By Rob Hunter · Published November 17, 2021
Welcome to Comment Comment, where we sit and listen to filmmakers tell about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this issue, Rob Hunter visits the best of 2021’s MCU films, Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings.
Covid continues to destroy all facets of life, including the film industry, and one of those dangers includes receipts from the box office. They’ve been down! None of the three MCU releases in 2021 were close to earning half a billion – a number of all the films have gone since Captain America: The First Avenger all the way back in 2011.
Anyway. Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings is a good movie! The plot is among MCU’s best, the cast is a mix of the fun and the legendary, and it’s a big step for Asian-American representation. Manager Destin Daniel Cretton sat down for his very first commentary track and reveals an appreciation of everything that goes into one of these big budget superhero movies. Keep reading to see what I heard about the comment to 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-author), Dave Callaham (co-author)
1. Mandarin in the cartoon usually wears the ten rings on his fingers, but after watching a series of martial arts movies, they decided to move them to his wrist.
2. Cretton’s first instinct when he thought of who he should cast as Xu Wenwu 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 – was a real composer for the film.
3. Fala Chen to audition shortly after completing his studies at Juilliard School.
4. They knew early on that the film would have a dragon, but Cretton hoped it would not end up as a big, flashy effect with no major purpose. Fortunately, “the dragon became entrenched in something a little more emotional and more connected to who Shang-Chi is and who he becomes.” Callaham had talked to her Chinese mother and mentioned that the film would feature 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 candidates for the lead role, but found the perfect package in Simu Liu. He has the athletic abilities, but he is also an amazing actor, showed amazing chemistry with Awkwafina, speaks fluent English and Mandarin and is comfortable switching between Western and Eastern cultures. Callaham adds that Liu’s ability to “switch codes” was also an integral part of the character of Shang-Chi.
6. Part of Cretton’s pitch to land the film saw him show a scene with four friends hanging out in a bar and talking, after which he said “imagine this scene with all Asian-Americans.”
7. The bus fight is loosely inspired by both Jackie Chan and Buster Keaton.
8. Klev (Zach Cherry), the guy on the bus who films and livestreams the match, is also with Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) as an unnamed street vendor.
9. They were not sure how to get to the runaway bus stop, so Cretton asked Brad Allan for advice. He took a few minutes and came to them with the idea that the garbage truck should come into play and help grind the bus to a halt.
10. “They named Wong after Benedict Wong? ” asks Cretton, to which Callaham quickly replies “No, that’s his name in the cartoon.” It’s unclear if Cretton is just having fun with this Shang-Chi comments or if he means it seriously.
11. The Fight Club in Macau was a great physical set you could actually go through as opposed to a creation made of several smaller setups.
12. They recognize that battles over bamboo scaffolding have a rich history in action movies, but they wanted to highlight theirs by letting it take place high up against a skyscraper.
13. Cretton sees all the action scenes as having their own story purpose, and that between Shang-Chi and Death Dealer (Andy Le) is no different. It’s a battle between a student and a teacher, “and this scene is really about Shang-Chi fighting against himself and fighting the urge to get back to 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 to Mandarin. Their depictions in the comics were not “particularly useful or were always a bit problematic.” They rebuilt the character from scratch, but part of his baggage was that he was still the leader of the ten rings that had a previous appearance in Iron Man 3 (2013).
16. Cretton talked to Leung about Wenwu, and the question arose as to whether the man had the ability to love. “Tony emphatically said yes.” Leung saw the character as a man who truly loves his family but does not know how to show it.
17. They slammed the idea of Morris – the six-legged, winged creature without a face – to Kevin Feige, expecting it to be shot down, but Feige gave them the green light. The creature still felt too weird, so Cretton and Callaham bet that if Morris made it all the way through production and actually ended up in the movie, Callaham would get a tattoo of him. “On this recording, I did not get that tattoo, mostly because of Covid issues, but I want to do it.”
18. It was important for 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 coast of their village, Ta Lo is a region and has cities.” They have technologies far beyond humanity, though this village has acquired a more “monk-like” mentality. They both offer good luck to future MCU writers who need to revisit and explore the idea deeper.
19. They give a shout out Shang-Chi commentary on the film’s third co-author, Andrew Lanham, which became a major voice in the film’s third act.
20. Callaham wanted Wenwu to have two giant undertones by his side during the playoffs, but he could not convince anyone to sign the idea.
21. They originally wanted to shoot Shang-Chi’s underwater scenes … underwater, but why really do when you can do MCU, amirite? “We knew we did not have time and it would be a real pain as Simu would have to hold his breath for a long time.” Instead, they went with Liu on a harness shot in slow motion with a windmill.
22. Cretton had wondered what it was like to instruct a VFX-heavy sequence and expected it to leave him behind the scenes, “but it’s much more collaborative and involved than I expected and much harder than I expected.” The challenge includes pairing story beats and narrative necessities with the visual effects.
23. The shot of Katy (Awkwafina) responded to her arrow being shot into the throat of the big monster, was filmed just a week before the film’s premiere and only a month before they filmed this Shang-Chi comment.
24. Benedict Wong examined the bar set for the final scene before filming began, examined the chairs and tabletop, and told Cretton he was ready. He did not tell anyone that he would go up and push the two chairs (and their occupants) apart, so those are natural reactions.
25. Cretton has wanted to include “Hotel California” in all of his movies since high school, “but I could not afford it.” Callaham often writes in his scripts, and his own white whale is Cinderella’s “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone).”
26. Marvel movies were never a target for Cretton until he heard that this character was heading into MCU.
27. Cretton comes up with some moving thoughts about the late Brad Allan in the final minutes of the commentary up to the note “In Loving Memory of Brad Allan”.
28. Non-MCU films mentioned below Shang-Chi comment includes Shaolin’s 36th Chamber (1978), Ignorant (1995), Rush hour (1998), The Matrix (1999), Kung Fu Hustle (2004), Scott Pilgrim vs. the world (2010), Oldboy (2013), and Lars von Triers The five obstacles (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 film.”
“I’ve never done an action sequence before, but I know what I love are action sequences made around a unique place or scenario.”
“Some fun MCU Easter eggs during this walk for the fans.”
“Now we come to the pretty big revelation of the movie.”
“I love that the Razor Fist drives an electric car.”
“They’re pretty ugly, Destin.”
“Almost all of the VFXs in the third act were performed by WETA.”
The couple mentions early in Shang-Chi comment that this is the first time they are making one, and it turns out initially when they leave some gaps and repeatedly say “we can talk about this …” However, the couple quickly gets into a groove and finds plenty to talk about regarding the production, what brought them to the film, and more. It’s a good track for fans.
Read more Comment Comment from the archives.
Related topics: Commentary, Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings
Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird since he’s so damn young. He is our chief film critic and associate editor and lists ‘Broadcast News’ as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hello if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.