Marvel: Shang-Chi’s Simu Liu was the only choice

According to Marvel executive, Simu Liu was the only choice for the starring role in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

Marvel Studios’ newest upcoming Phase Four film, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is already getting rave reviews from critics. But could it have worked as well if there was another actor in the role, instead of Simu Liu? Marvel does not seem to think so.

Shang-Chi was originally based on Bruce Lee. (Images: Marvel Studios/Disney and Warner Bros.)

What is the opinion of one of Marvel Studios’ top execs with Simu Liu’s casting to play Shang-Chi? Read on for the details.

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Funny story of Simu Liu casting

It is interesting to note that Simu Liu’s casting is almost a manifestation of destiny. In 2014, the actor made a Twitter comment about Marvel’s superhero success with the likes of Captain America and Thor. Simu Liu pointed out the lack of an Asian American superhero in the Marvel Studios’ film franchises:

Hey @Marvel , great job with Cpt America and Thor. Now how about an Asian American hero?

At the time, the closest Asian representations as superheroes in the MCU were Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Ming-Na Wen (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). But that would not be the only time Simu Liu would comment about the lack of Asian representation in Marvel Studios projects.

In 2018, the actor made a more specific dig at Marvel Studios regarding a certain Asian superhero in their pantheon:

OK @Marvel, are we gonna talk or what #ShangChi

This may have been the prophetic clincher, as soon after, Simu Liu was cast for the role of Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu. He would later be announced as taking the role of Shang-Chi during the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con.

Marvel Studios Executive Praises Simu Liu

Speaking to Variety during the red carpet premiere of Shang-Chi and the Legend on the Ten Rings, Marvel's executive vice president Victoria Alonso was quoted as saying Simu Liu was effectively not just the right choice, but the only choice to play Shang-Chi:

There was never a plan B with him... he was it. The passion that this man has for the character is incredible. It's one of those things where you look at it and you go, 'Wow, yes, he exudes Shang-Chi. He is the best one to play it.' And, you know, to have someone like that be a part of the MCU, what a pleasure and what an honor to have it be the beginning of what Shang-Chi is.

Alonso’s comment appears to confirm that there was no second choice to take on the role of Shang-Chi. Could this have been the case prior to Simu Liu’s prophetic tweets?  Not according to someone higher in the executive ladder.

Simu Liu joked about it on his Twitter posts, but he later got the role of Shang-Chi.

Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige, stated that he never read that tweet and instead pointed out that choosing Simu Liu for the role was based on his talent and professionalism:

I did not see that, no. I did not see that. Unfortunately, Simu, it was not your tweeting. It was your acting ability, your constant professionalism, and the multiple meetings that you did that got you the job.

Regardless of whether these tweets from the actor had any effect on his getting the role, they have certainly become amusing anecdotes among fans.

Shang-Chi comic origins

Shang-Chi was created by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin for Special Marvel Edition #15 (December 1973). At the time, Marvel Comics lobbied to do a comic book based on the then-popular Kung-Fu show starring David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine, a Westerner who was adopted by a Shaolin monastery and wanders the Old West helping people along the way.

However, Marvel was unable to secure the rights. Coincidentally, Marvel was able to get the comic book rights for Sax Rohmer’s classic pulp villain Fu Manchu. Shang-Chi was then created based on the Fu Manchu lore, including the Asian criminals’ supporting cast and antagonists. With artist Paul Gulacy providing the visuals, Shang-Chi was envisioned as the heroic estranged son of Fu Manchu, fighting against his father’s criminal empire.

Shang-Chi was based on the looks of Bruce Lee and other 1970s Asian martial arts actors, including the young Jackie Chan. Thus, the moniker Master of Kung Fu was added to his name. He proved to be quite popular, with the comic Special Marvel Edition being renamed to The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu. The comic book ran until June 1983, ending with issue #125.

Shang-Chi originally had Fu Manchu as his father before Marvel Comics lost the license. (Art: Jim Starlin and Al Milgrom)

After Marvel lost the licensing to use the Fu Manchu material, Shang-Chi was revised to have a more mystical origin, with his father being an undead sorcerer. The character would also become more connected to the Marvel Universe at large, joining teams like the Avengers and Heroes for Hire.

The MCU version makes multiple changes to Shang-Chi, particularly with his parentage. Instead of Fu Manchu or the sorcerer Zheng Zu, his father in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will be Iron Man’s arch-nemesis, The Mandarin.

Is Simu Liu a case of "perfect casting"?

Based on Shang-Chi’s original and recent comic book designs, Simu Liu does not exactly fit the bill. But to be fair, being based on Bruce Lee, whose martial arts skills and screen presence are nothing short of legendary, is a tall order to live up to.

As far as Marvel is concerned, they made the right choice with casting Simu Liu for the role. Simu Liu himself is confident with his performance and the movie they worked on. This comes despite the comment made by Disney CEO Bob Chapek that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is one of the films being released as "an interesting experiment" in returning to a theatrical exclusive release during the COVID pandemic.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings stars Simu Liu, a Tony Leung, Awkwafina , Michelle Yeoh, Fala Chen, Meng'er Zhang, Florian Munteanu, and Ronny Chieng. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, the movie kicks off its theatrical release on September 3, 2021.

Geoff Borgonia
Geoffrey "Borgy" Borgonia is a veteran writer, artist, journalist, gamer, and entrepreneur based in the Philippines. When not contributing to some of the top pop culture sites on the planet, he spends the rest of his time running his business, practicing martial arts, working on and developing books, comics, and games. In his man-cave, his only luxury is sleep. Borgy on Linkedin.
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