Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Director Daniel Destin Cretton Originally Didn’t Want to Direct an MCU Film

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is out in theaters this week, and it follows Simu Liu as the titular character. Tony Leung plays his father, who’s trying to bring him back into the Ten Rings organization, but the protagonist has other ideas in mind. During the press conference, Liu discussed the film in a panel that included Awkwafina (Katy), Meng’er Zhang (Xialing), Ronny Chieng (Jon Jon), Sir Ben Kingsley (Trevor Slattery), director Destin Daniel Cretton and producer Kevin Feige.

Cretton’s time as a childcare worker has greatly influenced his filmmaking choices, especially with Short Term 12 starring Brie Larson and Rami Malek. It has carried on into Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and his other films.

“That job affected my entire life, my world view,” Cretton said. “I feel like the stories that I am drawn to are a combination of humor, optimism but also not shying away from the very real darkness that we all experience as humans. And I think this movie really does encapsulate a lot of the things that I really believe in.”

Awkwafina was cast in the film before Liu, and she helped make things easier for Liu.

“When I was first cast, I did my final screen test with Nora, and she did a wonderful job of putting me at ease,” Liu said. “My nerves were sky-high. I was an actor from Toronto, and I really had never allowed myself to imagine being a part of the MCU. I mean, it’s the craziest dream that someone can possibly dream. And Nora did such a great job of putting me at ease and just being in the moment with me, and we had such beautiful chemistry. Like bickering old couple chemistry right from the get-go.”

The film has some high-profile actors including Tony Leung, Michelle Yeoh and Sir Ben Kingsley. Simu Liu shared his experience of working with these actors.

“And that was so beautiful and just as I met more members of the cast like Tony, Michelle, and Sir Ben, every day it was like waking up to another dream,” Liu said. “It was really beautiful. And then having Meng’er come and join us too when we were all in Sydney was fantastic.”

The story of Liu tweeting to Marvel about wanting to portray Shang-Chi on the big screen and then finally getting the part is a popular one. However, the tweet wasn’t the reason why he got the part, according to Kevin Feige.

“Unfortunately, Simu, it was not your tweeting,” Feige said to Liu. “It was your acting ability, your constant professionalism, and then multiple reads and meetings that you did that got you the job.”

Liu has previously done stunts and is able to do flips, which is perfect for the character of Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung Fu. Cretton talks about the actor showing off his skills during auditions.

“[Simu] did do a back flip,” Cretton said. “He did the exact back flip… that pose that’s made fun of in Black Widow. He did a back flip into the Black Widow kneel pose hairflip up looking straight into the camera as the closer to his first audition.”

“I mean, I thought it was like a good signature,” Liu added. “It was like a nice little calling card.”

The film features the Mandarin language and also Asian-American lingo like ABC. The cast talks about the importance of having that authenticity in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

“Which language should be speaking was always rooted in just the logic of the characters and who would naturally be speaking what language,” Cretton said. “And so that conversation started in the writer’s room and then once our actors came in, it was always a dialog. These are all bilingual, trilingual, quadrilingual characters who could speak whatever made sense at the time. So, we were constantly having the discussion of what made sense for the scene.”

“What I really loved is that moment where, I don’t think it’s a spoiler, but where [Ron’s] character is talking to Awkwafina’s character, and she’s like, ‘Oh, no, my Chinese isn’t good.’ And [Ronny’s] like, ‘No worries, I speak ABC.’ They called it out and ABC, of course, means American-born Chinese, but it’s just the first time that you really see in a movie someone just calling out a lived experience.”

“Oh, is that what it meant?” Ronny Chieng asked. “I literally thought it meant like…”

“Oh, the ABCs, like the alphabet?” Liu asked.

“Yeah,” Cheing. “English, yeah.”

“Oh, my,” Awkwafina said.

“No, you didn’t,” Liu added.

“You right now just realized that?” Cretton asked.

“No, no, in my head I was like 50-50,” Chieng responded. “I didn’t know what it was.”

“At least people will know for sure that was not an improvisation,” Cretton concluded.

Cretton’s work is grounded in reality, and Shang-Chi has a supernatural element that’s a departure from the director’s previous films. However, he did share why this hero’s journey spoke to him.

“I really, personally connect with Shang-Chi’s journey,” Cretton said. “I love that this is a superhero that doesn’t get splashed with chemicals to get his superpower. It is a journey of self-discovery, of growing up, of learning how to finally deal with pain that he’s been running away from his entire life. And that when he is finally able to look inside into his past and embrace good, bad, the joy, the pain, and accept it all as a part of himself, that’s when he finally steps into his big boy shoes. I think that’s kind of what we’re all doing as humans in some way or another. I really connect with that.”

Chris Evans had a fear of filling in the shoes of Captain America, and like him, Cretton also had a fear of doing a huge project for a big company like Marvel.

“I did have a giant personal fear of stepping into a movie like this,” Cretton said. “When I pitched to Kevin, one of the last things I did was I told myself I’m just going to be myself. I have a tendency to be pressured to not be myself, and I was like I’m just going to be myself in this pitch and walk out feeling good that I did that. The last thing that I admitted when they asked me, ‘Have you always wanted to do a big Marvel movie?’ And I was like should I tell them?”

Cretton had to overcome that fear, and in the end, he finally went forward with directing the film. The director shares the inner struggles of tackling on an MCU project.

“It was a few weeks before they announced that they were looking for directors for this movie,” Cretton said. “I made a very real decision and called my manager or my agent and said, ‘Don’t ever let me do a Marvel movie.’ I said this to Kevin and Lou and Victoria and Jonathan in the pitch and explained to them when they made the announcement for Shang-Chi, something sparked in me that made me have to go in and just take a meeting and that turned into this. When I was in the elevator going down, I was leaving that meeting. I thought, ‘You’re an idiot for saying that final thing.’ When it came down to it, I did have a conversation with Ryan Coogler and I was scared of stepping into a big studio movie like this and scared of what it might do to me. The pressure… will I cave? I had a lot of fears.”

Ryan Coogler, who directed Black Panther, helped convince Cretton to work on an MCU film.

“The thing that Ryan said to me, which really eased my mind, was the pressure is hard,” Cretton said. “It’ll be the hardest thing potentially that you have done up to this point, but none of that pressure or none of those complications come from the people that you’re working with or for. And that’s what I found. This is like a very special place to work where, not to toot Kevin’s horn, but there is an environment of curiosity, of exploration that comes from the top down. There is no fear-based mentality in this studio, which has really allowed us to take risks and chances and be able to instill that same fearless exploration with everybody involved in this film, and I think that’s a huge reason that the movie turned out the way that it did.”

Sir Ben Kingsley played a version of The Mandarin in Iron Man 3, and he will be returning in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. As Trevor, his character will embark on a new adventure that will change who he was.

“With his work in Shakespeare, I think that he’s beginning to grow into a silhouette that’s larger than the one he thought he had,” Kingsley said. “And I think perhaps I enjoyed working in this film and Iron Man 3 because it is all about potential. It is about finding the original self that we were born with that gets distorted and tarnished, and then you do this amazing journey and you get back to your original self. I think that dear Trev has an opportunity to think, ‘You know what? I might be quite good at this. You know? There’s something in me.'”

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