REVIEW: ‘Shang-Chi and The Legend Of The Ten Rings’ Is A Martial-Arts Marvel

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Shang-Chi - But Why Tho

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the latest entry in Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and written by Cretton and Andrew Lanham with Dave Callaham. Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) was trained to be an assassin by his father Wenwu (Tony Leung Chiu-wai), who is better known as the Mandarin. Wenwu leads the organization known as the Ten Rings, named after the mystical objects he wears that grant him superhuman powers and immortality. Shang escapes the Ten Rings and tries to live a normal life in San Francisco, but after receiving a postcard from his sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) he confronts the Ten Rings alongside his friend Katy (Awkwafina).

The origins of this film are heavily tied to those of Marvel Studios itself, as it was one of the original ten projects in development when the studio first formed. The Ten Rings have also had a heavy impact in the MCU, as they were tied to Tony Stark’s origin as Iron Man. Despite its origins, Shang-Chi is mostly a standalone picture-all you need to know is given to you in the film itself, including the mythology and general premise. While I enjoyed Black Widow and the current slate of Marvel Studios shows on Disney+, it’s nice to see the journey of a new character and explore a new aspect of this ever-growing universe.

A large part of what makes the film work is Liu’s performance as the title character. When we first meet Shang, he comes off as a bit of a slacker: he works as a valet and prefers to spend his nights singing at karaoke bars. Yet as the film unfolds and more of Shang’s past is revealed, his draw to this lifestyle and simmering resentment of his father comes into clear focus. This film taps deep into the fractured relationship between father and son and will hit the audience in the heart. Cretton has made a habit of crafting complex protagonists in his previous works Short Term 12 and Just Mercy; the same aspect allows him to ground a story that features magic rings and giant dragons in human emotion.

Liu also has immense chemistry with the rest of the cast, including a will they/won’t they dynamic with Awkwafina’s Katy that leads to some genuinely hilarious moments and an equally fractured relationship with Zheng’s Xialing. However, his best scenes are opposite Leung, who brings a much-needed complexity to Wenwu-it helps that Cretton and crew wisely ditch the racist “Fu Manchu” character that was originally Shang’s father in the comics. It’s often been said that one of the MCU’s running faults is that its villains are not as well developed as its heroes; Leung joins the handful of actors who have escaped this trope by adding nuance to his character. Wenwu’s goals aren’t as broad as world conquest or wiping out half the universe; he just wants to bring his family back together by any means necessary. While this helps to make him more sympathetic, the means by which he attempts to achieve his goal further drive a wedge between him and his son.

It wouldn’t be a Shang-Chi film without martial arts and this film absolutely delivers when it comes to its fight sequences. From the first sequence, where Shang confronts a squadron of Ten Rings mercenaries led by the knife-handed Razor Fist (Florian Munteanu) on his bus ride to work, to the final fight between Shang and Wenwu the action is engaging and audiences will be able to see the work that the late Brad Allan and cinematographer Bill Pope put into these scenes. This was definitely a delight after the disappointment of Snake-Eyes; if your character is skilled in martial arts, we should be able to see their skills on screen. Martial arts aficionados will also be able to pinpoint the influences that run throughout this film from Jackie Chan’s work to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Michelle Yeoh, an alum from the latter film, ends up playing a major role in the story. The third act also incorporates mythological creatures and magical weapons, which fits the Wuxia vibe the film is going for.

Between its fight scenes and family drama, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a welcome addition to the MCU and gives one of Marvel’s most promising characters his due. With this film premiering as  Shang-Chi has made his resurgence in comics, the future looks extremely bright for the Master of Kung Fu. If you are able to go to the theaters, I highly recommend giving this film a watch.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will premiere in theaters nationwide on September 3, 2021.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

TL;DR

Between its fight scenes and family drama, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a welcome addition to the MCU and gives one of Marvel’s most promising characters his due. With this film premiering as  Shang-Chi has made his resurgence in comics, the future looks extremely bright for the Master of Kung Fu. If you are able to go to the theaters, I highly recommend giving this film a watch.