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'Shang-Chi' star Meng’er Zhang's favorite part of filming? 'Punching Simu in the face'

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Sep 3, 2021, 11:14 AM EDT

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings follows the titular hero as he's pulled back into a life he left behind — a life of assassinations, intense training, and a powerful, essentially immortal, and demanding father. In the process, he discovers who he really is.

Shang-Chi (Simu Li) is not, however, the only character in the movie with that type of arc. His sister, Xialing, also left home and ran away from Wenwu (Tony Leung), the real Mandarin. But, while Shang-Chi tried to live a "normal" life working as a valet named "Shaun," Xialing started an underground fighting ring that has attracted the likes of Doctor Strange's Wong and the forgotten Incredible Hulk baddie Abomination.

"She is someone who you never want to mess with because she can kick some butt. She is a very tough woman," says Meng'er Zhang, who plays Xialing in the movie, now in theaters. "She does have a traumatic childhood. I think, in many ways, she is like her father. She never quit. She knows what she wants and she goes for it. She loves power."

Xialing is an interesting mirror to Shang-Chi. He, clearly, is the hero of this superhero movie, but she's a compelling — and layered — character in her own right. Even before Shang-Chi ran away, Wenwu never really respected Xialing or had ambitions for her in the same way. She essentially trained herself, and as a result, she's torn between wanting to be nothing like her father and proving herself to him — in a rebellious way.

"She has a cold and unapproachable exterior, but she also has a sensitive and vulnerable part deep down inside of her," Zhang says. "She knows how to stand her ground and find her own voice and use it."

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is Zhang's first major film role, and she says she didn't know when she first sent her audition tapes in that she was even up for a Marvel movie. ("I just saw an audition call, in a group chat, that said they needed a girl who can speak Mandarin and English, and I thought, ‘Well, I can be that girl.'") Once she joined the MCU, Zhang threw herself into the role, especially the stunts and martial arts action.

"I did everything they allowed me to do, and for some dangerous parts, I had my amazing stunt doubles," she says. "Those girls, they are amazing, and we completed the character together."

However, it sounds like things might have been more dangerous for her co-star.

"I can tell you that I really did punch Simu in the face," she reveals. "It's not a fun memory for him, but I did enjoy it. I didn't mean to, but I did enjoy it."

Xialing is just one of many new characters that Shang-Chi and the Legends of the Ten Rings introduces to the MCU, and the ending of the movie, without giving anything away, promises they'll be a force in the future of the franchise. Zhang says she honestly doesn't know what's next for her or any specifics about an (as-yet unconfirmed) Shang-Chi sequel, but the movie certainly leaves her in a powerful place.

"I'm very excited about the post-credits scene," she teases.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is now in theaters.