September 2, 2021

CINEMA | 'Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings' Fights Back

"I always bet on Asian."
Simu Liu Destin Daniel Cretton | Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings | Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios
Japanese-American filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton takes classic Asian cinematic tropes from the martial arts fantasy genre and themes about sons running from their destinies and abusive fathers mixed with wuxia influences in Marvel Studios' latest superhero effort, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Starring magnetic Chinese-Canadian stuntman turned comedic actor Simu Liu of Kim's Convenience fame as the original Master of Kung Fu, the film is a thrilling and action-packed adventure story about fractured families and mystical legends.

Co-starring Hong Kong screen legend Tony Leung as a revamped version (with less racist origins) of the magical Iron Man villain, the Mandarin (named Wenwu here), standing in for the yellow peril caricature of Fu Manchu who was historically the title character's father in the comics, he just oozes charisma in his first Hollywood role. If anything, his inescapable charm threatens to dwarf Liu's magnetism as the film's hero with such emotional depth displayed by Leung's body movement and facial acting. He makes everything work and fixes any lags in the story's momentum.

AwkwafinaMeng'er Zhang, and Michelle Yeoh also co-star as Shang-Chi's American friend, badass sister, and aunty as Marvel's latest features almost an entirely Chinese cast. They all add to the eponymous character's homecoming and journey of identity with their own motivations. In particular, Awkwafina is hilarious as Liu's forceful sidekick while the other two bring so much powerful physicality to both their fighting sequences and emotional drama.

Tony Leung Destin Daniel Cretton | Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings | Marvel Studios

With some stunning fight choreography by the recently departed Brad Allan, an elite member of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team, Shang-Chi's action is both exhilarating yet overdone. It's occasionally overstimulating with the usual heavy CGI mixed with giant mythical dragon creatures.

Aside from the spectacle, the film is a fairly standard but emotional family drama influenced by Chinese folklore about spiritual balance, living up to your potential, and familial conflict between fathers and sons. One of Shang-Chi's opening sequences where Wenwu fights his future wife (Fala Chen) is likely the best action sequence from any Marvel ever.

How the script by David Callaham, Andrew Lanham, and Cretton mixes eastern influences with a westernized tale about being the "chosen one" that proves to be an interesting mix of storytelling styles. It's too bad the worse parts of the film are when it stops to include wholly unnecessary elements from the greater MCU machine including a languid speech by Leung that has no other purpose than to rewrite and retcon Iron Man 3.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a fresh reinvention of the tried-and-true superhero formula yet its mechanics of familiar beats and archetypes still weigh it down from fully soaring. Still, Leung's presence and gravitas make the whole endeavour worthwhile alone. Marvel's interpretation of a classic martial arts family drama about trying to outrun your destiny proves broadyly entertaining.

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