Why Marvel made ‘Shang-Chi’ change the Ten Rings
“No more knuckle jewelry.”
Thanos is no more, but that doesn’t mean the Mad Titan’s influence isn’t still felt across the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But these mysterious, possibly alien objects went through a series of changes before entering the MCU. No longer the finger jewelry that once graced Marvel’s comic books, the Ten Rings are now Shaolin-style iron rings worn on one’s forearms.
Where did these Ten Rings come from? And more importantly, why do they differ so significantly from the finger rings the Mandarin wore in the comics?
Shang-Chi director Destin Daniel Cretton and screenwriter Dave Callaham tell Inverse how and why the Ten Rings received a massive overhaul. As they explain, the decision was precipitated by none other than the overwhelming power... of the Infinity Stones.
How Marvel remade Shang-Chi’s Ten Rings
Across Marvel’s vast comic-book universe, the Mandarin has received several origins. But the basics stay the same: A descendant of Genghis Khan, the Mandarin finds ten powerful rings in the spaceship of a dragon alien from the planet Maklu IV. The Mandarin takes the rings for himself, using them to amass power and influence throughout the criminal underworld.
In the comics, the Ten Rings are ten unique finger rings, each with their own colors and abilities. That idea makes them strikingly similar to the Infinity Stones, which Marvel had spent 11 years building its films around as Shang-Chi entered pre-production.
“We were making this movie as Avengers: Endgame’s marketing was ramping up,” explains Shang-Chi screenwriter Dave Callaham. He says producer Jonathan Schwartz asked for the Ten Rings to feel unlike Endgame’s all-powerful bling, for those working on the film to “do something unique and different.”
Callaham explains that Schwartz said, “Listen, we can’t have these be finger rings. No more knuckle jewelry. We’re gonna be sick of knuckle jewelry. We need to change it.”
And change the rings they did. The MCU’s version of the Ten Rings ditch those vibrant colors and many of the powers they possessed in the comics, turning them into a unified weapon of uncertain origin. (Callaham says the MCU may one day explain where the Ten Rings came from, but not yet.)
They are also no longer finger rings, but iron training rings worn typically by practitioners of Shaolin kung fu disciplines like Hung Gar. As further explained here, iron rings are used for weight training, strengthening arms and fists by hardening muscle, skin, and bone.
Iron rings are also a staple weapon in kung fu movies; they’re seen in the 1978 Shaw Brothers classic The 36th Chamber of Shaolin starring Gordon Liu. Both Callaham and director Cretton tell Inverse that The 36th Chamber, as well as Stephen Chow’s cult classic comedy Kung Fu Hustle, released in 2004, inspired the Ten Rings’ transformation into Shaolin iron rings.
“We just knew we didn’t want to keep them on the fingers,” Cretton tells Inverse. “The 36th Chamber was one of the big inspirations, [and] also Kung Fu Hustle, another great movie that used those weapons. It was through brainstorming while watching these movies that [it] clicked and made sense.”
Additionally, “Marvel is an incredible, collaborative experience,” Callaham says. On top of creatives like Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton, co-writer Andrew Lanham, and producers Jonathan Schwartz and Kevin Feige, “you start bringing in department heads and fight choreographers,” and suddenly “ideas are coming out of everywhere,” according to the scribe.
“The way Marvel works, every project is assigned to a small conference room,” says Callaham. “Every day you just go in there and spitball ideas. All your secrets could be on the wall, and you wouldn’t have to worry about people coming in and out. You start to amass story notes, but also imagery and still shots and pictures of mythological creatures that start to inform the movie.”
A still frame of actor Chiu Chi-ling, a real Hung Gar master who wears iron rings in Kung Fu Hustle, was one of many reference pictures hanging on the wall for the Shang-Chi team.
“We all looked at [that picture] and said, ‘What about that?’” Callaham recalls, with regard to the specific inspiration for the Ten Rings. “I don’t think we had to ask [Marvel head honcho] Kevin [Feige]. The minute it got said out loud, it was so obviously cool and different and set us apart that it was the obvious choice.”
Adds Callaham: “Finger jewelry is great, but it’s not specifically Asian. The imagery of iron rings is unmistakably martial arts. Immediately, you know you’re dealing with something more thought-out and more specific.”
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will open in theaters on September 3.