Shang-Chi has a Mortal Kombat Lite Plot

The newest Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings trailer confirms the MCU Phase Four film will have a Mortal Kombat-lite theme.


With just a little over a month before its release, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has released a new short trailer that confirms a popular theory. The upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase Four film is going to have something of a Mortal Kombat-style event running.

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MCU version of the Mandarin's ten rings. (Images: Marvel Studios/Disney)

Check out the details from the new trailer and what it may mean for the Master of Kung-Fu’s future.

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Mortal Kombat Lite

Judging by the first Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings trailer as well as the newest one, there is a strong similarity to the theme of Mortal Kombat.

In Mortal Kombat, the participants (called Kombatants) fight for their realm’s continued freedom from the Outworld. Although the rules and mechanics can differ, the general goal is to keep Outworld from invading the Earthrealm. Through the martial arts tournament, the conflict is resolved without the rest of the world being affected.

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Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) prepares to enter in a Mortal Kombat-style cage match in Legend of the Ten Rings.

The tournament plot element is not a new storytelling trope. It has been present in many stories, whether it is the Eastern martial arts competitions or the Western versions, such as jousting and fencing (as with the knights of medieval Europe), and even archery as in the case of those found in the Robin Hood tales. Later versions of this trope can be found in the legendary Bruce Lee’s breakout film, Enter the Dragon (1973).

In Shang-Chi, we find the titular hero (played by Simu Liu) participating in a version of this fighting competition. Although the trailers showcased a few bits of the combat, it is unclear what the participants are fighting for. Are these simply generic fighting competitions or is the prize a key plot thread in the course of the film? It seems to be the latter, as the tournament would also involve the sorcerer Wong (Benedict Wong) facing off against the super-strong Abomination, at some point.

Ten Bangles of the Mandarin

The new trailer also fully establishes that the rings of the Mandarin in this upcoming film will be visually different from the classic version. In the comic books, television, and video games from the past, the rings of Iron Man’s arch-nemesis were finger rings.

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Each of the Mandarin's 10 rings had a devastating power.

Each one of the rings, occupying one of the fingers of the Mandarin, had a different, devastatingly powerful effect. These rings from the Makluan race (the extraterrestrial beings that resemble giant dragons, of which the legendary Fin Fang Foom hails from) were divided into the following: Matter Rearranger, Disintegration, Black Light, White Light, Impact, Vortex, Flame Blast, Mento-Intensifier, Ice Blast, and Electro-Blast rings.

Just one ring would have absolute control over the special effect it was designated with. Combined, it would make the wielder rival the powers of a god. However, the rings required a level of personal mastery that few individuals can achieve. Even the Mandarin himself struggled with using more than one ring’s power at a time. Thus, despite the potential raw power the Mandarin had, Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) could still outwit and overcome the would-be world conqueror.

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Combined, the rings of the Mandarin makes him god-like. (Art: Paul Ryan and Bob Wiacek)

In the trailer revealed for Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings of the Mandarin, the rings are bracelets, similar to the metal training rings that practitioners of Chinese martial arts use. These metal rings are used for developing wrist and forearm strength and conditioning. Perhaps the most popular depiction of these types of martial arts rings for the Western audience are those used in the action-comedy Kung Fu Hustle (2005).

The newest Shang-Chi trailer showed a bit more of the rings in action. We see the Mandarin (Tony Leung) unleash the might of the rings against a bunch of footsoldiers. In relation to the Mortal Kombat-style tournament plot point, could the prize be one or more of the rings? Is it a test of worthiness that is a common plot device found in mystical martial arts storylines? It also remains unclear if each ring mimics the function that the original rings from the source material had.

Based on the action from the Shang-Chi trailers, it appears these rings or bracelets are activated by martial arts forms and gestures. By comparison, the original Mandarin rings merely required mental command and finger movement of the wielder.

There is also a strong emphasis on the familial connections the Mandarin has with Shang-Chi. As the dialogue states to Shang-Chi, "You can't outrun your destiny." This is again a departure from the Mandarin’s classic rings, as these can be used by anyone, regardless of their bloodline, although not everyone will have the required physical and mental aptitude to do so effectively.

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The rings in the film are similar to Wushu training bracelets for wrist and forearm strength.

However, there is a version of the Mandarin that was imbued with Makluan blood, with his son Gene Khan inheriting the legacy (Iron Man Armored: Adventures 2009). Could the Shang-Chi film be borrowing plot elements from this animated version?

No Fatalities

As the Motion Picture Rating (MPAA) has given the film a PG-13 rating, it is unlikely that we will see the bloody and violent fatalities that the recent Mortal Kombat film from Warner Bros. had. Thus, while we can certainly expect some top-notch fight scenes and action, do not expect to see decapitations or arms being ripped from their sockets in the Marvel Studios/Disney film.

According to the official synopsis of Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings:

Marvel Studios' "Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings" stars Simu Liu as Shang-Chi, who must confront the past he thought he left behind when he is drawn into the web of the mysterious Ten Rings organization. The film also stars Tony Leung as Wenwu, Awkwafina as Shang-Chi's friend Katy and Michelle Yeoh as Jiang Nan, as well as Fala Chen, Meng'er Zhang, Florian Munteanu and Ronny Chieng.

Produced by Kevin Feige and Jonathan Schwartz, and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings kicks into theaters 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.