By Joyell Nevins
Yes, Marvel fans, the rumours are true: the “Master of Kung Fu” is coming to the big screen! The screenwriting role has been given to Dave Callaham, and director Destin Daniel Cretton has been confirmed for the first on-screen version of the comic book character Shang-Chi. The actual title and release date of the film are still under wraps.
Hot off the success of Black Panther and its incorporation of African and African-American cultures comes Shang-Chi. This will be Marvel’s first Asian superhero to appear larger than life in cinema. Could it be that the Crazy Rich Asians’ financial windfall has greased the pipeline for more culturally-diverse superheroes?
Rather than falling into the trap of whitewashing, Marvel is setting out to hire a crew that is representative of the ethnicity and setting of the comic. Callaham is Chinese-American and an action-movie superstar. He co-wrote the upcoming sequel, Wonder Woman 1984 with Patty Jenkins and Geoff Johns. He is also currently working on the animated sequel to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Remember the Expendables? Callaham helped create that movie franchise, along with being the brainchild behind Legendary’s Godzilla reboot. He also helped create and produce the Amazon prime action comedy series Jean-Claude Van Johnson. Now, Callaham is taking those martial arts fight scenes from the small screen to the big screen.
From Indie Dramas To Heroes In Hot Pants
When indie director Ryan Coogler was tapped for Black Panther, the decision was an unusual one for the Marvel big bang and flash films (although comedic indie director Taika Waititi did a smashing job on Thor: Ragnarok). But Coogler’s artistic and still fun take on the Wakandian hero had fans coming back in droves. It looks like Marvel is hoping lightning will strike again with director Cretton.
Cretton grew up in Maui, Hawaii, to parents of Japanese and Irish descent. He is mostly known for documentaries and dramas and slid into fame with Short Term 12, a surprise indie hit he wrote and directed.
That sensitive drama revolved around a young staff member in a residential treatment facility. It starred then-relatively-unknowns Rami Malek, Kaitlyn Dever, Stephanie Beatriz, and Brie Larson. Larson is now one of the new Marvel faces, just arriving on the scene in March as Captain Marvel.
Larson shows up in another film Cretton is currently directing called Just Mercy. It stars Michael B. Jordan and is based on the memoir of Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson.
Cretton and Larson have also collaborated on what was his first studio-funded feature, The Glass Castle. The drama was an adaptation of Jeannette Walls’ memoir of her dysfunctional upbringing. Cretton told Vanity Fair after the making of that film that, “I would work with Brie forever if I am lucky enough to. I feel like we’re walking into battle together.”
United In Battle
Now they will be walking into a battle of Marvel proportions together. Shang-Chi has some epic fighting moves, but he is one of the only Marvel heroes who has no superpowers (not counting the 2010 appearance in the Avengers series where Shang-Chi cloned himself). Despite this lack of fantastical ability, Shang-Chi has developed a reputation for being possibly the best hand-to-hand fighter in the Marvel Universe.
He just whips villains using skills he learned through training instigated by his world-domination-hungry father. Shang-Chi has even been known to shatter metal and dodge bullets using his ability to harness his body’s natural power.
The original character, often referred to as the “Bruce Lee for the comics world,” was successfully introduced in 1973 by creators Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin. The kung fu fighter’s popularity grew even more when writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy came to the helm.
The concept started when Marvel originally tried to buy the rights to the Kung Fu television series. After that deal fell through, corporate turned its sights to pulp novelist Sax Rohmer. Marvel gained the rights to his evil villain Dr. Fu Manchu and introduced Shang-Chi as the doctor’s son.
Shang-Chi is raised in a reclusive Chinese compound away from technology and most of the outside world. His childhood is spent entrenched in martial arts training and mastering his chi, which later leads to his moniker ‘Master of Kung Fu.’
But after finally being introduced to civilisation and set up to kill who he later discovers is an innocent man, Shang-Chi, meaning “The Rising and Advancing of the Spirit,” realises his father’s true nature and discovers why Dr. Fu Manchu is known to many as ‘The Devil’s Doctor.’ His father’s deceit and wickedness turn the pair into mortal enemies.
Shang-Chi spends the rest of his comic days traveling the world and righting wrongs. Sometimes, he fights solo. Sometimes, he is joined by superheroes such as Spider-Man, Daredevil, or The Thing. As far as the film is concerned, there has been no mention of any other superheroes joining the first of what we can almost guarantee will be a series.
But Who Will Play Shang-Chi?
Hollywood buzz has it that Crazy Rich Asians star Remy Hii may get the proverbial tap. He has been cast in Spider-Man: Far from Home, and many suspect that this is a set up to introduce the kung fu fighter into the MCU.
Another actor on the radar is Ludi Lin – although it’s not certain if that’s coming from the Marvel camp or the actor himself. Lin is no stranger to heroes, having played Murk in DC’s Aquaman and Zack the Black Power Ranger from the latest reboot. He told Screen Rant recently that he was definitely willing to jump comic universes, and that he has always wanted to do an Asian-centric superhero.
So how will Shang-Chi factor into the next phase of MCU? We aren’t sure of all of the details yet, but we know that when that film hits theatres, we’ll all be singing “everybody was kung fu fighting…”