Marvel Developing First Asian Superhero Movie: Shang-Chi

Move over Iron Fist, the real master of kung fu is here. Meet Shang-Chi, the next big Marvel superhero you’ve never heard of.

On the day Marvel Studios was getting ready to drop a new trailer for Captain Marvel, it is reported that Marvel is in development on a film adaptation of the character Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung Fu. Shang-Chi will not only be Marvel Studios’ first Asian superhero, but the first time an Asian superhero has been the lead in a major superhero film. Marvel has hired Asian-American David Callaham to write the screenplay and is looking for an Asian director to helm the project, similar to how with Black Panther they got a black director with a black screenwriter and a predominantly black cast.

Black Panther seems to be a major influence on Marvel Studios moving forward with Shang-Chi. Taking a character from a certain nationality and allowing filmmakers of that nationality to come aboard to give said property its own unique perspective. Allowing Asian filmmakers to make Shang-Chi a very Asian story makes for a great story, but also from a business perspective it gives Disney some good PR credibility and opens the film up in more international markets.

Screenwriter David Callaham already has some superhero credibility, being one of the co-writers for the upcoming Wonder Woman 1984. He contributed to the story for the 2014 Godzilla and co-wrote the screenplay to 2010’s The Expendables.

Shang-Chi was introduced in the pages of Special Marvel Edition #15 in December 1973, created by Jim Starlin and Steve Englehart. He is titled ‘The Master of Kung Fu’ and was created alongside Iron Fist to cash in on the boost of Kung-Fu films popular in the late ’60s and early ’70s. When he was created, Marvel owned the rights to Fu Manchu and made Shang-Chi his son. Disney and Marvel don’t own the rights to Fu Manchu anymore so that aspect of his origin will change (along with the fact that the Fu Manchu character is an uncomfortable stereotype).

Shang-Chi was raised and trained in the martial arts by his father and his instructors. After leaving his home on a mission to see the outside world he met one of his father’s archenemies. Shang-Chi learned that his father was evil and rebelled against his father. He tends to typically team up with many characters in the Marvel Universe so hopefully, this aspect can be carried over into the film.

Chi’s origin story fits the mold of many heroes in the Marvel Universe for an origin story. An arrogant/bad person starts out thinking one way but has life changed for them by seeing the bigger picture and learns to become a selfless/hero (Iron Man, Thor, Doctor Strange).

It is fitting that Shang-Chi is getting a film (and low-key humorous that this news comes after Iron Fist was canceled on Netflix), as Shang-Chi was one of the ten original Marvel properties that were in consideration for development when the MCU was taking shape. When Marvel Studios launched in 2005, they put up ten properties as collateral and were given an initial $525 million to adapt those characters into movies. Shang-Chi was one of those names. Eight of those properties have been made the leap to live action (Ant-Man, the Avengers, Black Panther, Captain America, Cloak and Dagger, Doctor Strange, Hawkeye, Nick Fury) with the only remaining name left being the Power Pack.

Phase 3 of the MCU introduced audiences to characters like Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Spider-Man, and the Wasp as potential replacements for the old guard like Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor. Now it appears Phase 4 will introduce even more new faces. Shang-Chi and the recently announced Eternals movie (directed by Chloe Zhao) continue Marvel’s pattern that originated with Iron Man back in 2008. Take a low-level character from the comics that general audiences may have never heard of but craft a compelling narrative with a hook and make that hero an A-lister. It is a strategy that has been their driving force since they began.

We are also getting a good idea of what Phase 4 of Marvel will look like. Spider-Man: Far From Home is the only confirmed film, but Black Widow and The Eternals have directors, Shang-Chi is just announced, and Ryan Coogler’s returning for Black Panther 2. It appears the next phase of the MCU will be a more diverse place than when it began. Many have wondered how Marvel can keep audiences excited after Avengers 4? New characters and more diverse hirings seem like a great place to start.