Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter revisits the best of 2021’s MCU films, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Covid continues to play havoc with all facets of life including the movie business, and one of those hazards includes box-office receipts. They’ve been down! None of the three MCU releases in 2021 came close to earning even half a billion — a number all of the films have passed since Captain America: The First Avenger way back in 2011.
Anyway. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a good flick! The action is among the MCU’s best, the cast is a mix of the fun and the legendary, and it’s a big step for Asian-American representation. Director Destin Daniel Cretton sat down for his very first commentary track and reveals an appreciation for all that goes into one of these big budget superhero movies. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
Commentators: Destin Daniel Cretton (director, co-writer), Dave Callaham (co-writer)
1. Mandarin in the comics most commonly wears the ten rings on his fingers, but after watching a variety of martial arts films they decided to move them to his wrists.
2. Cretton’s first instinct when thinking about who to cast as Xu Wenwu was Tony Leung , but he also admitted at the time “there’s no way we’ll ever get him.” They feel that bringing him on board — Leung was one of the first actors cast — was a real tone-setter for the film.
3. Fala Chen auditioned shortly after finishing her studies at the Juilliard School.
4. They knew early on the film would feature a dragon, but Cretton hoped it wouldn’t end up merely as a big, flashy effect without bigger purpose. Happily, “the dragon became rooted in something a bit more emotional and more connected to who Shang-Chi is and who he becomes.” Callaham had spoken with his Chinese mother and mentioned the film would include a dragon, and she told him it had to be a good guy. He asked why, and she said “because dragons are protectors.”
5. Cretton says they went through a lot of contenders for the lead role but found the perfect package in Simu Liu. He has the athletic abilities, but he’s also a terrific actor, showed fantastic chemistry with Awkwafina, is fluent in English and Mandarin, and is comfortable shifting between Western and Eastern cultures. Callaham adds that Liu’s “code-switching” ability was an integral element to the character of Shang-Chi as well.
6. Part of Cretton’s pitch to land the film saw him show a scene of four friends hanging out in a bar talking, after which he said “imagine this scene with all Asian-Americans.”
7. The bus fight is loosely inspired both by Jackie Chan and Buster Keaton.
8. Klev (Zach Cherry), the guy on the bus filming and livestreaming the fight, is also in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) as an unnamed street vendor.
9. They weren’t sure how they were going to make the runaway bus stop, so Cretton asked Brad Allan for advice. He took a few minutes then came to them with the idea of the garbage truck coming into play and helping grind the bus to a halt.
10. “Did they name Wong after Benedict Wong?” asks Cretton, to which Callaham quickly replies “No, that’s his name in the comics.” It’s unclear if Cretton is just having fun on this Shang-Chi commentary or if he’s being serious.
11. The fight club in Macau was one large physical set you could actually walk through as opposed to a creation made from numerous smaller setups.
12. They acknowledge that bamboo scaffolding fights have a rich history in action films, but they wanted to highlight theirs by having it take place high up against a skyscraper.
13. Cretton sees all of the action scenes as having their own story purpose, and the one between Shang-Chi and Death Dealer (Andy Le) is no different. It’s a fight between a student and a teacher, “and this scene really is about Shang-Chi fighting himself, fighting that urge to get back into who he was as a child.”
14. They advised Liu to “tap into his Tom Cruise” while filming him running.
15. In the comics, Shang-Chi was originally introduced as the son of a character named Fu Manchu, “an obviously problematic deeply stereotypical character,” and then Marvel changed Fu into the Mandarin. Their depictions in the comics weren’t “particularly helpful or was always a bit problematic.” They rebuilt the character from the ground up, but part of his baggage was that he was still the leader of the Ten Rings which had a previous appearance in Iron Man 3 (2013).
16. Cretton talked to Leung about Wenwu, and the question arose as to whether or not the man had the ability to love. “Tony emphatically said yes.” Leung saw the character as a man who genuinely loves his family but doesn’t know how to show it.
17. They pitched the idea of Morris — the six-legged, winged creature without a face — to Kevin Feige expecting it to get shot down, but Feige gave them the go-ahead. The creature still felt too odd so Cretton and Callaham made a wager that if Morris made it all the way through production and actually ended up in the film, Callaham would get a tattoo of him. “As of this recording I have not procured that tattoo, mostly due to Covid issues, but I will do so.”
18. It was important to the filmmakers to make it clear that Ta Lo is more than just a village of people standing guard with bows, arrows, and swords. “Ta Lo extends far beyond the shores of their village, Ta Lo is a region and has cities.” They have technologies well beyond humanity’s, even if this village has taken on a more “monkish” mentality. They both offer good luck to future MCU writers who have to revisit and explore the idea more deeply.
19. They give a shout out on the Shang-Chi commentary to the film’s third co-writer, Andrew Lanham, who became a major voice in the film’s third-act.
20. Callaham wanted Wenwu to have two giant praying mantises by his side during the end battle, but he couldn’t convince anyone to sign on to the idea.
21. They originally wanted to shoot Shang-Chi’s underwater scenes… underwater, but why do real when you can do MCU, amirite? “We knew we didn’t have the time, and it would be a real pain as Simu would have to hold his breath for a long time.” They instead went with Liu on a harness shot in slow-motion with a wind machine.
22. Cretton had wondered what it was like directing a VFX-heavy sequence and expected it would leave him in the wings, “but it’s much more collaborative and involved than I expected and way harder than I anticipated.” The challenge includes pairing story beats and narrative necessities with the visual effects.
23. The shot of Katy (Awkwafina) reacting to her arrow shot into the big monster’s neck was filmed just one week before the film’s premiere and just one month before they recorded this Shang-Chi commentary.
24. Benedict Wong surveyed the bar set for the end scene before filming began, examined the chairs and table top, and told Cretton he was ready. He didn’t tell anyone he was going to walk up and shove apart the two chairs (and their occupants) so those are natural reactions.
25. Cretton has wanted to include “Hotel California” in all of his movies since high school, “but I had not been able to afford it.” Callaham writes needle-drops into his scripts often, and his own white whale is Cinderella’s “Don’t Know What you Got (Till It’s Gone).”
26. Marvel films were never a goal for Cretton until he heard this character was entering the MCU.
27. Cretton offers some moving thoughts on the late Brad Allan during the final minutes of the commentary leading up to “In Loving Memory of Brad Allan” note.
28. Non-MCU films mentioned during the Shang-Chi commentary include The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978), Clueless (1995), Rush Hour (1998), The Matrix (1999), Kung Fu Hustle (2004), Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010), Oldboy (2013), and Lars von Trier’s The Five Obstructions (2003).
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“The first time I saw this, I cried.”
“We keep trying to break as many stereotypes as possible in this movie.”
“I’ve never done an action sequence before, but I do know what I love are action sequences that are crafted around a unique location or scenario.”
“Some fun MCU Easter eggs during this walk for the fans.”
“Now we come to a pretty big reveal of the movie.”
“I love that Razor Fist drives an electric car.”
“They’re pretty gross, Destin.”
“Almost all of the vfx in the third-act were done by WETA.”
The pair mention early on in the Shang-Chi commentary that this is their first time doing one, and it shows initially as they leave some gaps and repeatedly say “we can talk about this…” The pair quickly get into a groove, though, and find plenty to talk about regarding the production, what brought them to the film, and more. It’s a good track for fans.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.
Related Topics: Commentary Commentary, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings