The film follows Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), a martial arts master, who is forced to face the troubled past he left behind years ago when he crosses paths with the infamous Ten Rings organization.
Given this is Shang-Chi’s MCU debut, many moviegoers and even die-hard Marvel fans are unaware of how this character fits into the larger franchise and just how interconnected his backstory is to other Marvel properties.
So we put together a guide of everything you need to know about Shang-Chi’s involvement in the MCU before you see the film on the big screen.
Where Does Shang-Chi Fall On the MCU Timeline?
Speaking to Fandango, Director Destin Daniel Cretton confirmed the events of this film are set “in the present day in the MCU timeline” with Shang-Chi following on from the events of Avengers: Endgame.
If we’re being more precise, the film will take place right around the time Peter Parker and Doctor Strange break the multiverse with their shenanigans.
In the long-awaited Spider-Man: No Way Home teaser trailer, it’s confirmed that Wong is present in the Shang-Chi cage fight. We see Wong bid Strange and Peter farewell as he exits the sanctum with bags in hand, a fortress resembling Shang-Chi’s birthplace looming beyond the portal.
This directly ties Shang-Chi to the sanctum and Doctor Strange. It also confirms the events of No Way Home and Legend of the Ten Rings will take place at the same time, leaving room for a potential multiverse twist to shake up the end of Shang-Chi’s solo journey.
While the film may take place at the center of Phase 4’s chaos, Shang-Chi’s existence has been felt on the cinematic timeline as far back as Iron Man.
How does Shang-Chi tie into past MCU projects?
Despite Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings taking place after Endgame, much of the film’s involvement in the MCU predates the Avengers’ battle with Thanos and many of the Avengers themselves.
The Ten Rings were first introduced as an antagonist organization in Marvel’s 2008 Iron Man. Their run-in with Tony Stark in Afghanistan would become the main catalyst for Iron Man’s journey from billionaire playboy to Avengers recruit. This mysterious terrorist organization would go on to appear again briefly in Iron Man 2 and Ant-Man.
In the MCU and the comics, the Ten Rings are tied closely to Iron Man as the criminal/terrorist organization had a hand in most of the conflict Tony Stark encountered throughout his films. They are led by a mysterious warlord called the Mandarin, a figure so elusive many of the group’s own members had come to believe he was a myth, and the ten rings a legend.
That is until the events of Iron Man 3 when the Mandarin stepped out of the shadows to wreak havoc on America with a series of threatening propaganda videos. In a move that is still considered controversial, it was revealed Sir Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin was a fake and instead, an eccentric actor named Trevor Slattery. The Ten Rings were used as a cover-up for Aldrich Killian’s failed experiments and the Mandarin was once again reduced to a myth.
Many speculated this fake Mandarin destroyed any potential MCU connections to the iconic Iron Man villain and the Shang-Chi project that had been in development since 2001.
During the one-shot, Trevor agrees to meet with a filmmaker documenting the Mandarin scandal. However, it’s soon revealed that this filmmaker is a trusted member of the Ten Rings and had been sent by the real Mandarin to break Trevor out of jail. He explains to Trevor, “You took his name… and now he wants it back.” confirming the Mandarin has always existed within the MCU.
The events of the jailbreak had largely been overlooked until the one-shot was re-released on Disney Plus ahead of Shang-Chi’s world premiere — and for good reason. The one-shot directly set up for the film all the way back in 2014 and has not been revisited since.
What followed was the strategic decision to alter the events of the comic books, officially reworking The Mandarin, Wenwu, as the father of Shang-Chi in the MCU and confirming the Ten Rings isn’t just a terrorist organization. It’s also a reference to the magical weapons the Mandarin wields. But fear not, the fake Mandarin will also play his part as Kingsley attended the red carpet premiere for the film, confirming he will return as Trevor to settle the Mandarin debate once and for all.
How does Shang-Chi fit into future MCU projects?
Thanks to Wong’s involvement in this film, it’s likely there will be overlap between the residents of the New York Sanctum and the characters of Shang-Chi going forward.
The character is not officially returning for any upcoming projects (yet) but if he were, a Doctor Strange project would make the most sense given it is the only one to have an established connection to the new hero and similar mystical themes.
The chaos of the cracking multiverse could also open up an opportunity for other characters to pop up on the streets of New York to assist Wong with the aftermath of Peter’s latest escapades. Shang-Chi’s involvement may be speculation at best but with Spider-Man easter-eggs popping up in Shang-Chi, the choice to throw in that Wong teaser doesn’t feel entirely like a coincidence.
During one of the film’s official clips released before release, we can see a bystander live-streaming Shang-Chi’s encounter with the Ten Rings goons on city transit in San Francisco.
That bystander, who apparently goes by Klev, is none other than the New York street vendor that asks Peter Parker to “do a flip” during a friendly neighborhood montage in Spider-Man: Homecoming. If Shang-Chi and Peter are encountering the same working-class civilians, one has to think the two could cross paths as their journeys converge around the sanctum.
If Shang-Chi and Wong are going to be close confidants in the looming madness, his location both physically and on the cinematic timeline becomes central to many of the other superheroes coming up on the roster, including Ant-Man, Ms. Marvel, Kate Bishop, and She-Hulk. That not including Netflix characters like Jessica Jones and Matt Murdock that could potentially come back into rotation.
It’s likely Shang-Chi will have his own unique connections to Marvel properties and depending on how the showdown with his father goes during the film, we could see Shang-Chi team up with the sorcerers of the sanctum or we could see a new leader of the Ten Rings immerge. One who is much more interested in American affairs and the shady business practices converging around Valentina Allegra de Fontaine.
With confirmation that his destiny overlaps with many pre-Avengers and post-Endgame stories on the timeline, it’s becoming apparent Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings isn’t just about revisiting the past — it’s about the future of this franchise too.
To skip Shang-Chi is to miss out on an exciting, and incredibly important, addition to the MCU. One that will no doubt impact Marvel’s storytelling going forward in a variety of game-changing ways.
And with the introduction of powerful rings and ancient dragons, Shang-Chi’s origin could prove to be as important to the fabric of this franchise as the Avengers films.