With a writer and director now formally attached to the project, it’s only a matter of time until Marvel announces actual dates for its Shang-Chi movie. But who is the Master of Kung Fu, and what can you expect of the film version? We’ve got the essentials right here…
Who is Shang-Chi?
Created by Steve Englehart (creator of Star-Lord) and Jim Starlin (creator of Thanos), Shang-Chi is the Master of Kung Fu. That means he’s REALLY good at martial arts. Indeed, the character actually began life as a thinly-disguised attempt to capitalise on the martial arts exploitation boom of the 1970s. Put it this way: it’s no surprise his name rhymes with Bruce Lee.
But who is he? Well, look at it this way. He’s a pure-intentioned, noble martial artist with a discipline and focus that makes Captain America look sloppy. Raised to become an assassin by his father, he escaped his fate and dedicated his life to taking down his father’s criminal empire, initially as part of the British secret service. And he’s perhaps the only man capable of doing so…
What are Shang-Chi’s powers?
Unlike many Marvel characters – but a lot like most martial arts heroes – Shang-Chi traditionally has no superpowered abilities. However, he is an expert in all forms of armed and unarmed combat. His mastery of his chi gives him the ability to surpass normal human physical limits by small amounts, so he is able to withstand amounts of pain and fatigue that would fell a normal person – but he’s not mystically powered. He doesn’t have iron fists, he doesn’t have unbreakable skin, he’s just really really good at what he does.
That said, more recently he gained the ability to create duplicates of himself so that he could fight multiple foes at once. We, er, don’t expect that ability to turn up in the movie. Comics, right?
Who are Shang-Chi’s supporting characters?
Originally, Shang Chi was introduced as a previously unmentioned son of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu, a character to whom Marvel had just acquired the comics rights. In later years (and once the license had lapsed), this relationship was re-interpreted with Chi being the son of an ancient Chinese sorcerer named Zheng Zhu, who merely used Fu Manchu as an alias.
Shang-Chi also has a number of half-siblings, most notably M’Nai, the Midnight Sun, who Zheng Zhu rescued after his village was destroyed in an attack by the British. Although the two were friends growing up, M’Nai remained loyal to his adoptive father after Chi abandoned him and attempted to bring his brother back to receive their father’s judgement.
Who is Shang-Chi friends with?
Within the Marvel Universe, Shang-Chi is most closely associated with street-level characters, in particular the version of Heroes for Hire run by the Daughters of the Dragon (Colleen Wing and Misty Knight). He has also been a member of the Avengers and the Secret Avengers. At one point, he gave Spider-Man formal martial arts training when the latter lost his spider-sense ability.
That said, Shang-Chi mostly works alone, so any connections to the MCU as it stands might be tricky to make. His work as a secret agent could mean he’s worked for or with SHIELD in the past, which might be an in for the Marvel universe, but the natural partner in this movie would be Doctor Strange and Wong – after all, Shang Chi’s father is a sorcerer. Could he have come up against The Ancient One even? We’ll see!
But hey, maybe they’ll ‘Phase One’ it and keep him solo.
Which comics are a good primer for Shang-Chi?
There are a few places Shang-Chi’s story gets told, but if you’d like to learn more about the character here are some of the best options:
Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu Omnibus Vol. 1 -4 – A four-part volume collecting many of the earliest Marvel Universe appearances of Shang-Chi in chronological order.
Secret Avengers Vol. 2: Eyes of the Dragon – Shang Chi and Steve Rogers’ Avengers team up to prevent rogue SHIELD agents resurrecting Chi’s father.
Heroes for Hire Vol. 1: Civil War – Shang Chi joins the Daughters of the Dragon, the Black Cat and more street-level heroes for some classic paid-for heroics.