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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (A Movie Review)

Updated: Sep 7, 2021


Starring Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng'er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh, Ben Kingsley, Tony Leung, Ronny Chieng, Yuen Wah, Jodi Long, Dallas Liu, Paul He; Tsai Chin, Andy Le, Stephanie Hsu, Kunal Dudhekar, Zach Cherry, Jade Xu, Brie Larson, Mark Ruffalo and the voices of Dee Baker and Tim Roth.

Screenplay by Dave Callaham & Destin Daniel Cretton and Andrew Lanham.

Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton.

Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. 132 minutes. Rated PG-13.

I’m not going to lie. Before Marvel announced this film as an upcoming entry of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I had never heard of the character of Shang-Chi. Granted, I am well past my comic reading years, but still I’ve kept somewhat up on the characters, if only through their pop culture cinematic and television incarnations. Strangely, the character was apparently most popular back during my comic-reading years, from 1973 to 1983, but somehow, he just slipped past me. Also, my nephew, who is a big comic fan and pretty up to date on the series had never heard of this character either.

I mean, I guess it’s only a matter of time that they run into the more obscure characters of the MCU. In fact, the next Marvel film to be released is Eternals, which also features lesser-known characters, although at least I had heard of some of them. I’d also never heard of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage when they were made into TV series. (If you’re keeping this up, which undoubtedly you will, why not make features on those characters, too?) Still, Shang-Chi is the first Marvel movie I’ve gone into completely in the dark about the storyline and heroes since Guardians of the Galaxy. (And, honestly, I was no big fan of Guardians of the Galaxy.)

Still, the MCU is a very inclusive place, so it makes sense that they would like to tell a story with Asian characters, settings and themes. (Iron Fist was also immersed in Asian lore, culture and symbolism, but that mostly takes place in the US and the main character is white.) Also, martial arts fighting is a staple of many modern comics – although I have never been a huge fan of martial arts, which may be why I pretty much overlooked Shang-Chi in the first place.

Honestly, although I was not familiar with the guy, Shang-Chi makes an interesting character and the movie on the whole is very good, although, as so often in the MCU, it goes on too long. Still, credit where it is due, this is one of the better recent Marvel movies, perhaps one of the best since Black Panther (although it is not as good a film as that one). I wouldn’t be shocked if Shang-Chi’s box office take rivals Black Panther, too.

Shang-Chi is pretty much a stand-alone origin story, also much like Black Panther. In fact, the only Marvel characters who cross over into this story are Ben Kingsley’s supporting character from Iron Man 3 and Benedict Wong’s sorcerer from Doctor Strange. (Two other Avengers heroes show up briefly as cameos during the end credits scene, but they have little to add – and are not even physically there, they are merely holograms.)

The fact that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is pretty much divorced from the MCU mythology and politics is actually kind of refreshing. It lets the story live and breathe on its own without having to support the whole complicated timeline of the Marvel universe. (Still, I have no doubt that Shang-Chi and maybe some of the other characters will start popping up in other MCU adventures.)

Of course, it’s not the most novel storyline out there. As a small boy, Shang-Chi is trained by his father to become an invincible assassin. His father is an immortal martial arts master who gets his power from the ten rings – five circles of metal which he wears on each wrist. (Technically, they are more like bracelets than rings.)

When Shang-Chi is sent out at 14 to perform his first murder, he decides that this was not what he wants from life and he disappears, ending up in San Francisco, living life as an unexceptional and unmotivated young man named Shaun.

However, as always happens in these cases, eventually his past catches up to him, in the form of his father’s fighting ninja army. He realizes he must return home to save his little sister, who he abandoned all those years ago, and to save his mother’s homeland. And I think it is not too much of a spoiler to acknowledge that eventually dragons will be involved.

It seems like we’ve heard this story before.

Yet, Shang-Chi is smart enough to take some scenes which could be rather cliched and give them a skewed perspective. For example, a scene in the film’s preface in which the two characters who would become Shang-Chi’s parents wage supposed a fight to the death is strangely flirtatious.

It’s also nice that they picked a relatively unknown cast here (at least relatively unknown in the US). Star Simu Liu is a Canadian Chinese actor who has had some minor roles in television and film – mostly in Canada – but never had to carry a film on his shoulders. Even with a huge, complicated story such as this, he shows he has the goods.

The only fairly big-name actors – other than Kingsley and Wong, who are noted above – are Awkwafina as Shang-Chi’s best friend and the film’s comic relief, Michelle Yeoh as Shang-Chi’s supportive aunt, and Ken Leung as Shang-Chi’s evil robber baron father.

Despite the fact that its lead hero is rather obscure, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is ready to take its rightful place in the upper strata of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2021 All rights reserved. Posted: September 3, 2021.

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