Simu Liu will play the title character in Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the first Asian lead in a Marvel superhero movie.

Tony Leung and Crazy Rich Asians’ Awkwafina will also star in the film reportedly budgeted at nearly $300 million, which is expected to shoot in Sydney thanks to a $24 million grant from the Federal Government’s Location Incentive Program.

The then Arts Minister Mitch Fifield said the production will spend more than $150 million in Australia, create 4,700 Australian jobs and use the services of about 1,200 local businesses.

It will be directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, whose breakout movie was 2013’s Short Term 12, which starred Brie Larson as a woman working in a group home for teenagers.

Liu said on social media: “There is so much at stake here; we are fighting for our identity, for our right to be seen, to belong.”

Marvel confirmed the production at its presentation at Comic-Con in Las Vegas, where the first footage of Marvel’s Black Widow starring Scarlett Johansson and directed by Cate Shortland was screened.

Johansson reprises her role as assassin-turned-Avenger Natasha Romanoff, who perished in Avengers: Endgame.

Attending Comic-Con with Johansson and cast members Rachel Weisz, David Harbour, Florence Pugh and O.T. Fagbenie, Shortland said: “That’s what drew me to the story – she has so many secrets. We get to understand her past and she gets to put those pieces together and become a whole person.”

Johansson said: “I don’t think I could have played this iteration of Natasha 10 years ago. I get to play her as a fully realized woman in all of her many facets.”

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which will open in February 2021, will feature Tony Leung as the real Mandarin (Ben Kingsley played an impostor version in Iron Man 3) and Awkwafina in an unspecified role.

At Comic-Con Cretton paid tribute to Marvel president Kevin Feige for pushing non-white actors, observing: “Kevin and MCU reflect all the beautiful colours that I see in this room. To be a small part of that is very special to me.”

The Shang-Chi character was born in China to a Chinese father and a white American mother and first appeared in 1973’s Special Marvel Edition No. 15, created by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin.

He was trained as a martial artist assassin by his father, the infamous pulp villain Fu Manchu, but later became a hero after rebelling against his father.

Liu, whose family moved from China to Canada when he was a child, worked as an accountant before getting a gig as an extra in Legendary’s Pacific Rim in 2012 followed by small parts in Beauty and the Beast and Nikita.

He got his break in the short-lived NBC series Taken followed by one of the lead roles in Canadian sitcom Kim’s Convenience, set in a Toronto convenience store run by Korean-Canadians.

The Marvel slate also includes The Eternals, directed by Chloé Zhao, which will star Richard Madden as Ikaris, Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo, Lauren Ridloff as Makkari, Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos, Salma Hayek as Ajak, Lia McHugh as Sprite, Don Lee as Gilgamesh and Angelina Jolie as Thena.

Directed by Scott Derrickson, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will see the return of Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange, joined by the Scarlet Witch played by Elizabeth Olsen.

Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love and Thunder will star Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson and Natalie Portman as the Mighty Thor, goddess of Thunder.

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