Unlike Spider-Man, the Hulk, and Captain America, Shang-Chi doesn't have too many varying versions for filmmakers to draw from. But he does have a few, and Shang-Chi star Simu Liu may have just revealed which one fans will see in the 2021 movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
What Happened? — On June 7, a few days before the premiere of Be Water, ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary on Bruce Lee, rapper Ice Cube tweeted: "MARVEL is cool. But give me Bruce Lee. Real life superhero."
Simu Liu, who is currently on hiatus from filming Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings in Australia, tweeted back at Ice Cube, "What if I told you there was a character loosely based on him in the comic books????"
Naturally, Simu Liu is referring to his role as Shang-Chi. But read between the lines of Liu's tweet, and the Chinese-Canadian actor may reveal something about his portrayal that has only been assumed but not confirmed.
The Few Faces of Shang-Chi — In his first appearance in December 1973, just a few months after Bruce Lee's death and the release of his only Hollywood movie, Enter the Dragon, Shang-Chi bore little to no resemblance to Bruce Lee.
With a blue bob, bronze-yellow skin, and a red karate gi Lee never wore, Shang-Chi was a mish-mash of kung fu stereotypes, a play on America's obsession with kung fu movies as a concept than of Bruce Lee himself.
It wasn't until the 2000s, with the release of the 2003 miniseries Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu for the adult-oriented Marvel MAX imprint, that Shang-Chi began to look like Bruce Lee, who by then had become a posthumous pop culture icon.
Gone was Shang-Chi's blue hair and red and gold karate outfit. In their place, Shang-Chi sported a short black haircut similar to Bruce Lee, and a refined fashion sense that was also evocative of Bruce Lee. The new look was the result of artists Paul Gulacy, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Paul Mounts working together to reintroduce Shang-Chi for the new millennium.
This version of Shang-Chi would continue throughout the years, becoming more permanent when Shang-Chi joined the Avengers in the 2010s. In Ed Brubaker's Secret Avengers #9, published 2011, Shang-Chi's evolution into Bruce Lee seemed complete. In a sparring session, the Master of Kung Fu trained with Captain America and looked noticeably similar to the late martial arts movie star.
What This Means — Shang-Chi and Master of Kung Fu, the comics magazine he starred in, were hot-ticket items for Marvel in the late '70s and early '80s. They remain popular for older collectors today, though Shang-Chi's absence in Marvel's popular animated cartoons and video games made him less familiar to millennials.
Although Shang-Chi's profile was highest in the Master of Kung Fu days, his look in those comics isn't just dated but utterly bizarre. In a single glance, they scream "chop socky" as they lack the authenticity that Marvel, and audiences everywhere, seem to want in a big-screen Shang-Chi in 2021. Given Bruce Lee's status as an icon and representative for Asian heroism in movies, that certainly the better avenue for Simu Liu's Shang-Chi to be modeled after.
The Inverse Analysis — Simu Liu's tweet to Ice Cube is nothing more than just a nudge, a way for Liu to continue talking up his film while production has paused due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. But in the absence of official concept art, teaser trailers, or "First Look" reveals, tweets like Liu's can only help us make educated guesses as to what Marvel has in store for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, a film Marvel hopes strikes the same lightning as 2018's Black Panther. Until we actually see something official from the movie, we'll take anything we can get, even the lead actor's silly tweets.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will be released in theaters on May 7, 2021.