Finally, "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" becomes Marvel Studios' first Asian-led superhero movie. Similar to "Black Panther," "Shang-Chi" breaks historical barriers, lives up to the hype and briefly takes viewers out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Though the film falls into tiring Marvel formulas in the last half, this is an astounding visual spectacle heavily influenced by Chinese culture and Taoism.
Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings | Official Trailer www.youtube.com
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, the film follows the story of Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), a trained martial arts assassin hiding in San Francisco as a valet driver. After members of the Ten Rings organization attack him and his friend Katy (Awkwafina) on a train, Marvel's newest hero must find his sister Xialing (Meng'er Zhang), confront their father Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) and challenge the past he thought he left behind.
Marvel fans should welcome Liu to the MCU with open arms. He plays his part well, making viewers want to see more of his adventures. But it's truly Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh (playing Shang-Chi's aunt) who steal the show.
This is actually Tony Leung's show
Arguably, the movie is more focused on Wenwu, who is more commonly known as The Mandarin to comic book fans, and his origin which is entirely a good decision. Audiences see his rise to power, his choice to leave behind Ten Rings after meeting his wife (played by Fala Chen), his stern parenting and his grief-fueled downfall. It's an engaging story, especially as it starts to transition to Shang-Chi's awakening and his choices between light and dark inside of him, from his mother and father respectively.
Because of the light and dark within Shang-Chi, there is a subtle metaphor to Taoism in the center of "Shang-Chi." One of the major principles of Taoism is harmony, and a majority of this film focuses on that balance whether it's forming a steady stance or confronting one's demons. In addition to Taoist philosophy, this film is heavily influenced by Chinese culture in its production, and the film does it justice without pan-handling. The visual effects and costumes are beautiful, the Hong-Kong-like fight scenes are fun and the music is gorgeous, setting the tone for the film.
A couple small issues
But the film isn't without flaws. It would've been great to see this film not fall into MCU tropes: jokes that undermine serious moments and grand mindless final battles. It's easy to forget this is a Marvel film until the last half.
Some of the characters also make decisions that seemingly go against the very nature they've built throughout the movie. Without sharing spoilers, Wenwu makes some silly decisions for someone who is portrayed as a clever antagonist.
It's wonderful that Hollywood is hiring more actors of Asian decent and creating stories focused on Asian-based plots. Hopefully with success from "Shang-Chi" there will be more (good) action films led by Asian casts, inspiring other young children to be like their new favorite hero. Because representation always matters.
"Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" is only in theaters starting Friday, September 3. Stick around for one mid-credit scene and one end-credit scene.
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