SHANG CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS
2021, PG-13, 132 mins.
Simu Liu as Shang-Chi / Tony Leung Chiu-Wai as Wenwu / The Mandarin / Awkwafina as Katy / Meng'er Zhang as Xialing / Michelle Yeoh as Jiang Nan / Ronny Chieng as Jon Jon / Fala Chen as Jiang LiDirected by Destin Daniel Cretton / Written by Dave Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton, and Andrew Lanham
Very much like BLACK PANTHER before it, SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS - the 25th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe - is a bold and rousing step forward for inclusiveness for the MCU, not to mention that it places prominent faith in its characters/world by telling a satisfyingly solid standalone effort that doesn't feel slavish to become a glorified MCU cameo-athon or a placeholder vehicle to expand AVENGERS storylines.
definitely something to be said about the rooting interest that B-grade
minor characters in the comic books have when making their transition to
the silver screen, and Shang-Chi was, at best, a third tier and mostly
forgotten super hero in the annals of Marvel Comics.
With this film, though, the titular character is given just as
lavish of a treatment as his better known brethren, made all the more
culturally important because this is the first MCU adventure directed by
an Asian and staring a mostly Asian cast.
SHANG-CHI isn't fully liberated from the more tired and overused
MCU conventions, but I nevertheless found it to be a worthy trajectory
point for the MCU's fourth wave.
have been minority based super hero films before.
BLACK PANTHER, for example, was hardly the first to feature an
African American protagonist, but this can hardly be said about Asian
representation in the largely crowded genre pack.
I think this leads to SHANG-CHI having a different level of
inspirational potency and empowerment for viewers.
Best of all, the film never wallows in Asian stereotypes like, say, the recently released Netflix action thriller KATE.
SHANG-CHI embraces and celebrates its Chinese culture and folklore
and amalgamates that with fantastical MCU trappings. Another thing that made this film more winning than the most
recent MCU solo entry BLACK WIDOW is
that the makers here are putting their feet on the gas pedal to
move forward as opposed to hitting the brakes, looking back, and tying up
loose mythology ends. SHANG-CHI - especially in its opening sections - feels more
like a martial arts epic than a super hero saga, which is a good thing.
The DNA of the MCU continuity is absolutely here, to be fair, but
this is a rare solo entry for the 13-year-old franchise that dares to have
its own unique flavor and identity.
sensational prologue opens SHANG-CHI that introduces us to some of its key
power players, most specifically Wenwu (played brilliantly by
Tony Leung), who's yearning for power and conquering lands beyond his own
have no bounds. Thousands of
years ago Wenwu discovered the mystical ten rings that give its wearing
vast powers and immortality. He
establishes an organization intends to topple any kingdoms that come in
his way through history. Flashforward
to the mid 1990s and Wenwu is attempting to locate a magical village
that's said to harbor beasts to bolster his armies, but he's stopped by the village's easy-on-the-eyes, but immensely powerful in
her own right Jiang Li (Fala Chen), who manages to stop Wenwu from
matters is the fact that Wenwu becomes instantly smitten with her, and
they eventually settle down together, marry, and have kids.
again and into the present day and we're introduced to one of their kids,
now an adult, in Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), who's anything but modern day
royalty; he works a lowly job as a hotel valet with his BFF in Katy (Awkwafina).
What she doesn't know is that her buddy is actually
one of the most well trained and dangerous martial artists in the world,
thanks to Wenwu's training. On one fateful day, though, Shang-Chi has to essentially come
out of hiding and let his dormant skills re-emerge when he and Katy are
ruthlessly surprise attacked by an assassin, and after surviving that
Shang-Chi learns that his sister (Meng'er Zhang) - who he's been estranged
from for over a decade - is in great danger, leading to him (with Katy in
tow) going overseas to seek her out.
Eventually, brother and sister are reunited and discover that their
father wants to use his gifted kids to help him on his quest: Seek
out his wife's village (where Wenwu believes she is being held captive)
and free her...even if it means destroying it and everyone there.
There's one thorny problem: In
Shang-Chi and his sibling's minds, their mother died years ago, making
them question their papa's mental state.
might be the most relatable MCU villain since Killmonger in BLACK PANTHER.
Here's a centuries old man that's insatiably thirsty for
control and will stop at nothing to destroy those that oppose him in his
journey to be reunited with the love of his life.
In many respects, he's a soft spoken madman that has dealt with the
anguish over losing his wife, which materializes in his mission to free
her...that is, of course, if she's actually alive, which Shang-Chi has a
very difficult time buying. Like
Killmonger and even to a degree Thanos, Wenwu isn't a simple black and
white megalomaniac villain with a dark heart and blood lust.
There's understandable motivation behind his pain, making him a
much more compelling creation. He believes, in his heart of hearts, that his wife's voice
speaks to him from the great beyond and needs him to help liberate her,
but Shang-Chi grows to learn that this isn't so and that his father's
unwavering beliefs could utterly destroy not only his family, but a whole
village of people as well. The
father/son dynamic in SHANG-CHI is an intriguing one; Shang-Chi loves his
father and sensei, but can't support and honor his wishes, which he feels
are delusions of grandeur. One
of the great casting coups of this film is Leung, who never seems to play
Wenwu in purely scenery chewing, malevolent form. Like
all great villains, he feels totally justified in his actions, even if
they kill hundreds in the process. Leung
makes his antagonist so chillingly effective here; he's a frighteningly
dangerous presence in more understated ways.
hero himself here in Shang-Chi is also exceptionally well cast with TV
star Simu Liu, who miraculously got the gig after a much publicized social
media call out to Disney years ago about representation.
Right from the get-go he makes an immediate impression, not just on
a level of fresh faced and easy-going charm, but also because of his
strikingly raw physicality and martial arts might.
Hawaiian born director Destin Daniel Cretton (known for way, way
lower budgeted fare like SHORT TERM 12)
fundamentally understands that the keys to SHANG-CHI are in fully
utilizing his star's ample assets and in delivering the type of gravity
defying fight sequences not really seen in the MCU.
A lot of critics have been drawing comparisons of SHANG-CHI to the
work of Jackie Chan, which is half correct.
The intricately complex choreographed sequences here have a
ballet-like grace and symmetry that mirror the work of Chan, but they
certainly have been augmented by multi-million dollar visual effects and
resources that Chan never had access to in his career.
That, and Chan's kung fu set pieces had an unprecedented level of
pure blunt force hurt factor; the action icon put his body and soul on the line for
these dangerous cinematic moments that have become the stuff of legend in
the industry. In SHANG-CHI....yeah...not
so much. There are simply too
many CG assets and augmentations here to draw those comparisons, and the
battles themselves are largely bloodless.
You never doubted if Chan was in the frame and line of fire in his
films, whereas in SHANG-CHI obvious liberties were taken.
said all of that, the fights in SHANG-CHI are pretty damn incredible and
highlight a different type of overall aesthetic than we're usually spoon
fed in the MCU. Just look at
the opening skirmish between Wenwu and his future lover and wife, which
has almost a rhythmic eroticism to it.
It's really a sumptuous realized moment, but SHANG-CHI is just
getting warmed up and started at this point and later unleashes one
staggeringly well executed fight sequence after another, with one of the
superb standouts being a breathtaking battle set on a careening
out of control city bus. During it, the titular hero takes on a squadron
of assassins for hire in a bewilderingly varied manner (it's actually crazily similar to the
scene in NOBODY, which was more bloody and
visceral). There's also
another incredible moment involving Shang-Chi defending himself against
ever more goons on high rise scaffolding that will make viewers afraid
of heights cover their eyes with each punch and kick.
So many MCU entries wow us with their VFX and other worldly
production values, so it's a real treat to see SHANG-CHI try the more
grounded approach...at least as much as a $200 million budget allows.
SHANG-CHI can't completely get away from the omnipresent MCU shadow as it
regrettably commits some of the repeated sins of past franchise installments.
Once again, we have an unnecessarily busy climatic third act that
features the hero leading an army of companions against multiple CG
monsters, which becomes more disappointingly chaotic, noisy, and numbing
as it goes. It's deeply
unproductive considering the better stakes of the more intimately rendered
family arcs established beforehand that should have been paid off without
falling victim to the MCU playbook for closing out stories.
SHANG-CHI starts off gangbusters good and really immerses us in the
more down to earth struggles of its characters, but then gets shifted into
more mystical elements that have a whiplashing effect at times.
And like so bloody many MCU entries, there's a lot of shoehorned in
comedy into the mix, some of it welcome, whereas most of it seems to work
against individual scenes that are trying to be more solemn (they always
undercut a would-be grave moment here with a gag).
Awkwafina is, in pure MCU fashion, a quip generating factory here,
but at least she's a likeable presence and has decent chemistry with her
co-star. There's one extended cameo here that's utterly superfluous
and adds nothing to the narrative trajectory at all. I won't spoil it, other than to say that his presence in one
past MCU solo outing was among one of the most annoyingly polarizing in
the whole series. Why he was
included here is a borderline supernatural mystery that even Dr. Strange couldn't