The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) expands its scope with this year's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. This is the first MCU movie to be centred around an Asian character, and it's the first time Shang-Chi's mystical origins have been adapted for the big screen.
Canadian-Chinese actor and martial artist Simu Liu plays the eponymous Shang-Chi, a warrior seemingly destined for a life of crime who steers his destiny in a new, more overtly heroic direction. The film is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, the man behind Brie Larson's acclaimed indie hit Short Term 12 (2013), who ambitiously steps up to meld kung-fu fight sequences with passages of wondrous, awe-inspiring magic.
"Authenticity and respect and staying true to this genre was the main objective from day one," Cretton told Empire Magazine. "There's choreography that's reminiscent of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and other fight scenes are inspired by Jackie Chan. We also had choreographers from mainland China who created some beautiful wuxia-style fight scenes."
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings is a key chapter in Phase Four of the MCU, and has just debuted a new trailer. Here's what we've learned from it.
It promises the definitive big-screen iteration of classic villain The Mandarin
This feared terrorist leader, also known as Wenwu, first appeared on the big screen in 2013's Iron Man 3, as played by Sir Ben Kingsley. However, The Mandarin's threatening nature was revealed to be a facade: in fact, he was a British actor named Trevor Slattery, and the real bad guy was the spurned scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). Writer-director Shane Black's twisty take on this fan-favourite comic book villain sharply split opinion – some loved the absurdist humour of the situation whilst others thought it showed a degree of contempt towards the Marvel source material.
The approach taken in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is likely to prove far less controversial. It sticks true to the traditional criminal origins of Wenwu, restoring his position as the feared leader of a criminal fraternity who harnesses the power of the titular rings for his own gain. The film has cast veteran Hong Kong actor Tony Leung (In the Mood for Love) in the role of Wenwu, which surely means we can expect a performance of conviction and authenticity as a riposte to the comedy stylings of Iron Man 3.
It's the first Marvel movie to pit fathers and sons against one another
Daddy issues have frequently reared their head throughout the MCU mythology. It's perhaps most apparent in the Iron Man movies, as Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark finds himself haunted by the legacy of his entrepreneurial father Howard (John Slattery). This reached an emotional apex in the time-shifting Avengers: Endgame (2019), as Tony travelled back to the 1970s and came face to face with a younger incarnation of his dad.
However, the idea of fathers and sons being on opposite sides of the law, and subsequently locked into a fight to the death, is a relatively unique concept for the MCU to tackle. The trailer teases the emotional sweep of this narrative strand, as the young Shang-Chi is schooled and groomed to join his father Wenwu's criminal organisation, only to turn his back on his destiny. Fingers crossed that this will add layers of emotional complexity to the standard hero vs villain axis that we get at the climax of Marvel movies.
It puts a unique spin on Shang-Chi's comic book backstory
The narrative particulars of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings are largely faithful to the source material (father/son conflict; son wishing to escape to a new life; son being drawn back into a deadly battle with said father). But the exact details of how the film moves between those points are unique to this film, precisely because Shang-Chi's destiny has never been adapted for the big screen before. In short, even if you're well-versed in the original comics, the movie may be poised to take you by surprise.
"The most exciting thing about stepping into this character was that his backstory has never been told before," Liu told Entertainment Weekly. "We know so many different versions of Batman's origin story, how his parents were murdered when he was very young. We know Peter Parker, who was bitten by a radioactive spider, and he loses his uncle. Shang-Chi's story is very much unknown to most of the world, so we had a lot of freedom and creative liberty to make it the way that we wanted to."
There are appearances from at least two other MCU characters
Watch carefully at the end of the trailer (we've screengrabbed it for you below), and you'll spot Wong (Benedict Wong) from Doctor Strange (2016). He's using the power of the mystic arts to deflect an attack from Abomination, a mutation whom we last saw in Incredible Hulk (2008), long considered the black sheep of the MCU franchise. Prior to his transformation, Abomination was a soldier called Emil Blonsky, as played by Tim Roth.
We don't yet know why these two characters are appearing in Shang-Chi; as far as we can tell, they're involved in some kind of cage fight tournament. Wong last appeared in Avengers: Infinity War (2018) where his portal-shifting abilities worked hand in hand with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in the fight against Thanos (Josh Brolin). Certain shots in the Shang-Chi trailer, namely the arresting one where jets of water are paused in mid-air, suggest a continuation of the physics-defying wonders seen in Doctor Strange – does this suggest the presence of Wong as a mentor or protector to Shang-Chi? We'll find out before long.
Co-starring Awkwafina and Michelle Yeoh, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is released in Cineworld cinemas on the 3rd of September 2021. What did you spot in the trailer that we missed? Watch it again and let us know @Cineworld.