Stan Lee Tried to Make a Shang-Chi Movie Starring Bruce Lee's Son
Lee saw the potential in an Asian Marvel superhero, and almost had Brandon Lee play him on the big screen.
The late Stan Lee, who died at the age of 95, lived to see so much of Marvel come to life in the form of movies, TV shows, video games, and cartoons. But there’s at least one character Lee believed in who still hasn’t made his debut outside comics: Shang-Chi, Marvel’s resident “Master of Kung-Fu” who enjoyed serious popularity in the 1970s.
But it almost happened in the best way possible. Stan Lee’s former boss Margaret Loesch, who spent six years as President and CEO of Marvel Productions, tells Inverse that Lee pushed to turn Shang-Chi into a film or television series. And Lee wanted Bruce Lee’s son, the late Brandon Lee, to play the character.
“Stan did believe in the character,” Loesch says. “He used that as an example of the comic that could transition into the movie and television world.”
In the 1970s, pop culture saw a surge in popularity for kung fu media. Hoping to get in on the action, Marvel sought, and failed, to obtain, the comic book rights to the Kung Fu TV series starring David Carradine.
So in December 1973, Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin (who also created Thanos) introduced Marvel’s own kung fu master, Shang-Chi, in Special Marvel Edition #15. Shang-Chi then starred in his own series, Master of Kung Fu, which ran for a whopping 125 issues.
Recognized as the most powerful fighter in the Marvel Universe, Shang-Chi is the son of Sax Rohmer’s pulp villain Fu Manchu, who rebels against his father and becomes a hero. In recent years, Shang-Chi has had stints as an Avenger and was most recently a mentor/love interest to Deadpool’s ex, Domino.
When asked if she recalls if Stan Lee ever tried to make anything out of Shang-Chi, Loesch confirms that yes, he did.
“I’ll tell you the only reason I remember that comic because I wasn’t very familiar with it,” she says. “Stan introduced me to Linda, the widow of the great Bruce Lee, and Brandon Lee, his son. They came to our Marvel offices.”
Loesch doesn’t remember when exactly this meeting between Stan Lee and Linda and Brandon Lee (no relation) took place. But in the late ‘80s, Brandon Lee was embarking on an acting career with appearances in TV shows like Ohara and B-movies like Laser Mission. He would later star in the dark 1994 superhero film The Crow, where he was killed in an on-set accident.
“Stan had great hope [for Brandon],” Loesch says. “He thought Brandon would be a future star.”
The Lees (again, no relation) discussed Marvel characters Brandon Lee could play, and Stan Lee believed Shang-Chi was one of them.
“They talked about the kinds of comics that Stan had done, and he mentioned that comic,” Loesch says, referring to Master of Kung Fu. “Stan had great belief that those movies and TV shows based on those types of characters could be very popular. I can’t remember what happened, I think maybe we felt out the networks and they weren’t interested because of the violence. But that’s how I recall that property, because I had not been familiar with it until then.”
In spite of the worldwide popularity of the Marvel franchise today, there is a distinct lack of Asian superheroes who have a prominent presence equal to other characters like Captain America, Iron Man, and Black Panther.
As the number of Asian moviegoers in the United States and abroad increase, it would be in Marvel’s interest to produce a film featuring one of its own original Asian characters. The big box office performance of Crazy Rich Asians, which grossed an impressive $236 million-plus worldwide, is also a compelling argument for Marvel to consider the dollar value of Asian representation.
*Related video: Stan Lee Shares Message of Hope After Violent Charlottesville Protests