Between Marvel Studios, the Fox-licensed properties, and DC Films, it can feel like there are too many comic book movies in theaters. It is easy to forget that this wasn’t the case just a few years ago. In fact, before the comic movie boom, Marvel had a hard time getting anything off the ground. The stories of James Cameron's Spider-Man and Roger Corman's Fantastic Four are the stuff of legend at this point. One of the ideas to languish in development hell the longest has been Hands of Kung Fu, Shang-Chi.
First announced in 2001, it was to be directed by Blade director Stephen Norrington. Despite high hopes, the project wouldn't get past pre-production. There wouldn't be rumblings about the movie until 2005, when Marvel made a deal with Paramount Pictures to work on several films. Not only did they announce the movie, but that a dream team of Hulk's Ang Lee and Fist of Legend director Yuen Woo-Ping were working on the film. Even with these two legends of Chinese action behind the scenes the project never got off the ground.
As unlikely as it may seem, there is still hope for the film. Plenty of films have made it out of film purgatory over the years, such as Deadpool, Watchmen and Freddy vs Jason. One of the most successful — both financially and critically — was the Academy Award-winning Mad Max: Fury Road. In fact, there is quite a bit that Marvel could learn from it if they want to make a Shang-Chi movie.
Who Is Shang-Chi Exactly?
Conceived in late 1972, Shang-Chi was originally pitched as a comic based on the TV show Kung Fu. When Time Warner denied Marvel the use of their show they created their own character, Shang-Chi. Making his debut in 1973's Special Marvel Edition #15, the secret son of Yellow Peril villain Fu Manchu (later renamed Zheng Zu) would turn on his father and try to take down his criminal empire.
Debuting around the time Bruce Lee exploded in the United States, Shang-Chi would become so popular that the character would get his own series lasting more than 100 issues. Since then he has become a bit of a cult favorite, teaming up with the likes of Spider-Man, Wolverine and even became an honorary Avenger.
With such a great history it is easy to see why a movie based on "the Master of Kung Fu" is always considered. While seemingly the opposite of Mad Max: Fury Road, there is a lot Marvel can learn from the Australian blockbuster if they wish to do a Shang-Chi movie right.
You Need The Right Creative Team
Re-acquiring the rights to Mad Max in 1995, it would take director George Miller nearly 20 years to complete the film. From natural disaster to actors blacklisting themselves, Miller would encounter every road block imaginable. It was seemingly the ultimate case of everything that could go wrong would go wrong. Despite these pitfalls, Miller was devoted to the film and it shows in the final product. This is the kind of dedication a cult comic character like Shang-Chi needs to succeed in the big screen.
Without a doubt, Ang Lee and Yuen Woo-Ping is an amazing team to have for any martial arts movie. However, with their careers so busy could they dedicate the time needed for a Marvel film? Would they try to tamper too much with the character like the early Marvel movies? As obvious as it may sound, a dedicated crew is a big factor when it comes to making a killer movie. It is easy to tell which directors truly enjoy the comics and which are there for a paycheck.
Be More Than An Origin Story
Going into the movie, Fury Road looked like a typical action reboot. It was just another take on the post-apocalypse wasteland. Nobody could have predicted that a movie where someone played a guitar that shot fire would be a surprisingly effective film about the importance of family, home and feminism; a film that would appeal to both the casual audience and film academics.
Similarly, martial arts movies have a history of telling deeper stories through the fighting. From the strong female characters in films like Come Drink With Me and 14 Amazons to the anti-Imperialism thread that runs through the Ip Man series, the best kung fu movies have always been more than just a collection of fight scenes. In fact, a predominantly Asian cast would be a huge statement by itself. Racial politics in film are more important than ever before and building a franchise around an Asian-American would be a massive leap forward for equality in Hollywood. It would certainly go far in dispelling the notion that there is a lack of diversity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It may even prove to executives that Eastern voices are worth investing in. In a world where superhero movies can easily become formulaic, a Shang-Chi movie has the unique opportunity to say things no superhero movies can.
Good Action Scenes Are Key
Above all else, what made Mad Max: Fury Road a hit with audiences was the stellar action. In true Ozploitation fashion, it uses the vast Australian landscape to its advantage, staging elaborate and exhilarating chase scenes; each scene building on one another before rolling into one of the most chaotic chase scenes in film history. Beautifully shot, Fury Road also did a brilliant job blending practical effects and CGI. As crazy as it sounds, Shang-Chi has the potential to not only be as good as Fury Road, but maybe even top it.
Although martial arts movies are always popular for the past few years, we have seen a renaissance of sorts within the genre. From the traditional martial arts featured in Kung Fu Jungle to the bone-crunching battles of The Raid, fight choreography is better than it has ever been. A Shang-Chi movie is the perfect place to showcase any number of talented fight choreographers from all over the world. With the character requiring few, if any, special effects and a focus on martial arts, a Shang-Chi movie has the potential to be one of the best and most unique US action movies in years.
Rise Of The Legend
Even though a movie seems unlikely at this point, there is still hope for the Master of Kung Fu. There have been rumors of Shang-Chi making an appearance in the Iron Fist Netflix series. I’ve even read that it could be a backdoor pilot for Shang-Chi to have his own Netflix series. As cool as that is, a Hands of Kung Fu: Shang-Chi as a full-fledged movie may be Marvel's greatest cinematic "What if."
You like over-the-top fight scenes? Well, then you'll get a kick (or two) out of the fights below: