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Why Shang-Chi's Mother Looks So Familiar

Contains minor spoilers for "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings"

Marvel's latest blockbuster, "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," is here, and it focuses on a corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that's been woefully under-explored thus far. It tells the story of Shang-Chi (played by Simu Liu), the unwilling heir to the criminal empire known as the Ten Rings, who gets pulled back into his family after trying to leave them behind.

The film starts with an origin story. Shang-Chi's father, Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung), founds the Ten Rings organization after finding a literal set of ten rings that grant him power and immortality. Eventually, his quest for power brings him to the village of Ta Lo. At the gate, he battles Ying Li, the village's protector. Wenwu and Li fall in love, and they have two children, Shang-Chi and Xialing. Wenwu leaves his life of crime behind to be with his family until the Iron Gang, the Ten Rings' rivals, attack and kill Li. In Wenwu's quest for revenge, he turns Shang-Chi into a killer, which Shang-Chi doesn't want to be. After young Shang-Chi kills the leader of the Iron Gang at his father's behest, he runs away from the Ten Rings and his family and ends up in San Francisco, where the main story begins.

Ying Li is a relatively small role in terms of screen time, but she's an incredibly important part of the story, as Wenwu's actions are all in service of bringing her back. She's played by Chinese actress Fala Chen, in her Hollywood film debut. Here are some of the places where you may have seen Fala Chen before (via IMDb).

Fala Chen's Hong Kong origins

Chen rose to prominence in Cantonese-language Hong Kong television in the late '00s. She won a TVB Anniversary Award, Hong Kong's equivalent to an Emmy, in 2007 for her performance in the dance drama "Steps" (via The Star Online). She gained greater popularity the following year for her performance in the drama series "Moonlight Resonance." In it, she plays a mute character, which required her to learn sign language (via Gold Thread).

Arguably Chen's most prominent Hong Kong TV role came in 2010's historical epic romance drama "No Regrets," which told a star-crossed love story about a police captain and the daughter of a drug lord against the backdrop of the Japanese invasion of China during World War II. She plays Lau Ching, the captain's sister. Her character has a heart condition that could kill her at any moment, which makes her hesitant to act on her feelings for a member of her brother's unit. She won her second TVB Anniversary Award for "No Regrets" (via Sina Entertainment).

Moving to America

In 2014, Fala Chen made a big move. She left her career in Hong Kong to study acting for four years at New York's prestigious Juilliard School, where her classmates included "Little Women" star Hadley Robinson and "The Society" actress Alicia Crowder. She graduated in 2018.

She made her American television debut in the hit HBO limited series "The Undoing." She appeared in two episodes of the murder mystery as Jolene McCall, a social acquaintance of Grace (Nicole Kidman) and Jonathan Fraser (Hugh Grant) through their children's school.

On Instagram, Chen described the show as her job out of drama school. "I'm so grateful for the opportunity to work with this amazing cast and crew," she wrote, alongside photos of herself with Hugh Grant and director Susanne Bier. Her next job will be another HBO series, the upcoming psychological drama "Irma Vep," opposite Alicia Vikander.

Marvel at Fala Chen's success

Fala Chen's life and career are moving to another level thanks to "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings." She told Marvel at the film's premiere that the movie changed her life.

"Shang-Chi" is Chen's first big action movie, and she gets one of the film's most dazzling fights, a graceful, wuxia-inspired martial arts clash with Wenwu when he's trying to enter her village. She told /Film that it was hard work getting prepared for the role, learning tai chi and trying to get used to being hoisted up in a "lollipop," a "ring inside a ring" that spins around and creates a gliding effect. She apparently forgot all her moves when Tony Leung looked at her.

She said that most of the hand-to-hand combat in their fight scene is performed by the two of them without digital effects, and she loves how the fight develops their characters as they fall in love during it. "I thought that's the beauty, and also that vulnerability and that falling in love, that scene," she said. "That's what that scene is about. So I'm really thankful for Destin [Daniel Cretton] for his direction, for that scene."

With a Marvel movie under her belt, the future is looking quite bright for this star on the rise.