A thousand years ago, Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) discovered the mystical ten rings that grant immortality and godlike powers. He created the Ten Rings organization and conquered kingdoms and toppled governments throughout history. In 1996, Wenwu is searching for Ta Lo, a village supposed to harbor mystical beasts. He crosses a magical forest to the village but is stopped by a Guardian named Ying Li (Fala Chen). They fall in love and when the villagers reject Wenwu, Li leaves with him. They marry and have two children, Shang-chi (Simu Liu) and Xialing (Meng’er Xhang). Wenwu locks away the ten rings.
When Shang-Chi is seven years old, Li is murdered by Wenwu’s enemies, the Iron Gang. Wenwu puts on the ten rings, massacres the Iron Gang, and takes control of the organization. He trains Shang-chi in martial arts, but not Xialing, so she trains herself secretly. When Shang-chi is 14, Wenwu sends him to assassinate the Iron Gang’s leader. Afterwards, Shang-chi runs away to San Francisco and adopts the name Shaun.
Shaun is now working as a parking valet with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina) who knows nothing of his past. In an amazing fight-scene, they are attacked on a bus by the Ten Rings group who steal a pendant that Li gave to Shang-chi. He flies to warn his sister, afraid the Ten Rings will go after her pendant too, and Katy comes with him. He reveals his true nature to Katy, who wants to help him. They find his sister Xialing at her fight-club in Macau. The Ten Rings attack the club and Wenwu captures Shang-chi, Katy, Xialing, and the pendant.
They are taken to the Ten Rings compound, where Wenwu uses the pendants to reveal a map leading to Ta Lo. Wenwu says he has heard Li calling him and thinks she is held captive there. He will destroy the village if they do not release her. When his children object, he locks them up. They meet an actor named Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley), imprisoned for impersonating Wenwu, and his mystical Hundun companion Morris. He offers to lead them to Ta Lo.
They escape and make their way to Ta Lo in a separate dimension full of Chinese mythological creatures. They meet Ying Nan (Michelle Yeoh), Li’s sister, who explains that the universe there was attacked by the Dweller-in-Darkness and its Soul Eaters but was saved by a dragon called The Great Protector, who sealed them behind the Dark Gate. The Dweller-in-Darkness has been impersonating Li so Wenwu will use the ten rings to open the gate. The newcomers join in the village in preparation for the battle to come.
Wenwu and the Rings attack. Shang-chi is overpowered and pushed into the lake. The gate is opened by the rings and some Soul-Eaters escape. The Ten Rings join the villagers to fight them. The Great Protector revives Shang-chi. Wenwu and Shang-chi battle, Shang-chi gets the upper hand but refuses to destroy Wenwu. The Dweller-in-Darkness attacks Shang-chi and Wenwu saves him, giving him the rings before dying. The Dweller is slain. Shang-chi and Katy return to San Francisco, where they are summoned to Kamar-Taj by the Sorcerer Wong (Benedict Wong). In mid-credits, Wong introduces Shang-chi and Katy to Bruce Banner (Mark Rufalo) and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). The rings are acting as a beacon of some sort. After the credits, Xialing becomes the new leader of the Ten Rings and trains women alongside men.
The film was directed by Destin Daniel Crettin from a screenplay he wrote with Dave Callahan and Andrew Lanham, the first Marvel film with an Asian director and cast. It was praised by critics, received awards and nominations, and was a box-office success. In the Eighties, Stan Lee had discussed a film about Shang-chi to star Brandon Lee. Brandon’s father Bruce Lee was the inspiration for the character in the comics. The Ten Rings appeared in Iron Man and the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, though he was a fake Mandarin played by Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley).
The idea was to create a success like Black Panther. The fights were a combination of the ethereal Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon type and the fast, kinetic Jackie Chan style. The fight on the bus took a year to plan and was remarkable, a kind of cross between Jackie Chan and Buster Keaton. The film was dedicated to stunt-coordinator Bradley James Allen. Simu Liu is knowledgeable in a dozen kinds of martial arts, athletic, a good actor, fluent in English and Mandarin, and comfortable switching between Eastern and Western cultures. It was his first lead role.