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There exists another branch in the multiverse where Shang-Chi made it to the big screen before the Marvel Cinematic Universe. "Stan [Lee] sold the rights to Shang-Chi before he did just about any other character, other than Spider-Man," artist Jim Starlin, who co-created the character of Shang-Chi with writer Steve Englehart, recalls. "Because he figured it would be a cheap kung-fu movie to make. And it never got made and it never got made and now it's finally getting made."
That movie is Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the 25th installment in the MCU, but the first to have an Asian superhero as its lead. "It's not just one superhero that is Asian. It's an almost entirely Asian cast," says Marvel executive producer Victoria Alonso. "[Shang-Chi] is our love letter, in a way, to that superhero, but also to the community."
As played by Simu Liu, this take on Shang-Chi is not simply a Master of Martial Arts but a bona fide superhero in his own right. That's not the only update made to the source material, also re-envisioning a more progressive take on his father, Wenwu, the shadowy villain also known as The Mandarin (played by Tony Leung). (Meng'er Zhang, who co-stars as Shang-Chi's sister calls Wenwu "the most complex villain in the whole Marvel universe.")
On the red carpet at Shang-Chi's world premiere, ET's Matt Cohen spoke to Simu Liu himself to discuss making history and headlines within in the MCU.
ET: Talk to me about being Marvel's first Asian lead. How amazing is this? And about damn time, is it not?
Simu Liu: Yeah, no pressure, right? [Laughs] It is such an incredible moment. Very, very momentous. You know, I never had a superhero to look up to in that way growing up, and I just think it means the world to now be here next to, first of all, legends like the great Benedict Wong--
[Benedict Wong joins the interview.]
Benedict Wong: Hello!
SL: Who has been holding down the fort in a tremendous way. But now having multiple Asian superheroes in the MCU, it's just an incredible feeling.
BW: He's incredible! He's incredible.
SL: You're incredible. [Wong exits.] Oh my god. He's such a rock star.
I'm sensing some love and some real friendship from this cast. Was it just amazing on that set?
It really, really was. I can honestly say -- and this is not, like, a bit or a soundbite -- I came out of this with six or seven of the people that I call my closest friends today. It was really just so many people going through the same thing and understanding the importance of this movie and what it will mean to so many people.
When you told your parents you got this role, you said they were kind of unimpressed until [they saw] the movie poster? Talk to me about that.
All right, so it's like this: A lot of immigrant parents, they don't watch the same channels as you and I do -- they don't watch Entertainment Tonight all the time -- but what they do watch is a lot of news channels from home and they read a lot of newspapers from home. It wasn't until the Chinese-language poster came out that they finally were like, "Oh my god!" Like, it became real to them! But I think that a lot of folks who grew up in similar households will know what I'm talking about.
I feel like there's something to be said for, "I want to see my boy on the poster or it's not real!"
Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, they're here tonight, so hopefully-- I mean, they're still worried. They'll find something to worry about, but hopefully they're at least kind of at ease. There's a lot of people here!
The other day, you tweeted out or Instagrammed and it basically came down to "not an experiment," is what you said. Why did you feel that it was important to make that stance?
It's important to just be fired up for a movie like this, which I am! I mean, look out in front of us. There's so many people [here]. I'm so proud to be a part of this project with Disney, who has thrown all of their support behind this and behind me. So, I couldn't be more grateful, but I wanted to highlight just how fired up I was and just how excited I was for people to see it!
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is in theaters on Sept. 3.