The trailers for Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings have so far done a pretty good job of showing us a lot and divulging very little. Nevertheless, we here at Murphy’s Multiverse have been hard at work analyzing every little detail we can. Recently, the team published a few articles speculating on the inclusion of important Chinese mythology in the film. If true, it could open the doors to the future of the franchise in some big ways. If the next installment in the Shang-Chi saga decides to lean further into this mythology, it could set up a sequel featuring a partnership everyone has been wanting to see. Some further digging and a whole lot of reading, reveals an interesting connection between the titular Master of Kung Fu and another popular Marvel martial artist, the Immortal Iron Fist.
It seems incredibly likely, even if it’s not yet confirmed, that Shang-Chi‘s first solo film will end with him in possession of the Ten Rings. It’s been strongly hinted at in the footage and posters we’ve seen released for the movie, and it would be a fun new way for the MCU to “power up” a character who’s already pretty dangerous on his own. As human machine Joseph Aberl pointed out in his own prospective piece, the origins of these mystical rings could have a pretty heavy connection to the film’s Great Protector and the other dragons of importance in Chinese folklore. If Simu Liu‘s protagonist were to end up the owner of this immense ancient power, it would be a great starting point in a journey to discover more about where this energy comes from.
The theory here is that the “Great Protector” is actually the White Dragon of Qinghai Lake, one of the Dragon Kings of the Four Seas in Chinese legend. Not just that, he’d also be the creator of the Ten Rings. This idea stems from the shots in the movie’s trailers that show the Great Protector, a white dragon, submerged in water and interacting with a fully-uniformed Shang-Chi, presumably in a climactic moment of the story. He is also historically associated with the element of metal, which plays into the concept of molding the rings. If this theory turns out to be correct, it would allow for the other Dragon Kings to play a role in future Shang-Chi projects concerning our hero and his efforts to understand his past. This is where things get interesting. If a person were to dig far enough into Marvel lore, they would discover that one of the other Dragon Kings once played a vital role in the origins of the mystical city K’un L’un and it’s champion, the Iron Fist.
Long before the days of Matt Fraction‘s famous run, which rewrote the history of the character and made his title a generational mantle, there was a little tale by the name of Power Man & Iron Fist #118-122. This comic attempted to give Shou-Lao the Undying, the dragon from whom Danny Rand received his powers, a new origin more closely tied to mythology. In it, we find that Shou-Lao was once a mortal resident of K’un L’un who began a romantic relationship with a dragon in her human form. Unfortunately for him, this dragon turned out to be the sister of the Black Dragon, who was unpleased with Shou-Lao’s actions. As revenge, he turned Shou-Lao into an immortal beast, confined him to a cave, and ripped out his heart. Eventually, killing this dragon and plunging his fists into the removed heart is what would give Rand his supernatural abilities. In the story, Rand and Luke Cage would have to confront the Black Dragon.
This has since been retconned, but the MCU could use it as a jumping off point for a meeting between Shang-Chi and Rand in a potential sequel. If the Great Protector is a Dragon King, and our newly formed hero ends up searching of the other dragons and the power they bestow on Earth, it could lead him directly to the doorstep of K’un L’un. A famous Iron Fist story involves Danny Rand and the other champions of the Heavenly Cities fighting back against a corrupt K’un L’un leader known as Yu-Ti. The comic Black Dragon once took the city over by force. Perhaps these concepts could be combined to make the film’s antagonist, as he disguised himself in a human form as Yu-Ti.
Another possibility is that the dragons are tied to the Heavenly Cities themselves, with Wenwu and the Ten Rings’ base of operations functioning as a Heavenly City in the MCU. The decade-long disappearing act often pulled by Heavenly Cities could help explain why the Mandarin has not yet been seen in the MCU, and why Shang-Chi was given “ten years” to discover himself separate from the organization. It would also align with Michelle Yeoh‘s comments about portraying the protector of a “mythical city”. If this is true, and Shang-Chi becomes the city’s new champion, it would stand to reason that he might have to use his Ten Rings to compete in a future Tournament of the Heavenly Cities. Either way, a future team-up between Shang-Chi and the Iron Fist is starting to feel a little less far-fetched.