Shang Chi (played by Simu Liu) officially enters the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) Phase 4, with the film premiering in select countries starting this month. Like other MCU films, Shang Chi is also based on a series of comic books. And these stories share a universe with Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and the rest of our favourite Marvel heroes. But where does Shang Chi fit into the post-Endgame narrative (a.k.a. after Thanos was defeated) and how does his story in the Marvel comics differ from the movie?
Who is Shang Chi?
If Doctor Strange is Master of the Mystic Arts then Shang Chi is Master of Kung Fu. Also known as Brother Hand in the comics, he is a half-Chinese and half-American who was trained in martial arts by his father and his tutors since early childhood.
Shang Chi is one of the very few Marvel heroes who are not superhuman; Clint Barton a.k.a. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are a couple of others. However, in the comics, he learnt the ability to channel and maximise his Chi in order to have extraordinary skill and power in battle. The extent of his abilities aren’t quantified in both the film and the comics, but both show he’s able to deal with — and win against — superhuman enemies. In the source material, he crossed paths with Captain America (Chris Evans), Wolverine, and other familiar Marvel characters.
Where does Shang Chi’s story fit in the current Marvel Universe?
With Shang Chi And The Ten Rings being the 25th film in the MCU franchise, not to mention the confusing time skips that happened because of Thanos’ snap and The Blip in Infinity War and Endgame, fitting Shang Chi’s story in the current Marvel Universe timeline is definitely difficult. However, the film’s director Daniel Cretton revealed that it’s set in the “present day MCU”, which gives us the impression that Shang Chi’s story is set post-Endgame around the years 2023 and 2024. This launches Marvel’s Phase 4 beautifully, with the film serving as a torchbearer for the new league of heroes coming post-Avengers (a.k.a. The Eternals, Fantastic 4, etc.). This also explains why Shang Chi was nowhere to be found in Infinity War or Endgame.
Shang Chi’s characterisation in the comics is (and will be) heavily adopted onscreen
Shang Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings has a lot of similarities from the comics, especially when it comes to Shang Chi’s characterisation.
For one, Shang Chi’s fighting style, which incorporates a lot of the Shaolin side of Kung-Fu, is showcased a lot in the film and will be further explored in Shang Chi’s future participation in the MCU. On another note, the movie also hinted that Shang Chi will be seen harnessing his Chi in future appearances in other films, much like what his character did in the comics.
Shang Chi’s costume, despite getting some upgrades for a more realistic look in the film, also took a lot of notes from its source material. His red jumpsuit, scaled to look more like a battle suit, is seen adopted by the film. This is in reference to the costume redesign seen in some of the latest volumes of the comics as well as the animated mini-series.
The comics versus the movie
Marvel comics have a lot of spinoffs, side-stories, alternate universes, and more. These make it hard to create just one truth for every character. That’s why the films often mash various events together to create the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Property rights for certain characters also usually cause issues, which also affects how each story goes (remember Marvel and Sony’s dispute about Spiderman rights?). The differences between the Shang Chi comics and the movie were also caused by such factors.
In the comics, Shang Chi’s origin story is hugely tied to Fu Manchu, a dangerous Chinese criminal mastermind. However, because MCU hasn’t acquired rights to use Fu Manchu in the films, they had to use Fu Manchu only as an alias that Shang Chi’s father Zheng Shu used. Zheng Shu’s character was also fused with the real Mandarin (yes, the fake one introduced previously in Iron Man 3), who was supposed to be a different villain in the comics.
While it all works since Shang Chi’s entire story is about finding out the truth about his father’s evil nature and turning against him, the changes significantly alter the organisations and network of villains Shang Chi encounters — and will encounter — in the MCU.
Despite these changes, however, Marvel proves yet again that they know how to whip up a good superhero movie. Shang Chi’s currently rated 96% on Rotten Tomatoes and has been dubbed one of Marvel’s best origin stories to date. It took a while for the film franchise to introduce its first Asian superhero but we’re glad it’s payoff is looking great.
(Cover photo from: @shangchi)