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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, 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 Studio's big investment in putting its mountains of money where its 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've come to know and love. Here's what we know about the film so far.

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

Like every other project in Marvel's Phase 4, "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" has taken a long and winding road to movie theaters. The film was initially set to kick off on February 12, 2021, making it the third theatrical release for the Phase 4 lineup, after "Black Widow" and "Eternals" in 2020. 

Ah, but that was originally announced all the way in 2019, back when we had no idea what the future held for us. Obviously, 2020 turned the world upside down with the COVID-19 pandemic, and basically every studio in Hollywood ground to a halt, including Marvel. Eventually, the MCU returned ... but with a drastically different release date. Both "WandaVision" and "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" hit Disney+ before their feature-length cousins could return to theaters. And then, after a whole lot of reshuffling, "Shang-Chi" battled its way to the #2 spot on the theatrical release calendar, sliding in between "Black Widow" and "Eternals."

Now, we can expect to see all that marvelous martial arts action on September 3, 2021.

Who's directing the new Marvel film?

Marvel has apparently heard the longtime cry for diversification of not only cast but crew, and the studio has chosen Asian-American filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton to helm "Shang-Chi." He joins Chloe Zhao, director of "Eternals," as the first filmmakers of Asian descent to join the MCU in Phase 4. Cretton's standout creation is the 2013 film "Short Term 12" (which, interestingly enough, stars Captain Marvel herself, Brie Larson), a story about troubled teenagers and their supervisors 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 Asian 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, but placing the movie's creative direction in the hands of a director of Asian descent 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 5 years old. He's best known for his role as the former delinquent son Jung in "Kim's Convenience," a sitcom that aired on Canadian channel CBC and can also be found on Netflix ... and one that's recently drawn some scathing critiques from Liu over its cancelation and behind-the-scenes drama regarding how the Asian actors were treated by many of the white creators.

Additionally, Liu also guest-starred as Taiwanese noodle seller Willie in the 100th episode of ABC's "Fresh Off The Boat," which aired in April 2019. The actor has himself underlined the need for more Asian representation in the MCU and tweeted the sentiment as early as 2014. And in 2019, he bought out a Toronto theater for a screening of his "Shang-Chi" 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?

To many Western moviegoers, the name Tony Leung won't be immediately familiar, but he's 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, and he's starred in everything from rom-coms to thrillers to "The Grandmaster," where he plays the legendary martial artist Ip Man. During his long and storied career, he's won a number of prestigious Hong Kong Film Awards and earned 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, aka Wenwu, 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. And according to the trailers for "Shang-Chi," it seems Leung's character is the powerful leader of the Ten Rings organization, a title he holds thanks to the titular rings he wields on his arms. It also looks like the Mandarin has trained his son, Shang-Chi, to become an assassin, and now, he's ready for our hero to take his place in the family business. Of course, Shang-Chi isn't crazy about daddy's plans for his future, and it appears that father and son are about to duke it out to determine their family's fate.

Shang-Chi boasts a truly impressive cast

"Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" will find the titular hero out and about in the normal world. Sure, he was trained as an assassin by his murderous dad, but Shang-Chi doesn't want anything to do with his criminal group. Instead, he's spending his days in San Francisco, living out a normal life, apparently working as a parking valet, and hanging out with his BFF and co-worker Katy (who knows almost nothing about his mysterious past). And who plays Katy, you ask? Well, it's none other than Awkwafina. 

This Renaissance woman 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." The very next year found her starring in "The Farewell," a drama about a Chinese-American family heading overseas to pay one last visit to their matriarch ... who doesn't know that she herself is terminally ill.

In other words, MCU casting directors did an awesome job by signing Awkwafina. But she isn't the only notable name in the cast. For example, there's Michelle Yeoh, who made her name in the Hong Kong action scene, starring in classics like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." She's also landed plenty of work in Hollywood, playing in films like "Tomorrow Never Dies" and "Crazy Rich Asians," as well as TV shows like "Star Trek: Discovery." And in "Shang-Chi," she plays Jiang Nan, the hero's ally and his mother, adding another layer of drama to this very dysfunctional family.

The cast will be filled out with other impressive names, such as Fala Chen as Jiang Li and Meng'er Zhang as Xialing, Shang-Chi's sister. Plus, Ronny Chieng is playing Shang-Chi's friend, Jon Jon, and Florian Munteanu will appear as the intimidating Razor Fist. We also know that we'll see a villainous character by the name of Death Dealer, but at this moment, we're not sure who's playing the mysterious assassin. So, perhaps there's a twist coming, and someone significant is hiding under that mask.

Will the film revolve around a tournament?

Long before the trailers for "Shang-Chi" hit the internet, there were rumors that the Marvel movie might also be a martial arts tournament film, along the lines of "Bloodsport" or "Enter the Dragon." In fact, a few years ago, Murphy's Multiverse claimed to have seen a casting call for "tournament announcers." And according to the rumors, it was possible that the Mandarin would be the one presiding over this epic showdown of martial arts masters.

Well, now that we've gotten two trailers, it seems pretty clear that there will indeed be a tournament of some sort. And it appears that Shang-Chi will eventually do battle with his sister, Xialing, in a seedy-looking cage, with frenzied spectators watching on. Die-hard Marvel fans also noticed that the second "Shang-Chi" trailer depicted two familiar looking faces throwing down in this underground ring — the Abomination and Wong, Doctor Strange's magical ally (played by Benedict Wong). And if you're skeptical about the actual identities of those two combatants, don't worry — Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige himself confirmed to Rotten Tomatoes that we will indeed see the "Incredible Hulk" villain facing off against the Beyonce-loving sorcerer.

But why are all these people showing up in this dingy cage and duking it out? Is the Mandarin forcing his son to participate? Is Shang-Chi fighting in the tournament against his father's will? And what does the winner get? Perhaps control of the Mandarin's organization? Or ownership of the magical Ten Rings? Whatever the prize, we know the action is going to look spectacular. According to Entertainment Weekly, director Destin Daniel Cretton has drawn influence from a variety of martial arts films. Across "Shang-Chi," we can expect to see both the graceful wuxia stylings of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and the more frenetic pacing of Jackie Chan action flicks. In other words, "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" will definitely deliver on the action.

What exactly are the Ten Rings?

As the title of the film suggests, the Ten Rings are going to play a pretty big part in the plot. But what exactly are the Ten Rings? Well, there are two interpretations, and it's looking like both will be relevant for our story.

First off, longtime MCU fans doubtlessly know that the Ten Rings is a terrorist organization that kidnapped Tony Stark and put him in that infamous cave with Yinsen way back in the first "Iron Man." And in "Ant-Man," we learn that the group is very interested in buying Darren Cross' weaponized Yellow Jacket technology. Plus, the group briefly comes up in "Iron Man 3," claiming responsibility for explosions across the U.S. Of course, it turns out the Ten Rings organization has nothing to do with these fiery events, and the so-called Mandarin who keeps sending those Osama bin Laden-style videos is really an alcoholic actor being manipulated by a psychotic businessman. But now, it looks like we're getting the real Ten Rings, and judging by the assassins we've seen in the trailers, this looks like a bunch of criminals you don't want to mess with.

However, there's another meaning behind the Ten Rings — one that probably inspired the name for the terrorist organization in the first place. In the comics, the Ten Rings are magical pieces of jewelry 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. 

Another interesting twist is that in the comics, the Mandarin wears these rings on his fingers, but in the film, it appears these are more bracelet-style weapons, with the Mandarin sporting five on each arm. And if the trailers are any indication, it looks like Shang-Chi and his father will be doing battle for possession of these magical pieces of metal.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will feature some pretty cool creatures

We all knew that "Shang-Chi" was going to be an action flick. After all, the original comic book character was inspired by the legendary Bruce Lee. (In fact, once upon a time, there was almost a "Shang-Chi" project starring Bruce's son, Brandon Lee of "The Crow" fame.) However, judging by the trailers, it looks like the movie might also be dipping its toe into the fantasy genre, as it seems to be borrowing quite a bit from Chinese mythology.

For example, in one trailer, we watch as an underwater Shang-Chi encounters a gigantic yet apparently friendly dragon. Word has it that this massive beast is called "the Great Protector" and will assist our hero with its "benevolent power." In addition to the dragon, we've also gotten a few glimpses of some pretty massive lions. What are these oversized cats? Well, as ScreenRant points out, there's a good chance they could be a nod to Chinese guardian lions, statues that guard Imperial landmarks like tombs and palaces.

On top of all that, a leaked action figure seems to indicate that a Dijiang might show up somewhere in the film. These are furry, faceless creatures with wings, and we're not exactly sure what role this cute-looking monster might play in the movie. But according to Chinese legend, this creature is perpetually confused and loves singing and dancing. And since we know Shang-Chi and Katy will be doing some karaoke, it seems like the Dijiang will fit right in with these music-loving characters.