Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Movie Review: An origin story that's visually stunning and culturally important
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is an ode to martial arts films that brought in a new wave of stories and talent to Hollywood
In one of the most important scenes of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, a character says, "If you aim at nothing, you hit nothing." This can be said of Marvel’s tryst with diverse representation. More than a decade after introducing the primary characters of Marvel Comics, the bigwigs at the studio seem to be finally taking representation seriously. We got the fantastic Black Panther, sure, and now three years later, we now have our first superhero of Asian descent.
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Cast: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Michelle Yeoh
It's safe to say that Marvel and by extension, Disney knows how to tell an origin story (its latest release, Cruella, is an example too). But unlike the villainous heiress, Shang-Chi (a really likeable Simu Liu), is a rather new character, even to fans of the comics. As Marvel doesn't have the rights for Zheng Zu, the father character of Shang-Chi, from the comics, the character here has been renamed Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung), and also touch upon the Mandarin, a character that was teased in Iron Man 3 (2013). Director Destin Daniel Cretton’s origins story ticks all the right boxes you would expect in a Marvel film and introduces a new superhero who was apparently so loved by the legendary Stan Lee that he reportedly considered a film on him in the 80s starring Bruce Lee's son, Brandon Lee. A troubled childhood, life separated from the family, eventual reunion with family, and in due course, evolving into a better person, Shang-Chi also ticks off all the boxes in the archetypal, coming-of-age template, a tried, tested and fairly successful formula over the years.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings employs non-linear narration to tell us the story of a kid who becomes a trained assassin, courtesy of his father Wenwu, who possesses mystical weapons and commands a private army, both named the Ten Rings. After running away from this life, taking up Shaun as his new name and growing up to become a valet with his best friend, Katy Chen (the ever-dependable Awkwafina), Shang-Chi is pushed into his past once more. As a man tasked with saving his mother's village from his evil father, he finds a new purpose, and well, as you probably already knew it, becomes a superhero.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is an ode to martial arts films that brought in a new wave of stories and talent to Hollywood. This film’s action set-pieces will make sure that it goes down as being among the best action films and not just in the MCU. The hand-to-hand combat sequences and the high-flying action are a treat to watch. The inventiveness and aesthetics are sure to remind us of films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and I haven’t even mentioned Michelle Yeoh, who plays Shang-Chi's aunt. One of the standout sequences is a single-shot alleyway fight that feels like a homage to the famous corridor fight from Oldboy.
The comparisons between Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Black Panther are natural. While the late Chadwick Boseman-starrer became an example of the empowering potential of art, this film's representation too offers a much-needed introduction to Asian culture. This facet adds a new spin to this superhero story that otherwise follows tropes that feel quite repetitive by now, thanks to the influx of such films. The humour, especially that involving Awkwafina and a character that's returning to the MCU after eight years, is organic, and provides much-needed, entertaining breaks in between the spectacular fights. Another non-human character too brings a dash of cuteness to the film, and while we are on new characters, we also get introduced to comic book characters like Death Dealer and Razor Fist.
With Hollywood bombarding us with superhero films over the last 15 years, it has become impossible not to draw parallels with other films in this universe, when a new one comes along. For instance, when Shaun is made to enter a duelling competition under the name Bus Boy, it feels like a reference to the first Spider-Man film where Peter Parker joins a wrestling match under the name, The Human Spider. While Simu Liu is smashing in the stunt sequences, the film doesn't quite allow him to explore the performer in him. For much of the film, the character is reactive, not really proactive, unlike, say in Black Panther, where T'Challa remains the centre of the story despite being surrounded by a much bigger cast.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is an entertaining addition to the already expansive MCU. With Phase Four concentrating more on the multiverse, this film comes as enjoyable, thankfully simpler entertainment. The bonus is how it also acts as a lovely origins story for a character we are sure to see a lot more of in the future.