'Shang-Chi' director and co-writer share favorite reactions to Marvel hit: The first time one viewer 'felt proud to be Asian'
By all accounts, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has been one of Hollywood’s most triumphant success stories in a long time. It’s drawn glowing reviews, with many fans and critics labeling it upper-echelon among the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s 25 films releases. And this weekend, it officially became the highest-grossing movie of the pandemic era, surpassing its Marvel sibling, Black Widow, to bank $196 million. (Unlike that film — which debuted in theaters and on Disney+ as a Premier Access title — Shang-Chi was a theatrical exclusive.) Within the next few weeks, it'll likely become the first movie to cross the $200 million barrier since Will Smith and Martin Lawrence re-teamed for Bad Boys For Life way back in January 2020.
Perhaps most importantly, the film has made a profound cultural impact as the first major superhero movie with a predominantly Asian cast, starring Simu Liu as the eponymous slacker-turned-warrior who embarks on a quest to save his late mother’s mystical homeland with the help of his wise-cracking best friend Katy (Awkwafina) and estranged sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang).
It’s that third point that’s hit director Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, Just Mercy) and his co-writer Dave Callaham (The Expendables, Wonder Woman 1984) the hardest.
“There was a 22-year-old young man who posted a picture of him and his dad going to watch the movie and he just said, ‘Thank you for healing my relationship with my father,’” Cretton laughed, calling to mind the film’s deep family themes — and complicated relationship between Shang-Chi and his omnipotent father Wenwu (Tony Leung) — that have resonated with many first-generation viewers. “It’s nice, because it is a family movie about a family coming together. And it’s nice to see families going together to watch the movie.”
“I got a DM from a cousin of mine,” Callaham recalled. “She sent me a very gushing DM saying how proud she was to know a person involved in the movie and that it’s the first time she felt proud to be Asian when she watched the movie, which really messed me up — in a good way.”
Here are some other tidbits from our post-release deep-dive with Cretton and Callaham (watch highlights above):
Other Shang-Chi comic book characters included in earlier versions
“The first draft had Leiko Wu in it,” says Callaham, referring to an MI-6 agent and ally of Shang-Chi’s who is murdered by Razor-Fist in the comics before getting resurrected by a black magic ritual. “Which I only just remembered fairly recently because I saw an article about all the stuff that’s still on the table if there’s another movie. And I was like, ‘Oh yeah, we did do that at one point.”
“There was a moment when Shang-Chi had a brother that was left behind with dad rather than a sister,” adds Cretton, likely referencing the comic book character Midnight Sun, the adopted son of Wenwu (then the controversial Fu Manchu) who becomes an antagonist to Shang-Chi and controls the white dragon. “That was early on. And there’s inspiration from the comics… And I think the brother turned into a monster at one point.”
Says Callaham: “We were doing some pretty weird stuff at the beginning before [producer Jonathan Schwartz] kind of pulled us back.”
The moment Cretton knew they landed a star in Simu Liu
As Liu told us around the time of the film’s release, the actor was dispatched to San Diego Comic-Con for his casting announcement in July, 2019, just days after Marvel informed him he’d won the role. His introduction onto the stage of the San Diego Convention Center’s famed Hall H stage made an immediate impression on his director.
“I honestly felt like we hit [the casting right] the moment that he stepped out on stage at Comic-Con,” Cretton says. “I saw him open by speaking in Mandarin and then just instantly switching to English. I could feel the powerful reaction from the audience of just that culture shock of seeing an Asian man speaking in Mandarin… and you think you know that person. And then hearing him switch instantly to a perfect American accent. That's what we wanted Shang-Chi to do. We wanted him to be a character that believably has one foot in American culture and another foot in his culture back home. [He is] really one of the few actors on the planet who can do that the way that he does.”
Why Lil Nas X is now part of Marvel canon
In one of the most entertaining lil theories that have emerged in the wake of Shang-Chi’s release, one Reddit user posited that music sensation Lil Nas X must have survived Thanos’s snap from Avengers: Infinity War, given that Shang-Chi and Katy karaoke his country-rap mega-hit “Old Town Road,” which was released in 2019, a year after the blip in 2018.
Lil Nas X amplified the fan theory himself, leading Callaham to ask his director to confirm it.
“He most definitely did [survive the blip],” Crettton laughed, tongue-in-cheek. “That was something that we planned from the very beginning.”
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is now playing.
Watch our cast interview:
-Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by Jimmie Rhee