Shang-Chi is the newest star of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and could be an integral part of its next decade — but his history goes back almost half a century.
The character’s origins were problematic, but he has been modernized in both his comics and in his live-action movie debut that arrives in theaters this weekend.
With even some seasoned MCU fans getting to know this character for the first time, here are seven things you should know about Shang-Chi.
Created by Jim Starlin and Steve Englehart, Shang-Chi made his first appearance in “Special Marvel Edition” No. 15, published by Marvel Comics in 1973, and starred in his own comic book series until the early ’80s. A martial arts master frequently in battle with a father who wants him fighting by his side, Shang-Chi at times has craved normalcy just as much as he has super-heroics. In 2020, Shang-Chi starred in a miniseries from an all-Asian creative team of Eisner Award winning comic book writer Gene Luen Yang and artists Dike Ruan and Philip Tan. Yang and Ruan are currently writing and illustrating Shang-Chi’s ongoing series at Marvel Comics, which debuted in May.
Shang-Chi is played by Simu Liu, best known for his role in the TV series “Kim’s Convenience.” Liu is the first actor to portray Shang-Chi in live-action — and he’s the first Asian superhero in a Marvel Studios movie. Much like Robert Downey Jr. did for Iron Man, Liu has an opportunity to take the popularity of Shang-Chi to new heights and make the character a household name. Liu told The Washington Post he’s always wanted to play a superhero in a film and that he understands the significance of the imagery of being an Asian man saving the day in such a high-profile film.
The paternal problems
In the original comic book adventures of Shang-Chi movie, his father was Fu Manchu, the same Fu Manchu from 20th-century novels whose imagery could be described as racist at best. Marvel Studios was adamant that such imagery would not be included anywhere in Shang-Chi’s theatrical debut. Instead, the movie features legendary actor Tony Leung as Shang-Chi’s powerful father, Xu Wenwu, who is one of the most powerful beings in the MCU thanks to 10 mystical rings and incredible martial arts skills. Yang’s comic-book run gives the role to the sinister Zheng Zu, a powerful man who has fathered many warriors.
The sibling rivalries
In the current comics, Shang-Chi has many half siblings courtesy of his father, each also a master of martial arts. In the film he has one sibling, Xialing, played by actress Meng’er Zhang. There is a competitive component to these relationships, with some of the most dangerous people in Shang-Chi’s life frequently being in his own family bloodline.
The romantic interest
Awkwafina stars as Katy, who is Shang-Chi’s best friend and confidante and perhaps something more — though they spend more time dodging punches than trying to figure out what that is. Yang’s comic-book run features many potential romantic interests for Shang-Chi, including Delilah Wang, a lawyer who specializes in superhuman law, and Leiko Wu, a British secret agent.
The Avengers connection
Whereas May’s “Black Widow” was a prequel-esque look into the past of the MCU, “Shang-Chi” is a broad proclamation of what is to come. Think of it as Marvel Studios 2.0., the beginning of a new decade after the sun set on the first Avengers series. New heroes. New villains. Things we haven’t seen before.
One of the film’s strengths is that it stands on its own, apart from the MCU. But there are moments and guest appearances that remind us that this hero’s on-screen debut is connected to a world that has been building on screen for the last decade (we won’t spoil them here). And there is always the possibility of Shang-Chi and his friends and family could be recruited for a new Avengers squad. Don’t be surprised if somewhere down the line he and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury are having a chat.
The limited theatrical release
If you want to see “Shang-Chi” in theaters, you’ll only have a month and a half to do so. For those who may still not be comfortable seeing a movie in a full theater because of the ongoing pandemic, “Shang-Chi” will be available to stream on Disney Plus, 45 days after it arrives in theaters, for no extra fee.
This is a much different strategy than Disney Plus’s Premiere Access option for recent films, including “Black Widow,” which allowed subscribers to pay extra to see films at home while they were simultaneously in theaters. Disney executives have described the 45-day window an experiment, and there is no telling yet whether Marvel Studios’s “Eternals” will have a similar release later this year.