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Credit: Marvel Comics

Shang-Chi to star in Marvel's first Asian-based superhero movie

Contributed by
Dec 3, 2018

Marvel Studios is about to take its next big step into a more diverse Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Deadline reports that the Kevin Feige-led company is "fast-tracking" a movie based on Shang-Chi, the Chinese superhero who made his comics debut in the December 1973 issue of Special Marvel Edition (#15), by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin.

Marvel has already assigned Chinese-American screenwriter Dave Callaham to pen the script, and is actively looking to recruit either an Asian or Asian-American director to get behind the camera for the project.

In addition to his cultural ties for this project, Callaham already comes with strong genre credentials as well. He recently co-wrote Wonder Woman 1984 with director Patty Jenkins and DC Comics legend Geoff Johns, has been tapped to write a sequel to the upcoming Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and worked on both the 2014 Godzilla reboot and the soon-to-be-filming Zombieland 2.

In terms of what Marvel hopes to accomplish with Shang-Chi, the immediate reference point is Black Panther, which utilized African-American filmmakers and an almost all-black cast to create a blockbuster movie steeped in African culture and themes that resonated with African and African-American audiences.

Strangely enough, while Shang-Chi is clearly part of Marvel's plan to expand the MCU in terms of both ethnic and gender representation both in front of and behind the camera, his origins are decidedly sketchier.

After a failed attempt to obtain the comic-book rights to the popular Kung Fu TV series, Marvel Comics instead acquired the character Dr. Fu Manchu, the evil supervillain created by novelist Sax Rohmer in 1913 who became — through books, comics, movies and TV shows — the personification of the racist "Yellow Peril" concept that Asian races were a threat to the West.

Shang-Chi himself was an original Marvel creation and introduced as the secret son of Fu Manchu, with the comics making references to his father and other characters from the Rohmer stories. The Fu Manchu connection, however, was eventually retconned when Marvel lost the rights to that character and it was revealed that "Fu Manchu" was an alias for Shang-Chi's real father, the sorcerer Zhang Zu.

Shang-Chi became so instantly popular (this was during the martial arts craze of the mid-'70s) that Special Marvel Edition's title was changed two issues later to The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu, which ran for another 108 issues until June 1983.

Initially an unparalleled master of all forms of martial arts, Shang-Chi later gained the power to make duplicates of himself and has interacted over the years with the Avengers, the X-Men, Daughters of the Dragon, Spider-Man, the Thing, Iron Fist, and many others. He became an Avenger himself in 2012 during the Marvel NOW! relaunch and also appeared most recently in 2017's "Secret Empire" storyline.

Where and when Shang-Chi will make his screen debut remains to be seen, but it seems he will play an important role in an MCU that is going to look, in many ways, very different in the aftermath of Avengers 4.

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