August 24th, 2021
MOVIE: SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS
STARRING: SIMU LIU, AWKWAFINA, TONY CHIU-WAI LEUNG, MICHELLE YEOH
DIRECTED BY: DESTIN DANIEL CRETTON
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
With Marvel, there is a tier to the kind of stories they tell, where the introduction of a new character often involves the cliched set up of a new hero, with a simple backstory, and learning the creation of their super powers. The big hitter installments are preceded by the build up, often culminating in the third installment of a trilogy, and so forth. For those paying close attention, a lot of these characters are interchangeable, the storylines similar in style, and universe building at hand, a cinematic layering of bricks are erected and then knocked down again. Because of this, it’s always refreshing to see something new added and done differently, this time arriving in the martial arts superhero Shang-Chi. This is a character I knew nothing about, never read the comic book, which made it exciting because there’s a mystery, and a chance to discover a new hero with impressive kung-fu fighting skills. Thankfully, that’s the final result, which is an energetic and refreshing origin story, avoiding all typical introductory cliches, and fueled by the charisma of Simu Liu’s performance. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings expands the Marvel lineup of characters and does it with thrilling style.
What captured my eye about Shang-Chi was the narrative structure decided on by director Destin Daniel Cretton and co-writers Dave Callaham, and Andrew Lanham. The typical origin narrative is starting from point A and going to point Z. Shang-Chi builds it like a puzzle with ten-thousand pieces, starting with a brief foundation, but then jumping around, between the past and present. Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) is the leader of an army and possessor of the Legendary Ten Rings. Five on each arm, these rings create an unstoppable power, and much like the Lord of the Rings, it allows Wenwu to live forever. But in his pursuit of endless power, he meets Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), the love of his life, deciding to settle down with their children Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and daughter Jiang Li (Fala Chen). Wenwu had all he needed, but when Xialing passes away, Wenwu turns his anger into training both his children to become highly skilled warriors. It’s all in his selfish pursuit of finding Xialing’s secret home village, which controls its own mysterious power, something Wenwu obsessively wants. But that’s not the life for Shang-Chi, forcing him to run away to San Francisco, creating his own identity. That is, until his past comes to find him.
Mixed between the backstory is Shang-Chi in the present time, who now goes by the name Shaun, parking cars for a living with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina), and keeping quiet about his true self. That secrecy lasts for some time, but then several members of the ten ring army come for him. This leads to an incredibly entertaining fight sequence on a bus, including a man with a sword for a hand, thrilling choreography of kicking, punching, and life saving heroics from someone we thought just parked cars and loved karaoke. As the past and present bounce back and forth, the narrative of Shang-Chi expands to a different corner of Marvel action that has been desperate to be included. It all reaches a peak when Shang-Chi reconnects with his sister at her fight club, followed by a top-tier set piece, involving scaffolding and phenomenal fighting. The fight sequences don’t reach the full capacity of what Jackie Chan has done in his career, but it’s fun to see Marvel at least trying.
If there are complaints to be had about Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings it’s that with all of the unique additions of characters and Asian inspired styles, it ultimately falls back on the prototype structures for a Marvel movie. The ending culminates in a big CGI battle, involving Ying Nan (Michelle Yeoh), who protects her village, a massive dragon, and soul sucking creatures. It all looks amazing, but never raises any sense of fear for the audience. The stakes in a Marvel movie are never high because these heroes can never die. Still, it’s the deeper parts of Shang-Chi that do an excellent job, which involve the themes of the story about a highly dysfunctional family. From moment to moment, Tony Leung’s Wenwu character becomes incredibly fierce, filled with much anger in his pursuit of power, and it helps Simu Liu’s performance expand beyond just a guy that can kick some butt. There’s not a doubt in my mind that Simu Liu is going to be a big star in whatever he does.
With the Marvel Cinematic Universe constantly expanding, with new Disney+ shows, new movies, and much more to come, it’s good to see a refreshing character such as Shang-Chi. With a detailed inspiration from movies such as Rumble in the Bronx, Police Story, or Hard Target, there’s a great streak of historic cinema at least attempted in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Disney still sucks the authenticity out of fully developed characters and cinema. Yet, with too many CGI moments and movies that never seemingly allow the director to create his own vision, when we get a Shang-Chi, it’s important that we take notice. This is a Marvel superhero that I’m ready to see more of. Shang-Chi packs plenty of awesome punches. It has a nice ring to it.
SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS IS PLAYING IN THEATERS FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 3RD
Written by: Leo Brady