Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: Who is Shang-Chi?

Marvel’s Shang-Chi movie has arrived! Simu Liu (Kim’s Convenience) plays the main character in the film, who is called Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Destin Daniel Cretton directs Shang-Chi, while Crazy Rich Asians star Awkwafina also stars.

But who is Shang-Chi and why is he considered one of the best warriors in the Marvel Universe? Here’s why they call him the Kung Fu Master!

Shang-Chi: the basics

Shang-Chi may be the son of one of the worst villains in the Marvel Universe, but he himself is among its greatest heroes. Shang-Chi has dedicated her life to perfecting her martial arts skills. Instead of using those talents for fame and fortune, travel the world and correct mistakes. Sometimes he works alone. Other times he fights alongside heroes like Spider-Man, Daredevil, or the Avengers. But wherever he goes, Shang-Chi inspires hope in the hearts of the innocent and terror in anyone fool enough to challenge him in battle.

Powers and abilities of Shang-Chi

Traditionally, Shang-Chi is depicted as an ordinary fighter with no true superhuman abilities. But despite lacking Daredevil’s heightened senses, Captain America’s super strength, or Iron Fist’s unyielding hands, Shang-Chi has developed a reputation for being arguably the best melee fighter in the Marvel Universe. He is adept at several different forms of armed and unarmed combat. And due to his full command of his body’s chi, Shang-Chi is strong enough to break through metal and fast enough to dodge and even deflect bullets.

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Recently, Marvel revised Shang-Chi and gave him a new superhuman ability: the power to create numerous copies of himself, each one as skilled in martial arts as the original.

Shang-Chi: origin and background

Shang-Chi debuted in 1973 in Marvel Special Edition # 15. With the decline in the popularity of superheroes in the 1970s, Marvel increasingly branched out into other genres such as fantasy (Conan the Barbarian) and horror ( Tomb of Dracula). Like Iron Fist and the Daughters of the Dragon, Shang-Chi was conceived with the desire to tap into the madness of martial arts movies of the time.

Initially, Marvel attempted to license the rights to the television series Kung Fu. When that failed, the company acquired the rights to the work of pulp novelist Sax Rohmer, including the infamous Chinese villain Dr. Fu Manchu and his Sherlock Holmes-like nemesis, Sir Denis Nayland Smith. Shang-Chi was introduced as the previously unknown son of Fu Manchu and the greatest threat to Fu Manchu’s plans for world domination.

Shang-Chi turned out to be an immediate hit for Marvel. Two issues after its debut, the Special Marvel Edition was renamed “The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu” and became the permanent home of the wandering fighter. Shang-Chi also began to appear routinely in other Marvel titles, teaming up with everyone from Spider-Man to The Thing.

Unfortunately, its popularity began to wane in the 1980s, with Master of Kung Fu ending at number 125 in 1983. Shang-Chi began to appear more sporadically after that point. It didn’t help that Marvel eventually lost the rights to Fu Manchu, making it difficult to continue exploring Shang-Chi’s family history or even reprint the older Master of Kung Fu stories. Not to mention the growing reaction to Fu Manchu as a racially insensitive cartoon.

Fortunately, Shang-Chi has seen a resurgence in recent years. He became a martial arts mentor to Spider-Man, helping the hero develop a new form of spider-themed martial arts after Peter temporarily lost the use of his Spider-Sense. Shang-Chi has also served in multiple incarnations of the Avengers. The 2010 series Secret Avengers even reviewed his background and connection to Fu Manchu. It was revealed that Fu Manchu was actually just a covert identity to Zheng Zu, an immortal sorcerer.

Shang-Chi: beyond the comics

Shang-Chi has seen very little action outside of Marvel comics. To date, his only appearance outside of a comic has been as a playable character in the free mobile game Marvel Future Fight. Surprisingly, despite his martial arts prowess, he never appeared in any of the many Marvel-branded fighting games.

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However, its absence in the Marvel movies is not due to lack of trying. Work started on a Shang-Chi movie in 2005, when Marvel first partnered with Paramount Pictures for a shared universe of superhero movies. A Shang-Chi movie was planned along with movies for Captain America, Hawkeye, Doctor Strange, Nick Fury, Black Panther, and others. Obviously, that plan changed slightly.

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Finally, in December 2018 word spread that Marvel had hired Wonder Woman 1984 writer Dave Callaham to write the script, with the intention of hiring a director of Asian descent and crafting a film with a similar cultural impact to that of Black Panther. In March 2019, it was reported that Marvel had hired Destin Daniel Cretton to direct. And now the movie is finally here!

September 2, 2001: This story has been updated with the latest information on Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

Jesse is a gentle writer for IGN. Let him lend a machete to his intellectual thicket following @jschedeen on Twitter, or Kicksplode on MyIGN.