Simu Liu Shang-Chi
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Credit: Marvel Studios/Disney

'Shang-Chi' star on what sets the MCU's first Asian-led film apart from heroes like Batman and Spidey

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Apr 19, 2021, 11:25 AM EDT

To celebrate Simu Liu's 31st birthday today, Marvel Studios unveiled the first kick-ass teaser trailer for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. And as if that wasn't enough, Entertainment Weekly ran a meaty feature piece with a collection of production stills and behind-the-scenes insights from members of the cast and crew.

Like Black Panther and Captain Marvel, the upcoming release — out this September — exemplifies a major step forward for repsentation in comic book films; it's is the very first MCU movie to be led by an Asian superhero.  "[Growing up] all I had was Spider-Man. Because he had the mask on, I could dress up like Spider-Man for Halloween," director and co-writer Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12) said to EW. "I had a handful of other characters that looked like me on screen, but there were maybe two or three that I could choose from, and superheroes were not a part of that."

What excited Liu (Kim's Convenience) the most is that Shang-Chi isn't a household name like, say, Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker. Against all odds, Marvel Studios has enjoyed incredible success with more obscure characters and teams like the Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, and even Iron Man (mainly due to the fact that a good chunk of the more well-known properties were controlled by Fox and Sony at the time). In the end, however, the MCU's more limited catalogue of IPs, at least in the beginning, helped build a multi-billion dollar franchise.

"His backstory has never been told before," Liu explained. "We know so many different versions of Batman's origin story, how his parents were murdered when he was very young. We know Peter Parker, who was bitten by a radioactive spider, and he loses his uncle. Shang-Chi's story is very much unknown to most of the world, so we had a lot of freedom and creative liberty to make it the way that we wanted to."

Credit: Marvel Studios/Disney

Bringing the character to the big screen also presented an opportunity to dispel some of the hero's more racially insensitive attributes that originated in the '70s-era comics from whence he came. "The fact that he existed and the fact that he was an Asian character was amazing," Liu continued. "But at the same time, there are aspects of that portrayal of him that maybe could feel a little stereotypical. So when we first started to map out who this character was and what his journey was going to be over the course of this film, we were all very sensitive to not have it go into stereotypical territory."

Cretton's script (co-written by David Callaham and Andrew Lanham) embraces the aforementioned creative leeway with the introduction of an entirely new character: Shang-Chi's father, Wenwu (Tony Leung), aka the true Mandarin and leader of the Ten Rings terrorist group. Wenwu trained his son to be an assassin of the highest order, but was shocked when his talented progeny decided to give it all up for a normal existence in San Francisco. Ten years later, and the Mandarin has had enough of what he sees as an immature rebellious streak and wants the boy at his side. "This is not a 'Luke, I am your father' twist," Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige said. "He knows who his father is, and he's decided to leave that world behind before he's pulled back into it."

"The core of Shang-Chi's arc in the comics is really a family drama," added producer Jonathan Schwartz. "That was something that Destin keyed into really early on in our conversations, the idea of taking this broken family and this really dark, even abusive family background and seeing what that does to a child over time."

Somehow, we don't think a Zune playing Cat Stevens' "Father & Son" is going to fix this relationship. Barring any further pandemic-related delays, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will open up a can of whoop-ass in theaters Friday, Sep. 3.