'Shang-Chi' director hints a big change to the film's villain, the Mandarin

"Family" isn't just for Fast & Furious. Director Destin Daniel Cretton hints that his Marvel film will explore the concept of family in a big way.

Marvel Entertainment

In 2021, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will meet its next big superhero in Shang-Chi, a kung fu secret agent in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. While Marvel previously announced that the Iron Man 3 nemesis the Mandarin (but this time, the real one) will play a big role in the film, director Destin Daniel Cretton dropped a subtle hint that the Mandarin is, in fact, Shang-Chi’s father.

In a December 24 episode of the podcast They Call Us Bruce, hosted by Jeff Yang and Phil Yu, Destin Daniel Cretton appeared to promote his newest film Just Mercy. At the end of the episode, the hosts took a detour to the MCU, providing a small glimpse into 2021’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

Noting that Shang-Chi is “a very different type of movie than Just Mercy,” Cretton revealed both movies share similar themes and ideas on family.

“In the same vein, the emotional aspect and the ideas of camaraderie, family, and connection is something that will definitely be a part of this movie,” he said.

That “F” word — “family” — doesn’t just belong to Fast & Furious. While the plot for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is still under wraps, Cretton’s quotes suggest that Legend of the Ten Rings will follow Shang-Chi as he challenges his blood family, as well as cooperate with an adopted new one.

In Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu comics, which Shang-Chi starred in for over a hundred issues in the 1970s, Shang-Chi embarks on a journey to defeat his father, Fu Manchu, the same pulp villain invented by English author Sax Rohmer in 1913. Unable to work alone, Shang-Chi teams up with an array of British agents, including Sir Denis Nayland Smith (the protagonist of Rohmer’s novels); Clive Reston, a spy modeled after James Bond; Leiko Wu, a Chinese-British agent Shang-Chi falls for; and “Black Jack” Tarr, Smith’s aide-de-camp.

In 'Marvel Special Edition' #15, Shang-Chi's first solo comic, Shang-Chi confronts his father, the villainous Fu Manchu from Sax Rohmer's pulp novels. In the 2021 film 'Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,' his father may be changed to the Mandarin, played by Tony Leung.

Marvel Entertainment

While Shang-Chi learns to work with strangers, it’s Shang-Chi’s family whom he fights. Besides his father, Shang-Chi’s sister Fah Lo Suee clashes with Shang-Chi, while other times Fah Lo Suee tries (and fails) to use Shang-Chi as a pawn in her own attempts to overthrow her father.

Shang-Chi also has two brothers; One is an adoptive brother, M’Nai, a refugee from Africa whom Fu Manchu raised to become the assassin called “Midnight.” The brothers clashed in an early issue of Shang-Chi’s comics (Marvel Special Premiere #16). The second is Moving Shadow, who was raised in secret from Shang-Chi and lives to fulfill his evil father’s wishes. Moving Shadow first appeared in the 2002 Marvel MAX series, Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu.

At the time of Shang-Chi’s creation in 1973, Marvel had a working agreement with Rohmer’s estate to incorporate characters from Rohmer’s stories into the Marvel Universe. When that agreement expired years later, Marvel kept Shang-Chi but downplayed Fu Manchu to avoid copyright infringement.

Aside from the legal issue, there was also a matter of changing cultural attitudes as Fu Manchu was (and is) a dated “Orientalist” stereotype of Asians in popular media. It was these attitudes that inspired Marvel to subvert its own Orientalist villain, the Mandarin, in the 2013 film Iron Man 3.

Cover of 'Marvel Special Edition #16,' where Shang-Chi fights his adoptive brother, Midnight.

Marvel Entertainment

With Marvel obviously unwilling to incorporate Fu Manchu, Kevin Feige et al appear to be rewriting Shang-Chi’s canon. While Marvel has yet to explicitly say so, it appears Marvel is turning the Mandarin (played by Hong Kong acting legend Tony Leung) into Shang-Chi’s birth father in place of Fu Manchu. And because of Iron Man 3, there is already the groundwork for fans to accept a less offensive, modern interpretation of “yellow peril” villainy.

In a separate feature interview with BuzzFeed, Cretton revealed he took a meeting with Marvel with only the intent on enlightening the studio on how to avoid offensive portrayals inherit to the source material.

“I didn’t think I was going to end up getting the gig,” he said. “I honestly thought at best I could maybe, through the process of meeting with them, just explain some of the things that would be offensive to me, and maybe guide it in some way just by getting my voice in someone’s ear.”

It was during that meeting that Marvel decided Cretton was their choice for Shang-Chi.

On They Call Us Bruce, Cretton revealed his excitement for Shang-Chi, fueled by lament on the lack of Asian faces in superhero pop culture.

“It’s really exciting to just be a part of another movie that’s going to put some new faces up on the screen,” he said. “I didn’t even know why I loved Spider-Man until I was old enough to realize I couldn’t see his face, and I could imagine myself underneath that mask. There weren’t any Asian faces to identify with in the superhero word. So to be able to give a new generation an option is really cool.”

Simu Liu, revealed as Shang-Chi at Comic-Con.

Weston Green/Inverse

Shang-Chi will star Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu in the title role, alongside Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians) and Tony Leung as the Mandarin. In an October 23 visit to the New York Film Academy (uploaded to YouTube on December 28), Marvel’s Kevin Feige said Shang-Chi will have a “98 percent” Asian cast.

“We’ve wanted to make that movie for a long time. We want to make a movie with a 98% Asian cast,” he said. “Shang-Chi is gonna be so much more than a kung fu movie. But it has elements of that, which we’re excited about.”

Meanwhile, Just Mercy is a superhero story for the real world. In theaters now, the film stars Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, and Tim Blake Nelson, in the true story of Walter McMillian (Foxx), an African-American man sentenced to death for the 1986 murder of Ronda Morrison, a white woman, in Alabama. McMillian was convicted despite dozens of eyewitnesses confirming McMillian at a church fish fry during the murder.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will release in theaters on February 12, 2021.

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