inspirations and dispelling stereotypes

Both being of Asian descent, Cretton and Callaham were cognizant of some of the racial stereotypes surrounding Shang-Chi in the comics, with Liu saying everyone involved was "very sensitive to not have it go into stereotypical territory". Cretton believed the resulting script for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was a "really beautiful update" to the character from what began in the comics, and was an authentic story about Asian identity.[31] Callaham added that there is "no single Asian American voice", and he and Cretton contemplated how the film could speak to "the wider Asian diaspora" and would be "exciting and entertaining, but also personal to all these people".[32] Cretton likened Shang-Chi to Will Hunting from Good Will Hunting (1997), who is a "mixture of masculinity and vulnerability", noting both characters had secrets and superpowers they do not understand while Liu believed that Shang-Chi's struggles with identity were the core of the character, rather than his martial arts skills.[32][33]

When he was contacted to portray the role, Liu wanted the film to "allow society to see Asian men as powerful, desirable and an aspiration of possibility." Liu used experiences as a child battling stereotypes and 'microaggressions as being relatable to Shang-Chi's character arc of coming to terms with his heritage. He also sought to dispel stereotypes originating from Bruce Lee films in the 1970s that all Asian men know martial arts, making it clear in an Instagram caption that "Asian actors don't just do kung fu; but Shang-Chi does. It's one of the many things that flesh out his personality, but it's easily the most challenging from a physical perspective.”[34] Despite knowing little about the character at first, Liu was reassured early in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings's production that "it was very clear from the get-go that [Cretton] was committed to telling an origin story of a hero [that] was not stereotypical, not a trope, who was fully three-dimensional and had a fully modernized [2021] origin story. In addition to Bruce Lee he also cited Jet Li as one of his inspirations when approaching the character.[35]

Character journey and fighting style

Shang-Chi leaves the Ten Rings organization for a normal life in San Francisco,[28][31] with director Destin Daniel Cretton characterizing Shang-Chi as a fish out of water in the U.S. who attempts to hide that with his charisma,[31] and does not know "who he really is".[36] Shang-Chi changes his name to "Shaun" while living in San Francisco.[37][38] Of Shang-Chi's decision to live a normal life, Liu found that "what he does is a little bit extreme. And it's also because he was raised under very extreme circumstances...I can't really fault him from taking extreme measures to get out of that situation."[39] Cretton described Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings as "a journey of stepping into who [Shang-Chi] is and what he's meant to be in this world".[40] Since the character does not wear a mask, Liu performed many of his own stunts,[31] having to work on his flexibility ahead of filming to do so. Liu also put on 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of muscle for the role.[33] Liu was knowledgable in taekwondo, gymnastics, and Wing Chun,[41] and learned and trained in tai chi,[42] wushu, Muay Thai, silat, Krav Maga, jiu-jitsu, boxing, and street fighting for the film.[43] Liu called the process of training and performing stunts to be "exhausting. there were a lot of grueling hours...but it was one of the most fulfilling experiences in my life."[44] Jayden Zhang and Arnold Sun portray Shang-Chi as a child and as a teenager, respectively.[45]

For an early sequence in the film where Shang-Chi fights off assassins form the Ten Rings, Cretton took heavy inspiration from the works of Jackie Chan, working closely with choreographers Brad Allan and Andy Cheng, who were both trained in Chan's stunt team. Cretton stated that his favorite moment of the sequence was "The jacket stunt...when he’s able to take his jacket off, spin it around and throw his jacket back on. It's a straight nod to Jackie Chan from the stunt team of Jackie Chan."[46]

Fictional character biography

Early life

Xu Shang-Chi was born to Xu Wenwu, the ancient leader of the Ten Rings organization, and Ying Li, a guardian of the mystical village of Ta Lo in an alternate universe. Shang-Chi's childhood was blissful, with his father renouncing his criminal ways to spend time with his family and his mother entertaining him and his sister Xialing with tales of her village. When Li is murdered by the Iron Gang, old rivals of the Ten Rings, Wenwu takes up his mystical ten rings and takes Shang-Chi with him to the Iron Gang's hideout, where he proceeds to brutally massacre the gang. Wenwu reactivates the Ten Rings organization and has Shang-Chi trained in martial arts as an assassin under the brutal tutelage of Death Dealer. At the age of 14, Shang-Chi is sent on a mission to kill the Iron Gang's leader and avenge his mother. Despite his success, Shang-Chi is traumatized by the ordeal and flees to San Francisco to assume a new life, adopting the name "Shaun". He leaves his younger sister Xialing behind with his father. While attending high school, Shang-Chi befriended Katy, establishing a close friendship into adulthood.

Confronting his past

Further information: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

10 years later, in present-day, Shang-Chi is attacked by the Ten Rings led by Razor Fist. Shang-Chi fights them off but loses his pendant given to him by his mother. Fearing that the Ten Rings will attack Xialing for her pendant, Shang-Chi tracks her down and reveals his past to Katy, who agrees to help him. They find Xialing at her underground fight club in Macau, but are attacked by the Ten Rings led by Death Dealer, with Wenwu arriving to capture Shang-Chi, Katy, and Xialing after breaking up the fight. The trio are taken to the Ten Rings' compound, where Wenwu reveals that he believes Li is still alive and is being kept in Ta Lo, using the two pendants to create a map that can be used to enter the village. Wenwu plans to destroy the village after freeing Li and imprisons Shang-Chi and the others when they object to his plans.

The trio escape the compound with the help of Trevor Slattery and his hundun companion Morris and drive to Ta Lo to warn the village of the Ten Rings. At Ta Lo, Shang-Chi is introduced to his aunt and Li's sister Ying Nan, who explains the history of Ta Lo and reveals that Wenwu is being manipulated by the Dweller-in-Darkness into believing Li is still alive so he will use the rings to break the seal imprisoning it. Nan gifts Shang-Chi with an outfit crafted from the red dragon scales of the Great Protector, the dragon guardian of Ta Lo, and teaches him the fighting style of Ta Lo. Shang-Chi defends the village with his new allies when Wenwu and the Ten Rings arrive to destroy the seal. Shang-Chi fights his father, but is defeated and cast into a lake. Shang-Chi is revived by the Great Protector and uses his newfound powers to disarm Wenwu.

After the Dweller escapes its seal, Wenwu sacrifices himself to save Shang-Chi from the Dweller and bequeaths the ten rings to Shang-Chi, who uses them and the Ta Lo fighting style to destroy the Dweller. Shang-Chi later makes a paper lantern and lights it in memory of his father.

Back in San Francisco, Shang-Chi and Katy are summoned by the sorcerer Wong to accompany him to Kamar-Taj, where they are introduced to Bruce Banner and Carol Danvers via hologram. Wong, Banner, and Danvers discover that the rings are emitting a mysterious signal and Wong vows to keep looking into it. Shang-Chi then suggests they go to a bar, and he, Katy, and Wong sing karaoke together.

Reception

Karen Rought of Hypable praised the decision to have Shang-Chi already know who he is and what he can do from the very beginning, contrasting with many familiar origin stories seen in other comic-book movies. Of this, Rought noted that "yes, this is an origin story, but it was more about self-acceptance than self-discovery...that was a breath of fresh air for the first film about a new character in the MCU." She described Liu's take on the character to "offers us a perfect dichotomy in his role...He's a kind-faced, goofy, normal guy who hides a secret."[47] Justin Chang of NPR was drawn into the character by his complicated relationship with Wenwu, saying that "[Shang-Chi] has a complicated, vaguely Oedipal rivalry with his father, who turned him into the fighting machine he is and subjected him to all manner of cruel manipulation and abuse", demarking the character's "depths of...trauma".[48] Herb Scribner of Deseret called Shang-Chi "absolutely excellent" and that "he needs to be around for Marvel films for the foreseeable future." Scribner felt that "as Shang-Chi, Liu walks the line of a young man trying to find his way and a vulnerable young boy trying to find his family" and compared the character favorably to other leading characters in the MCU including Thor and Bruce Banner.[49]

After comments from a 2017 interview in which Liu referencing that his parents told him that China was a "third world" country where people were "dying of starvation",a Chinese release for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings thus became unlikely. This led many Chinese fans to express disappointment that they would not be able to see the movie, citing the film's decision to remove controversial character elements related to Shang-Chi as a positive.[50][51]

Awards and nominations

Awards and nominations received by Liu for his performance as Shang-Chi include:

Year Award Category Nominated work Result Ref.
2021 People's Choice Awards Male Movie Star of 2021 Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Nominated [52]
Action Movie Star of 2021 Won
Unforgettable Gala – Asian American Awards Breakout Actor on Film Won [53]
2022 Hollywood Critics Association Film Awards Game Changer Award Won [54]
Critics' Choice Super Awards Best Actor in a Superhero Movie Nominated [55]
MTV Movie & TV Awards Best Hero Nominated [56]
Best Fight Nominated
Saturn Awards Best Actor in a Film Pending [57]

Future

Liu has said that he has "no knowledge whatsoever of any of the future Marvel plans for this character or any other character" but would like to return for an adaptation of "Spider-Island", a comic he described as being a "very famous story in which Shang-Chi and Spider-Man have a little team-up moment" and that he would like for Shang-Chi to train Spider-Man in the "Way of the Spider".[58] In an interview on the podcast Phase Zero, Liu also showed interest in starring in a future episode of What If...? as that would allow him to experiment with the character in ways he wouldn't be allowed to approach in film.[59] In January 2022, one month after the sequel to Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was announced, Liu said that he wanted the film to explore what his character would do with his "newfound power" of the ten rings, as well as how he fits into the larger MCU.[60]

See also

Notes

References

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