We’re now over a year into COVID-19, and we’ve seen the effects that lockdowns have had on even the largest companies, like Disney. Marvel’s entire release schedule for 2020 was pushed into 2021, and LEGO have had to move the releases of each film’s sets accordingly – but the LEGO Shang-Chi sets are still due to hit shelves in a matter of days, despite the film being delayed to September.
So who is Shang-Chi? What’s this Legend of the Ten Rings that Marvel wants to tell me about? And what’s going on in these LEGO Shang-Chi sets? I’m glad you asked, because I’d love to tell you about one of my favourite Marvel heroes and why I’m so glad to see him in LEGO form!
Master of Kung Fu!
First appearing in 1973 in Special Marvel Edition #15, Shang-Chi (pronounced “SHUNG-chi”) is a powerful martial artist, the most skilled kung fu fighter in the world. Born the son of infamous crime lord Fu Manchu (later renamed to Zheng Zu when Marvel lost the rights to the character), Shang-Chi was crafted by his father to be a living weapon from childhood, with the intent that he would join his father’s Si-Fan criminal empire. Learning that his father’s intentions were not noble, Shang-Chi ran away and ultimately pledged to stop his father’s evil plans.
Despite his rather gloomy backstory, Shang-Chi is a genuinely fun character, serious when he needs to be but otherwise capable of great humour and doing what he can to live his life to the fullest.
It’s worth noting here that Fu Manchu and a lot of the lore surrounding the Si-Fan contains uncomfortable stereotypes. A lot of the illustrations and character descriptions played into the idea of the “yellow peril”, an anti-Asian sentiment that plagued a lot of the 20th century. Over the decades, many writers and artists have attempted to retcon (retroactively alter canon) Shang-Chi’s stories to remove racist elements, and it seems Marvel Studios will follow this pattern too. More on this later.
Shang-Chi may be Chinese, but his adventures have led him around the world. He has travelled to the United Kingdom to help MI6 to help them take down his father’s organisation, to Madripoor (now of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier fame) to fight the Hand, and of course to New York City, the centre of the Marvel universe. Over the years he has teamed up with everyone from Spider-Man and Iron Fist to Daredevil and the Punisher. The Shadowland storyline even put him at odds with a possessed Daredevil!
Eventually, in the mid-2010s, Shang-Chi was invited to join the Avengers in what I consider one of the highlights of the character’s history. His exploits include fighting in a galactic war against the creators of life in the universe, using Pym particles to grow to the size of a skyscraper to fight a city-sized dragon, and communicating with alien technology that nobody else could even get close to.
Today, Shang-Chi has gone back to his roots, using his mastery of kung fu to fight his father’s machinations. As I said, Fu Manchu was renamed to Zheng Zu, while the Si-Fan is now the Five Weapons Society, and a lot of its uncomfortable stereotypes removed. Shang-Chi is also a member of the Asian superteam Agents of Atlas led by Jimmy Woo (yes, the Jimmy Woo from Wandavision) and briefly took part in a tournament to become the new host for the Phoenix Force.
In short, Shang-Chi has one of the most varied and exciting histories of any Marvel hero, and for a guy with no powers at all (or at least no permanent ones), that’s an impressive feat indeed!
But what about the Mandarin?
Marvel Studios have made a lot of changes to the character and the wider lore in other to bring him to the screen and in many ways, this is a good thing. As I’ve said, not only did some of the original material feature unwelcome stereotypes, but Marvel also lost the rights to some characters, so the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) version of Shang-Chi will feature some key differences.
The groundwork for the stage was actually set in the MCU’s very first movie, Iron Man, in 2008. Tony Stark was captured by the terrorist organisation called the Ten Rings, which at the time was a nod to infamous Iron Man comics villain the Mandarin. The Mandarin was a warlord who wielded ten rings of alien technology that each gave him a special power, and in Iron Man 3 he seemingly made his debut. Played by Ben Kingsley, the Mandarin was shown to be the leader of the Ten Rings… but then revealed to be an imposter, being used by the film’s actual villain to orchestrate events.
Now, however, we’re set to meet the real deal. Played by Tony Leung (star of Chungking Express, one of my own favourite movies), the MCU’s true Mandarin is once again the leader of the Ten Rings and seems to be wearing ten rings (or manacles) with some kind of strange power. This is a genuinely nice marrying of established concepts from the MCU and the comics, and I’m looking forward to seeing him in action.
He’s also replacing Fu Manchu entirely, and will be Shang-Chi’s father in the MCU. As seen in the trailer, the Mandarin trained Shang-Chi to be the ultimate warrior, gave him 10 years to experience the world, and is now seemingly bringing him back into the fold for some nefarious purpose.
In a strange way, despite Shang-Chi himself being new to the MCU, this feels like a showdown that was a long time coming, especially given the “fake” Mandarin in Iron Man 3. Shang-Chi himself is being played by Simu Liu (Kim’s Convenience) and will be Marvel Studios’ first Asian lead.
This is a big moment for the MCU, one that was a long time coming…and we will unfortunately keep waiting for. Originally set to release on February 12th 2020, COVID-19 forced Disney to move it first to July 9th, and then finally to September 3rd.
And the sets?
Well, LEGO wasn’t as lucky when it came to moving the sets’ release at the last second, so two sets are still being released with the film’s July release in mind (much like the Black Widow set that was released last year despite the film being delayed until this July).
There are three sets in total: 30454 Shang-Chi and The Great Protector, 76176 Escape from The Ten Rings, and 76177 Battle at the Ancient Village. That last set in particular has got a lot of LEGO fans talking. Despite people not really knowing the source material – and indeed the set not containing any semblance of an ancient village – it features a very impressive red-and-white Chinese dragon rising from a spout of water. The other set, 76176, seems to depict a chase scene from the movie, including a beaten-up car and two Ten Rings motorbikes. To me this suggests the movie will attempt to blend Chinese mythology with the high octane action the MCU is known for, and I can’t wait.
Without having seen the movie it’s hard to excite people for the sets beyond “it looks cool”. For me personally, I’m very excited to finally have an official minifigure of one of my favourite Marvel heroes, one who I never thought would make it into the MCU at all. I’m hoping that after the movie comes out, other LEGO fans will be able to share my joy, but for now at least I hope this blog has helped to fill you in on who Shang-Chi is, and what kind of story this mysterious movie might be – and why you should buy the sets!
Written by Jack Rizzo