WARNING-SPOILER ALERT! Please watch Shang-Chi before reading this article.
By S. Howie
The very first things audiences are introduced to in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings are, of course, the titular rings. A narrator relates the legend, giving it an air of mystery. No one knows where they came from. We are told that Wenwu (Tony Leung), the master of the ten rings, found them from somewhere, in a crater or a tomb, and never told anyone how he got them. These rings were very powerful artifacts, strong enough that he could use them to build an army and take over the world. In the comics, they were found in the “Valley of Spirits” in China, where they were used to power the ship of an alien race called the Axonn-Karr, also known as the Makluans.
These rings have a myriad of uses in the movie, giving Wenwu everything from everlasting youth to power strong enough to decimate a castle’s walls. Beyond superhuman strength and speed, most of the rings’ power comes from how the user wields them. They link psychically to the user, meaning they can be projected and recalled at will, or linked by some kind of energy to be used as a whip - which at one point Wenwu uses to shield himself from volleys of arrows. The rings are tougher than dragonscale. So great are the ten rings that the Dark Dweller, an ancient beast sealed by a dragon scale barrier and guarded against by the mystical village of Ta Lo, sought to convince Wenwu to use them to break itself free.
In a mid-credits scene Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) confirms that, despite being in the hands of Wenwu for over a millennium, they’re quite a lot older than that. The Kamar-Taj discover they’re some sort of beacon after they released a massive pulse of energy in the fight between Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and the Dark Dweller. Now of interest to the Kamar-Taj, Wong (Benedict Wong) warns Shang-Chi that the rings are a completely foreign technology they know nothing about - and that life will never be the same for him again.
The Ten Rings didn’t always look the way they do on the big screen. In the comics they were finger rings. Similarly, they weren’t originally wielded by Wenwu - simply because he didn’t exist. So, a lot was changed in the movie, but just how much? How much was kept the same?
In the comics the ten rings belonged to a villain named “The Mandarin”. Though the Mandarin’s backstory has changed over time, generally he was a descendant of Genghis Khan who stumbled upon an alien wreck and discovered a set of ten rings. These rings were worn on the finger and each had their own specific ability:
1. Daimonic - Control over light and energy on the electro-magnextic spectrum.
2. Incandescence - Creates flame
3. Lightning - Creates electricity
4. The Liar - Magnifies psychic energy, allowing the user to control others’ minds
5. Zero - Freezes to as low as absolute zero
6. Nightbringer - Creates “absolute blackness” which absorbs all light
7. Spectral - Destroys objects on a molecular level
8. Spin - Twists the air, making things levitate and allowing for flight
9. Influence - Projects concussive forces, sonic vibrations and magnetic waves
10. Remaker - Rearranges atoms and molecules, and can speed up or slow down their movements
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was in development as Marvel began marketing Avengers: Endgameand producer Jonathan Schwartz felt that the rings hit a little too close to home. They needed to really present them as something unique and different - not just another set of infinity stones. They began searching for imagery and ideas that could inspire their designs. Eventually they found themselves looking at a picture of Chiu Chi-ling from his part in Kung Fu Hustle and were struck by the iron rings.
These iron rings aren’t always iron, they can sometimes be made of brass. Many styles of martial arts incorporate iron rings into their training regimens, but they’re most famously used in Hung Gar Kung Fu.
A student would use them as weights, but also to keep their form and to familiarize themselves with impacts to the forearm - like from blocking a blow. The distinct style and the immediate connection iron rings had to martial arts made them a perfect fit for Shang-Chi.