I don’t claim to be an expert when it comes to Shang-Chi. Sadly, the person most tied to the master of kung-fu in our old blogging circles is no longer with us and I really would have loved to see his thoughts on this movie. I could probably just do a Daily Article Link to some article on his site and call it a day. Not that it would do me any good as webmaster mind you. However, I did find some experts, one of whom will be involved with two of the three videos below.
I am a bit more aware of the history of the Mandarin, and that’s only because I’m a fan of Iron Man. If you only know the Marvel Cinematic Universe and not the source material, the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 won’t be as disappointing nor do you care that now we will never see Tony Stark go up against his arch nemesis because politics and kissing China’s behind. (Never mind that the Chinese government in the Marvel Universe has their own issues with the Mandarin as he wants to take them over along with the rest of the world.) While I don’t know how Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings is approaching the Mandarin personally I do know how they’re approaching his signature rings and it’s wrong.
I do get that the Marvel Cinematic Universe wants to try their hands (no pun intended) at a martial arts movie, and this has been one of the MCU’s strengths, the ability to go beyond superheroes into the larger cosmic and mystical wings of the Marvel multiverse. However, the MCU used to be good at adapting 616 to this new universe, something that stopped around the time of Marvel’s deal with Sony to get Spider-Man in the MCU, Sony insisting they wanted to hold on to as much of Spidey’s iconography as they could in case they wanted to continue their stranglehold on the license they’ve only gotten right maybe three times in the movies and not even in the same series, plus some cartoons they probably don’t acknowledge outside of streaming rights. Even then some of the recent two Spidey shows are not quite proper adaptations, especially that last one. The PJ Masks ripoff they’re dropping on Disney Junior gets more right than the previous show.
To prepare you for the upcoming movie that comes out tomorrow I’ve found three videos going over the history of Shang-Chi, the Mandarin, and the actual story of the ten rings. I will also have some additional commentary because this isn’t a simple video post. This is the feature article.
First, from Variant Comics comes the history of our title hero.
The thing I’m worried about most is getting Shang-Chi’s personality right, and that they don’t give him chi powers (beyond the ones mentioned in the video, which is basically just “heal faster, darn you”) out of nowhere. I’ve seen this in many other adaptations of non-mystic based martial arts properties and it bugs me. There isn’t a non-game version of Double Dragon that doesn’t give Billy and Jimmy Lee magic powers or totems of some kind. The few Shang-Chi stories I know are straight up martial arts tales…that just happen to have things like giant monster-guised robots and stuff on occasion. No super powers unless he’s teaming with actual superheroes. Shang-Chi gets by on just being that damn good.
As far as the Mandarin being recast as his father…I’m actually okay with that. Sure, in the comics Mandarin has a son named Temugin, who continued his father’s revenge plans despite hating everything his father stood for, so in some ways I wouldn’t mind seeing them as brothers. It also allows Shang-Chi to have a reason to deal with the Mandarin, though seeing him deal with his actual dad (Fu Manchu was a licensed character Marvel was using elsewhere and decided to use him for Shang-Chi’s origin, a mistake later rectified with original villain Zheng-Zu now being Shang-Chi’s dad) would have been fine. It draws Shang-Chi into the MCU properly and it’s one of those changes I can accept between the adaptations. I just wish we could have seen Mandy fight Iron Man. This video by Channel NerdGasm goes into the Mandarin’s history but very briefly.
Catch more Channel NerdGasm on their YouTube channel.
Like I said in the intro part, I think the change was done not so much for the attempt at doing Shaw Brothers or a “wuxia” film (a genre description term I just learned) rather than something inspired by Kung-Fu the original TV show or some of the spy-like adventures Shang-Chi would get into and more about pleasing China, which Hollywood seems to be more interested in than their home country lately because they’ve made more money in Chinese theaters than American ones–and every time they try to pander to Chinese moviegoers seem to fail miserably but today’s Disney and affiliates seem to fail at seeing their own mistakes. The sad part is the MCU was usually very good at imitating the US comics; it was one of their strengths and one of the praises they got from media crossover fans. That’s why the Chinese villain doesn’t fight the white American hero that for decades he was the biggest foe of. That makes me sad.
Worse is the ten rings themselves, one of the most famous weapons (well, ten if you want to get nitpicky) in the Marvel universe. They totally changed them to just these arm bands that can shoot mystic energy or whatever. Let’s go back to Variant Comics from when the movie was first announced and learn more about the real rings of the Mandarin.
Catch more Variant Comics on his YouTube channel.
Imagine one lone marital artist having to deal with a scientific genius who is also no slouch when it comes to martial arts and has ten rings with ten different powers. How cool would that be? Why the change? Producer Jonathan Schwartz was asked in an interview with The Direct if it had something do with how similar it seemed to the Infinity Stones. Admittedly that would make a bit of sense. Non-comic fans might see it as a repeat of the Stones despite them not being as powerful in some ways and more powerful in others while being tied to the Mandarin and Fing Fang Foom’s people. However, that wasn’t the driving reason according to Schwartz.
“You know, it may have been a little bit of that, but I think it may just be, there was a little bit of, we sort of felt like the finger rings were going to look a little goofy in practice. And a little bit of leaning into the genre elements. How do we make that come together?”
I have to disagree. I’ve seen the rings used in the 90’s Iron Man cartoon and even the terrible first season a dude shooting beams that do different things from his fingers totally works. It might also give flashbacks to Big Trouble In Little China, a cult classic that serves as a love letter to Chinese cinema and a parody of the white savior that isn’t completely insulting. (Yes, it is a thing even if it’s been overblown by the usual suspects.) Finger beams are also something seen in the more mystical martial arts stories, so if that’s what they’re going for (the design for the ten rings in this movie are based on an actual kung-fu weapon they saw in one of those old Chinese kung-fu movies but may actually be more of a training tool in reality) then the rings would work just fine and be more of a challenge for someone without superpowers or a high-tech suit of armor. It would make his victory all the better if they did it right.
Shang-Chi And The Ten Rings may ultimately prove to be a good movie, but as an adaptation I’m already seeing a few red flags. It’s the direction the MCU has been going, and while it’s a slow progression when alternate right issues aren’t a problem I may be looking forward to seeing the movie in general but I’ll be more curious to see what fans of the master of kung-fu actually think. As an Iron Man fan, and thus a fan of the Mandarin as a challenge to the hero, I’m already not as impressed as I want to be.