In Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, audiences were introduced to the realm of Ta Lo; here are its world, mythology, and fantastical creatures explained. Shang-Chi has dominated at the box office, easily breaking the record for Labor Day weekend totals, all propelled by great reviews and word of mouth along with excitement to see Marvel’s first all-Asian cast. In the pantheon of MCU origin story movies, Shang-Chi ranks near the top, if not at the top.
Audiences were also excited to see the proper introduction of martial arts into the MCU. All due respect to Netflix series Iron Fist, but the martial arts in that series was simplified and fight scenes stunted due to Iron Fist actor Finn Jones not having any martial arts or stunt training beforehand and barely having time to learn fight choreography before shooting. Thus, many longtime fans have considered Shang-Chi to be the true introduction of martial arts in Marvel live-action projects and it certainly delivered.
But another vital piece of the MCU Phase 4 puzzle was also introduced and that is the realm of Ta Lo. The entire third act and final battle take place in the otherworldly realm, and it looks to be of importance to the MCU moving forward. Here’s the world and mythology of Ta Lo explained, including all its creatures.
Ta Lo World & Dimension Explained
The MCU is no stranger to fictional lands and mythical dimensions; locations like Asgard and Wakanda feature prominently in the movies, and parallel realms such as the Dark Dimension have been visited before. But Ta Lo is something new and slightly different; the best way to describe it would be a pocket dimension. Unlike Wakanda, which is a real place on the MCU’s Earth, or even Asgard, which has seen numerous characters traveling back and forth at any given time, Ta Lo is far less accessible.
However, unlike the Dark Dimension, which is an entirely separate universe, Ta Lo is separate but attached. The borders between Ta Lo and the main MCU universe open once a year, allowing anyone with the knowledge to pass from this world into the mythical realm of Ta Lo. Ta Lo is unique among all fictional Marvel locations in that regard, as it is neither always accessible, period, or always accessible depending on one’s magical skills, but only accessible in finite windows of time. Outside of that window, it’s only possible for humans to access if they have the help of one of Ta Lo’s mythical creatures guiding them through the deadly maze–and even then, they may not make it. In many ways, this makes it one of the most inaccessible of all of the MCU’s fictional realms and other dimensions.
Ta Lo’s Magical Animals & Creatures
Ta Lo is also populated with seemingly magical creatures and animals that aren’t found on Earth. Some could be forgiven for thinking these creatures are newly invented for the sake of the movie, but they’re not. They’re actually creatures taken from Chinese mythology and lore and each has specific meaning. For example, Ta Lo’s giant lion guardians in Shang-Chi, known as shíshī, are creatures commonly seen in Chinese mythology and architecture, dating back to Imperial China, when carved stone lions would often sit at the entrance to important buildings like palaces or tombs to guard them. The pair of lions are often one male, one female, adhering to the Buddist concept of the yin and yang: balance. It’s a fitting theme for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings as Shang-Chi’s main struggle is to balance his light and dark sides, his mother and father within himself.
Other creatures in Ta Lo are even deeper cuts into Chinese mythology. Fuzzy sidekick Morris, for example, is something known as a dìjiāng, a creature associated with the Chinese god Hundun and the element of chaos. Ta Lo is also home to the qílín, a unicorn-like creature with the body of a deer and tail of an ox, which traditionally only appears to herald the arrival of a great new ruler. The fènghuáng can also be seen, a mythical bird often confused with the Chinese phoenix that rules over all other birds. Like the Chinese guardian lions, the fènghuáng and the qílín often come in male and female pairs and represent balance. Other creatures include húlijīng, the lovely nine-tailed fox creatures spotted as Shang-Chi and his friends drove into Ta Lo for the first time. Unsurprisingly, they symbolize duality and can either be a good or bad omen, or benevolent or malevolent. Ta Lo is also home to longma, winged, horse-like creatures covered in dragon scales that, like the qílín, is an omen foretelling the rise of a legendary ruler.
How Ta-Lo’s People Have Powers (& What Are They)
Of course, the most legendary creature of all in Ta Lo is the Great Protector, a dragon god that resides in the lake of the realm and is the source of its power. It is the Great Protector that grants the people of Ta Lo their abilities and their incredible armor and weapons. While the Great Protector is able to travel between dimensions, she has mostly slumbered beneath the lake at the center of Ta Lo for eons since first helping to defeat and imprison the soul-consuming Dweller-in-Darkness, destined to awake from her slumber to join the fight if the demon is ever freed. Despite her absence, the Great Protector supports and powers Ta Lo’s warrior-guardians in two ways.
First, her scales have magical properties and the people of Ta Lo use dragon scales to enhance their armor and weaponry, imbuing them with mystical properties and immense resilience and strength. But second, it is the Great Protector that taught them how to harness the powers of chi and bend the natural elements to their will, namely water and wind. In flashbacks, it’s shown how she gave them the knowledge that would imbue them with superhuman abilities in order to protect Ta Lo and guard the prison of the Dweller-in-Darkness. Particularly skilled practitioners who can tap into the natural energy of the world can even manipulate wind to create offensive and defensive vortexes of incredible power, or bend water.
What’s unknown is whether the people of Ta Lo can maintain their powers beyond that realm. The Great Protector is directly tied to Ta Lo and thus, as long as her people remain within its borders, they benefit from her power. But Shang-Chi’s mother, Ying Li, told Shang-Chi in a flashback that she “gave up” her power to leave Ta Lo and follow his father, Wenwu. However, it’s unclear how that happened. It’s possible she lost her powers when she decided to give up her role of the guardian of the entrance of Ta Lo, thereby breaking some sort of contract, or if she lost them the moment she was outside the borders of Ta Lo and outside the Great Protector’s influence. It’s also possible that she agreed to relinquish her powers in Shang-Chi to be with Wenwu so as to keep the secret of Ta Lo protected. It’s even possible that her powers simply gradually faded away the longer she lived a normal life as a wife and mother.
Ta Lo’s Comic History & How The Movie Compares
In all honesty, Ta Lo doesn’t really have much comic book history in Marvel comics, so Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was able to shape it specifically for the MCU. It’s appeared or been referenced in the comics only a handful of times, so information is sparse. What little backstory it has in the comics was changed considerably for the movie. In the comics, Ta Lo (or Ta-Lo) is considered one of the Chinese god realms, and the highest of the 36 heavens of the Chinese gods, hence its other name of “Great Canopy Heaven.” It’s populated by an extradimensional race of beings known as the Xian, and, like the movie, a number of mythical Chinese creatures.
That’s about where the similarities stop, however. In the comics, Ta Lo operates as the Chinese version of Asgard, with the Xian being the Chinese mythology counterpart to the MCU’s Asgardians of Norse mythology. Xian are a completely different race and worshipped as gods; in the movie, the residents of Ta Lo appear to be supernaturally gifted but otherwise normal human beings, seeing as how Ying Li was able to leave and live a normal life. Likewise, the Ta Lo of the comics is slightly more accessible than the one in the movie, with interdimensional nexuses found at each of China’s Five Great Mountains: Tai Shan to the East, Hua Shan to the West, Bei Heng Shan to the North, Nan Heng Shan to the South, and Song Shan at the Center of the realm.
Everything else about Ta Lo, including the Great Protector and it being the realm fated to protect other universes from the Dweller-in-Darkness, was created specifically for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The movie version of Ta Lo is a fascinating place and the movie barely scratched its surface. Hopefully, much like with Asgard or Wakanda, it’s a realm that will be further fleshed out and returned to frequently in future MCU projects.
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