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Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings Release Date, Cast And Plot

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings might seem like one of the most left-field selections on the MCU Phase 4 slate revealed at San Diego Comic-Con 2019, but it would be far from the first comic property the studio has lifted from relative obscurity. The interest and demand for greater Asian representation — not just in cape films, but all film — has never been higher, and this property is Marvel's big investment in putting their mountains of money where their mouth is. 

Though the franchise was born of the kung-fu craze of the '70s, the titular hero, Shang-Chi, is no stranger to the cosmic tropes that Marvel Comics — and now the MCU — have turned to for fan-favorite stories. Stocked with fresh talent, rising stars, and celebrated veterans, Shang-Chi is primed to explode into a major success in 2021 as the MCU embarks on a major new arc, separated from the Avengers we have come to know and love. Here's what we know so far

What's the release date for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings?

Shang-Chi was initially set to kick off on February 12, 2021 as the third theatrical release for the Phase 4 lineup, after Black Widow and Eternals in 2020. That's rather early in the year, well before the usual tentpole season of May-June for an MCU-caliber film. Two probable reasons exist for this: the comic's relative historical obscurity, and a cast of mostly-unknown actors. Even for Marvel Studios, both facts do not immediately add up to a guarantee of success in the increasingly-competitive franchise market. 

Black Widow is well-understood territory, even for casual fans; Eternals is admittedly not a major comic series, but it has the likes of Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek attached to its film adaptation. Premiering Shang-Chi earlier is a standard studio tactic to minimize competition from other films in the crowded summer blockbuster season. That isn't an expression of lack of faith in the film's potential, however. You may recall that Black Panther, with its own fresh slate of actors and previously niche popularity, was also released in February, and the numbers definitely worked out very well for King T'Challa. And finally, it's very fair to note that Chinese New Year usually lands in February.

Of course, all of that reasoning went out the window when Marvel's slate was drastically reshuffled in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Black Widow lost its May date and took the place of Eternals, which in turn bumped Shang-Chi out of February and into a spot originally reserved for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: May 7, 2021.

Who's directing Shang-Chi?

Marvel has apparently heard the longtime cry for diversification of not only cast, but crew, and have chosen Chinese American filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton to helm Shang-Chi. He joins Chloe Zhao, director of Eternals, as the first Asian American filmmakers to join the MCU in Phase 4. His standout creation is the 2013 film Short Term 12 (which, interestingly enough, stars Captain Marvel herself, Brie Larson), a story about troubled teenagers living together in a group home. 

Much of Shang-Chi's comics history is checkered, to say the least, with usage of questionable Oriental Mysticism tropes and Yellow Peril villains. Bringing on talent of actual Chinese heritage is a positive sign that Marvel Studios is dedicated to reflecting the world around us correctly and for the benefit of demographics that have never enjoyed mainstream popularity. Casting Asian actors is all well and good (which we'll get to in a moment), but placing the movie's creative direction in the hands of a director of similar ancestry is an even better method to avoid the pitfalls and pigeonholing that has long existed for Asian and Asian American representation in cinema.

Who's playing Shang-Chi?

Chinese Canadian actor Simu Liu was introduced at Marvel's SDCC 2019 panel as Shang-Chi after having been now-famously cast on the Tuesday before the convention presentation. He was born in Harbin, Heilongjiang, China, and immigrated to Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto, when he was five years old. He is best known for his role as the former delinquent son Jung in Kim's Convenience, a sitcom on Canadian channel CBC. But worry not, curious U.S. citizens, the show is readily available on American Netflix for your enjoyment, if you should wish to catch up and see this up-and-coming star in action. He also guest-starred as Taiwanese noodle seller Willie in the 100th episode of ABC's Fresh Off The Boat, which aired in April 2019.

Simu has himself underlined the need for more Asian representation in the MCU, and tweeted the sentiment as early as 2014. More recently, he bought out a Toronto theater for a screening of his new co-lead Awkwafina's film The Farewell, citing the need for greater inclusion of Asian actors as his motivation. Going forward, it looks like the MCU couldn't ask for a more passionate and devoted champion for this new phase of the franchise.

Who's playing the Mandarin in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings?

To many Western moviegoers, the name Tony Leung won't be immediately familiar, but he is one of the most high-profile and celebrated actors in the Hong Kong film industry. His career dates all the way back to the '70s. He's starred in everything from rom-coms to thrillers to the mythic Ip-Man films that are eternally popular in Chinese theaters. During his long and storied career, he has won a number of prestigious Hong Kong Film Awards and won Best Actor at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival for his leading role in Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love. 

For Shang-Chi, Leung has been cast as the film's antagonist: the real Mandarin, subverting the fake-Mandarin played by Ben Kingsley in Iron Man 3. The 2014 short film "Marvel One-Shot: All Hail the King" first revealed that there was indeed a mysterious and very real Mandarin operating from the shadows. At last, he will be making his grand entrance.

Renaissance woman Awkwafina joins the cast of Shang-Chi

Rapper and actress Awkwafina has been cast as a yet-unnamed female lead in Shang-Chi. Initially, she broke into entertainment as a rap artist in 2014 with her cheekily-titled debut album Yellow Ranger, followed in 2018 by an EP entitled In Fina We Trust. Not to be content to sit upon these mere laurels, she turned her eye to acting and made her major breakthrough in 2018 with the one-two combo of Ocean's 8 and Crazy Rich Asians. 2019 found her starring in The Farewell, a drama about a Chinese American family making a surreptitious final visit to their matriarch, who does not know that she herself is terminally ill.

Awkwafina, much like her Shang-Chi co-star Simu Liu, has noted the precedent they are setting and its importance to the Hollywood landscape. In an interview with Yahoo! Entertainment, she bubbled over with praise for director Destin Daniel Cretton's plans for the film, staying, "It feels amazing... It's going to mean a lot for generations to come."

Will the plot of Shang-Chi be an origin story?

Superheroes generally make their big screen debut with an origin story, and Shang-Chi will likely not depart from this formula. However, Shang-Chi's background is... more than a little fraught with questionable Yellow Peril tropes. According to his original comic series Masters of Kung Fu, which debuted in 1973, Shang-Chi was raised by his father, an international crime lord named Fu Manchu, to be a living weapon, and brainwashed to believe this is for the benefit of humanity. When sent to England to perform an assassination, he encounters his estranged British birth mother and learns the truth of his father's villainy. After this betrayal, he swears an oath to fight and defeat his mortal enemy: his own father.

To add complication, Fu Manchu is a copyrighted character Marvel no longer technically has the rights to. He was created in the early 20th century by British author Sax Rohmer, and Stan Lee purchased rights to include the character in Marvel comics years later. Between that ownership issue and the historical controversies the character Fu Manchu represents, it is possible that the Mandarin may replace this character as the father in Shang-Chi, or they may even abandon that facet altogether. One of Shang-Chi's creators, Jim Starlin, has expressly stated he doesn't want Fu Manchu to mar any film adaptation of his character.

How does the Mandarin fit into Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings?

Given both the IP loss and questionable content of Fu Manchu, Marvel is apparently switching gears to bring back a previous villain featured in the MCU before. The Mandarin is originally an Iron Man comic villain — hence his inclusion in Iron Man 3 — and has existed since the '60s. He is often presented as a mirror to Tony Stark, as he is extremely intelligent and displays major scientific aptitude.

Originally, he was touted in his comics as having been the son of a pre-Maoist Revolution wealthy Chinese man and an English noblewoman, orphaned young and raised by a miserly aunt. He grew to be very wealthy and powerful himself, until the Communist Revolution forced him to flee China. The Mandarin has also claimed Genghis Khan as a relative. A later comic reinterpretation twists the origin story, revealing it as a fiction he invented to cloud his true background as the son of an opium den prostitute. Neither of these takes is terribly culturally sensitive, so it is difficult to say if any of this material will be used in Shang-Chi. 

Themes and a theory regarding Shang-Chi's plot

There's a particularly pervasive theory getting around the internet right now about Shang-Chi's plot, now that the film is officially entering production: that this is a martial arts tournament film, like Bloodsport, or Yu Yu Hakushou's Dark Tournament arc. Equally-unconfirmed corollary rumors seem to support this idea — MCU Cosmic is reporting on the alleged villains being cast, Inverse is alleging allies for Shang-Chi on this theoretical journey, and Murphy's Multiverse claims to have seen a casting call for tournament announcers. That's a lot of circumstantial evidence, but there's a significant ding put into this overarching theory from a more official source: the director, Destin Daniel Cretton.

A major point of this plot rumor is based on the Mandarin calling the tournament, with Shang-Chi operating as an undercover mole. However, Cretton's comments about family as the film's central theme suggest that the Mandarin might be Shang-Chi's father. You can't very well go successfully undercover in a secret mystical tournament if dear old Evil Dad is running the show. That doesn't throw the whole theory out the window, of course; that story can easily be modified so Shang-Chi isn't operating in secret, and is openly defying his father's will. Maybe Shang-Chi doesn't know his father, and vice versa. Who knows? Scripts undergo multiple drafts and shift themes and priorities all the time, but that doesn't mean we should put all our eggs in one theoretical basket, either.

Ten Rings of ... what, exactly?

As the film's title suggests, ten rings and any legend therein will be a prominent facet of whatever plot unfolds. There are two interpretations, and the title may in fact end up being a titular double entendre. Most literally, the Ten Rings are magic rings that imbue special powers to the user. They're the Mandarin's primary weapons, and each performs a different sci-fi type of attack, ranging from fire and ice beams to matter and mind control. If that sounds like the Infinity Stones... well, yes, they're pretty similar. Still, they're significant for the fact that only the Mandarin controls them. According to the original comics, he happened upon them in China and taught himself how to use them exclusively, but the rings originate from an alien race: the Makluans. Space-faring peoples are certainly not new to the MCU, but these dragonesque aliens would certainly be a unique addition.

The Ten Rings also already exist in the MCU in a different way — as the name of the terrorist organization that kidnapped Tony Stark and put him in that infamous cave with Yinsen way back in the first Iron Man. They also briefly come up in Iron Man 3, under the apparent command of the faux Mandarin. With Tony Stark now dead, however, the Mandarin and the Ten Rings can be free to set the stage for Shang-Chi. Spider-Man: Far from Home's villain, Quentin Beck, is motivated by Tony Stark's legacy — will Shang-Chi or the Mandarin have some personal connection to the formerly-beating heart of the MCU as well?

Where does Awkwafina fit into Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings?

Although Simu Liu himself was cast literally the week he was introduced at SDCC and it all might have felt a tad rushed, it's still a little odd that Awkwafina was cast as an as-yet unnamed character. Awkwafina herself said her casting was very quick and happened only a few weeks before the convention. Her current rising star power suggests high billing and importance to plot; not just anybody is introduced at the largest genre media convention in the world. 

So the question is, who could she be? A solid possibility is the character Fah Lo Suee, or some reinvention of her. She is Shang-Chi's comic-canonical half-sister through Fu Manchu, and is a formidable Kung-Fu master and assassin in her own right. As discussed earlier, Fu Manchu has a high probability of not appearing in Shang-Chi, but Fah Lo doesn't necessarily have to be related to our protagonist. She has operated her own merry circle of assassins called the Si-Fan in the comics, and have been tasked with hunting and attempting to kill Shang-Chi in some subplots. Surely a man as bent on world domination as the Mandarin has a handy-dandy assassin clan or two in his pocket, right?