Ten Rings

‘Shang-Chi’ ending explained: How Marvel’s best hero yet fits into the MCU

“You are a product of all who came before you.”

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a modern blockbuster epic. And, of course, that means a bigger-that-life finale. If you’re looking for an explainer on Shang-Chi’s ending, look no further, we’ve got you covered. And this should go without saying, but, spoilers ahead.

Shang-Ch has all the action you could ask for in a Marvel Studios title, coupled with the most original, interesting locales ever featured in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But Shang-Chi is also a surprisingly introspective film, following the MCU’s newest hero on a journey towards self-discovery and acceptance.

In its third act, Shang-Chi attempts to marry the blockbuster Marvel formula with its own, layered emotional themes — with varying degrees of success. As a result, the film’s ending, though uneven in its technical execution, firmly cements Simu Liu’s Shang-Chi as one of the most compelling and vividly realized heroes in the MCU right now.

Here’s how Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings plays out, and how its ending drives the film’s most important themes home while setting up Shang-Chi in the MCU.

Shang-Chi ending explained: Origins

Simu Liu in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.Marvel Studios

When we first meet him as an adult, Shang-Chi is living as “Shaun,” a valet driver who spends his nights drinking and singing karaoke with his best friend, Katy (Awkwafina). It’s a carefree but rudderless existence. Even worse, it’s all just a half-truth. The parts we see of Shaun in the film’s first act are real and authentic, but they’re not showing the whole picture.

Shaun’s life in San Francisco was born out of his desire to flee his family and a secret past. But throughout Legend of the Ten Rings, Shaun’s journey forces him to bring the two sides of himself (“Shaun” and “Shang-Chi”) together.

That begins with the film’s stunning bus sequence, which sees Shang-Chi use his kung fu skills in order to save himself and Katy from a group of goons sent by his father, Wenwu (Tony Leung). Recovering from the attack, Shang-Chi sets out to find his sister, Xialing (Meng'er Zhang), but this turns out to be a fraught reunion — one quickly cut short by the arrival of Wenwu and his men.

Shang-Chi is subsequently forced to spend a night in his father’s mountain compound, where his mother was murdered and his father trained him as an assassin. For Shang-Chi, this is a haunted house, its walls and rooms littered with moments that are frozen forever in his memory — like the wooden post still dented by the thousands of times Shang-Chi’s fists rained down on it. Surrounded by memories he’d tried to escape, the compound forces him to see the brutality and darkness of his past once again.

Shang-Chi ending explained: Conflict

Fala Chen as Ying Li in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.Marvel Studios

But after Shang-Chi is allowed to enter Ta Lo, his mother’s mystical village, he discovers a light and beautiful place where family is honored and love is fought for. In other words, Ta Lo is the exact opposite of his father’s Ten Rings compound. There, Shang-Chi is given a chance to rediscover his mother’s love and wisdom thanks to the presence of her sister, Ying Nan (Michelle Yeoh).

“You are a product of all who came before you,” Ying Nan tells him, urging Shang-Chi to reconcile the conflicting sides of his past. But, like all great heroes, he doesn’t listen to her. At least, not at first.

Instead, he deems himself unworthy of the inner peace and love that fueled his mother, resolving to kill his father. Consequently, when Shang-Chi faces his father again on the shores of Ta Lo and attempts to beat him by matching his father’s rage, he not only fails but threatens to destroy their relationship once and for all.

Wenwu responds by sending Shang-Chi sinking into the depths of the lake that surrounds the village, overpowering his son’s grief and brutality with his own.

Shang-Chi ending explained: Ascencion

Shang-Chi and his mother, Ying Li, share a heartbreaking farewell.Marvel Studios

As Shang-Chi floats under the water, he remembers his final, emotionally charged conversation with his mother. This scene is loaded with sadness and pain, but also love and warmth, a tearful farewell that reminds Shang-Chi of the balance between darkness and light that has always existed in himself and his family.

Moments later, he opens his eyes, his lungs fill with air, and — thanks to the help of the Great Protector — he’s launched onto the rocky ledge where his father is busy hammering away at Ta Lo’s sacred gate.

At peace with the two sides of himself, Shang-Chi is not only able to best his father in combat but also capable of wielding the Ten Rings, like his mother did decades before him. He takes the trauma and pain of his childhood and creates something new and better from its scars — using the very same artifacts his father once used for ill to destroy the film’s personification of darkness while soaring high above it. At this moment, Shang-Chi is totally triumphant.

Shang-Chi ending explained: Analysis

Tony Leung and Simu Liu in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.Marvel Studios

In its last “proper” scene, barring the post-credits sequence, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings finds Shang-Chi and Katy recounting their experiences to a pair of friends, who are skeptical until Wong (Benedict Wong) appears and beckons Shang-Chi and Katy through a portal. Along with the film’s mid-credits scene, this scene serves largely as a way to set up the duo’s futures in the MCU. But it’s not the actual climax of the film, nor is it the culmination of Shang-Chi’s arc.

That moment comes in the quiet scene that precedes Shang-Chi and Katy’s lighthearted bar conversation, one in which he and the surviving villagers of Ta Lo gather to honor those who died during the film’s final battle. Quiet and gentle, the scene sees him, Xialing, and Katy light a lantern for Wenwu. It’s a moving, subtly devastating moment — marking Shang-Chi’s ultimate acknowledgment of the parts of himself he tried for so long to forget.

As Yeoh’s Ying Nan says earlier in the film, the key to transcendence isn’t “forgetting” but accepting who we are, even those elements of our character we’d rather not acknowledge. For Shang-Chi, that means accepting his father, his family, his past, and himself.

In doing so, Shang-Chi decisively carves out a place for himself within both his family’s legacy and the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is in theaters now.