Make room, Ant-Man and Wasp, there’s another superhero in town.
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” opening Friday in theaters, is partly set in San Francisco, a city that had a big impression on director Destin Daniel Cretton.
Cretton (who made “Short Term 12,” “The Glass Castle” and “Just Mercy”), was born and raised in Hawaii and went to college in San Diego. His first road trip was to San Francisco.
“We stayed right on the wharf,” he said on a recent Zoom chat. “There’s something magical about that city, everything about it. I always dreamed of shooting something there.”
Based on Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin’s Marvel comic hero who debuted in 1973 amid the martial arts craze spearheaded by Bruce Lee, “Shang-Chi” is the first name-above-the-title Asian superhero in the Marvel universe.
In setting “Shang-Chi” partly in San Francisco, Cretton says, “We wanted a city that was very connected to the immigrant experience and a city that specifically had a clear connection to the Chinese immigrant experience. S.F. is one of the most important cities for that rich history.”
In the movie, Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) — who goes by “Shaun” — and his best friend Katy (Awkwafina) live a simple life, working and hanging out at karaoke bars.
Shaun wakes up in his apartment on Euclid Avenue. “If you listen closely, you can hear all the sounds of San Francisco,” says Cretton.
He picks up Katy from her home, before they catch the 1 California bus to their job parking cars at the Fairmont.
“We got to stay in that hotel when we came for scouting,” says Cretton. “It was Christmas time and that big tree was up. It was really great.”
For Cretton, San Francisco’s landscape played an important part in the movie.
“We also needed a city with really steep hills, to do one of the biggest action sequences of our film, and the first big reveal. We looked at other possibilities, cities with hills, and literally nothing came close,” he says. “Everything we needed could not have been done in any other city in the world.”
In the thrilling scene, Shaun, who has been hiding his martial arts mastery, jumps into action after being attacked by thugs while riding the bus to work. As he attempts to dispatch them all, Katy steers the articulated bus (which has severed brakes), down hills and around corners, smashing into all kinds of things.
The bus also goes through the Stockton Street tunnel and careens down California Street, winding up at Ghirardelli Square.
Last October, having an Irish coffee at the Buena Vista Cafe, I saw equipment trucks and set decorations in the area, and a quick IMDb search proved that these were, indeed, sets for “Shang-Chi.” But the wild bus sequence doesn’t go as far as The Buena Vista.
“I think if anyone is really paying attention, they’ll find some cheats,” Cretton says. “There’s no way to keep a bus going downhill for six minutes straight.”
Cretton and his crew kept the famous San Francisco chase scene from the 1968 Steve McQueen movie “Bullitt” in mind while working on this one. All in all, with fight scenes inside the bus shot in Australia, the sequence took about a month to film, Cretton says.
Equally challenging as filming a runaway bus was being in production during the pandemic.
“We ended up not being able to shoot there (in San Francisco) when we wanted,” Cretton says. “We were shut down when someone on the crew had a false positive test. Marvel took every precaution in regards to shooting safely. Things took longer as a result of that extra care.”
While Cretton is pleased to be part of the Marvel Universe, he’s most gratified to be on the team that’s bringing the first major Asian superhero to the screen.
Cretton, who has Japanese heritage, says he’ll be proud to show the film to his son, though not right away.
“I don’t think I want my 3-year-old watching that just yet,” he says. “I love the themes in this movie, and I think the lesson that Shang-Chi is learning to love every part of himself in order to step into his superhero shoes is a lesson for any age, but there is a lot of punching and kicking.”
And in response to the burning question on the minds of Marvel fans — will Shang-Chi and Katy ever meet Ant-Man and the Wasp for a spectacular San Francisco superhero team-up? — Cretton says, “A lot of the things that you learn when you’re working at Marvel is that there’s a clear trajectory of all the other characters, and the specific timelines. We kept wondering as we were writing this, ‘Where are they? Could they just be passing by in the background?’ They could be, actually. They are really small.”
IF YOU GO: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Starring: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh, Tony Leung Chiu-wai
Written by: Dave Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham
Directed by: Destin Daniel Cretton
Running time: 2 hours, 12 minutes