BY MATT TUCK
When you look closely, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings completely ripped off Harry Potter. Before burning me at the stake, lay down your torches and pitchforks, and hear me out.
Shang-Chi is exactly what the trailers portrayed it to be: a Marvel Studios joyride with well-choreographed fight scenes, big CGI locations and battles, and Chinese fantasy straight out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. To top it off, it’s sprinkled with Disney/Marvel’s trademark slapstick comedy and gags. More so than many of the MCU entries, Shang-Chi had a distinctly Disney fingerprint but with enough highspeed flips and kicks to make Daniel Craig jealous.
For what it is, Shang-Chi is an enjoyable fantasy take on the Marvel superheroes. Fans of the MCU’s feelgood action-comedies like Spider-Man: Homecoming, Far From Home, and Captain Marvel will fall in love with Shang-Chi.
It’s just that it all felt very familiar. Not just in a young adult, Marvel/Disney action-comedy sort of way. Then it hit me: this is Harry Potter. The heroes, the villains, the locations, and even the moments - they all parallel Harry Potter one after another. Even the title, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, is so achingly close to being Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire or Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I wager that the sequel’s title will be something along the lines of Shang-Chi and the Chamber of Secrets.
The story itself follows the Harry Potter formula. Compare it to Sorcerer’s Stone. The child of extraordinary parents, Harry is an underachiever living a boring, ordinary life when he discovers he is a wizard. He is whisked away to a hidden world of magic that is invisible to normal people. Harry learns that his mother sacrificed herself to save him. He then crosses the magical barrier to enter Hogwarts where he learns to hone his skills in order to slay the monsters and protect his family. He even discovers a magic mirror that lets you see your deepest desires, but he has the wisdom to know that can lead to disaster. Meanwhile, the antagonist, Professor Quirrell, learns too late that he was being manipulated by the greater threat all along. Armed with newfound confidence and understanding, Harry returns to the ordinary world wiser and better.
Replace wands for rings and dragon scales, and you basically get the entire plot to Legend of the Ten Rings. Instead of a misleading magic mirror and Voldemort pulling the strings, Marvel has the Dweller in Darkness (which sounds like an antisocial teenager to me) manipulating Xu Wenwu from behind a wall of dragon scales.
Still not convinced? Take a look at the main characters as they undeniably fill the same roles as those from Harry Potter.
The most obvious is Shang-Chi, who is an older Harry Potter with infinitely better fighting skills. He follows the same character trajectory and saves the magical world of Ta Lo, which is essentially Shang-Chi’s Hogwarts. Along the way he makes a core group of friends that help him on his journey, and these characters should be very familiar.
Shang-Chi’s best friend and ride-or-die companion in his epic journey is Katy, aka Ten Rings’ Ron Weasley. Unrefined and hilariously awkward, she is the slapstick comic relief. She stumbles her way through the story on sheer dumb luck, following Harry-Chi to the end. Along the way, she proves herself to be a brave and loyal friend.
Next is Hermione, or as she is known here, Xialing. Unmatched in her skills and intellect, Xialing possesses the knowledge of the magical world that helps guide Shang-Chi on his quest.
Harry and his fellowship would not be complete without the help of their friend, Hagrid. A bit of a buffoon at first glance, Hagrid has a magical bond with animals that comes in handy more often than not on Harry’s journey. Who does that sound like? The failed actor himself, Trevor Slattery, and the lovable whatever-that-thing-is, Morris.
It doesn’t stop there. Where Harry learned the tools of the trade at Hogwarts, Shang-Chi mastered Kung Fu in the realm of Ta Lo. Who is there to teach Shang-Chi the ways of the Force? His very own Professor Dumbledore, the dear aunt Ying Nan, Ta Lo’s boss of bosses apparently.
By the way, did Shang-Chi, Katy, Xialing, and Trevor’s path into Ta Lo remind you of anything? No, this wasn’t the Hogwarts Express; this was the magic car ride from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets complete with Ron/Katy in the driver’s seat. It was all there with the angry bamboo trees standing in for the Whomping Willow. For that matter, the Basilisk and Fawkes the Phoenix from Chamber of Secrets were in Shang-Chi, but this time they were called the Dweller in Darkness and the Great Protector.
The one character who steps furthest from the Harry Potter tropes is the best character in the entire film, Shang-Chi’s father, the true Mandarin. Aside from being the villain whose magic Shang-Chi needs to claim as his own, which is similar to Harry and Voldemort’s relationship, Xu Wenwu stands out from the rest of the cast. Xu is arguably the most sympathetic and understandable character with the richest backstory of anyone in the film. Here you have a man made immortal and invincible by the Ten Rings, bested only by the love of his life. When she is murdered as retribution for his violent past, sacrificing herself to protect Shang-Chi in the process, Xu mounts a quest to avenge her death. “A blood debt can only be paid in blood,” he tells a young Shang-Chi after the child witnesses his father’s full wrath. It has a distinct Punisher vibe, and I would love a Disney+ series chronicling his bloody path of vengeance that eventually leads to nowhere.
Like Frank Castle, Xu Wenwu is an ageless warrior with a reason to be angry. When he marches on Ta Lo, he is doing so for an honorable purpose, though his means are questionable. He is mistakenly led to believe that his soulmate, the one person who cracked his heart of stone, is being held captive there. Xu uses his power to rescue her, and no one from Ta Lo takes the time to give him evidence that he’s being manipulated.
Don’t misunderstand me. I enjoyed Shang-Chi, and the theater erupted in applause and cheers when the credits rolled. Quite frankly, I have never been a fan of the first two Harry Potter movies, so Shang-Chi is a welcome upgrade on Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets. That doesn’t erase the fact that Marvel Studios didn’t just borrow notes from Harry Potter; Shang-Chi outright copied Harry’s homework.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.