By Caden Merrill, Sept. 14, 2021
With Iron Man and Captain America out of the picture, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has to enlist some new recruits to fill their formidable shoes. Sure, Thanos has been snapped out of existence, pun intended, but if any of the MCU series on Disney Plus, particularly “Loki,” have proven anything, it is that there are still villains and threats out there that literally transcend space and time. Now that Shang-Chi is a part of the Avengers lineup though, Nick Fury has little reason to worry. Not only does Shang-Chi carry great powers, but he carries an even greater film.
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” has everything that is to be expected from a Marvel movie and more: encompassing heart-pounding action scenes, an impeccable cast, likable and richly developed characters and a surprisingly deeply profound message to boot. In other words, “Shang-Chi” does for Asian Americans what “Black Panther” does for African Americans. Shang-Chi is the first Asian superhero to have his own movie in a time where cinematic superheroes serve as a somewhat contemporary equivalent to Greek gods. For Asian Americans, young and old, it is refreshing and satisfying to see someone representing them in such a bold and heroic light.
That would not be the case if Simu Liu’s performance as Shang-Chi was not so spot-on. Liu not only excellently emulates the character’s fighting prowess but also his character’s personality and heart. Awkwafina also brings her signature humor and charisma to her role as Shang-Chi’s girlfriend Katy, who is additionally accompanied with a captivating arc concerning the intrepid courage within herself. Tony Leung’s emotional performance as Shang-Chi’s father, Wenwu, provides for a poignant father-son relationship, and Jiangsu native Meng’er Zhang’s performance as Shang-Chi’s sister, Xialing, gives her character an intriguing psychological dilemma: loving her brother while simultaneously wanting to honor her father and what he fought for.
The film revolves around the titular hero as he confronts his tumultuous past and faces his father, keeper of the immeasurably powerful Ten Rings and leader of the eponymous terrorist organization. Years after fleeing to the United States from his life as a Ten Rings assassin, Shang-Chi is forced to return home to China and prevent his father from inadvertently releasing an unspeakable evil into the world.
“Shang-Chi” has the best action and fight scenes in the MCU, even more so than those in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Free from the nauseating “shaky cam” technique seen in so many action flicks today, Cretton expertly directs martial arts scenes to the point where they appear straight out of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” The film’s fight sequence on a bus between Shang-Chi and Ten Rings warrior, Razor Fist, could very well go down as the best fight in the MCU. The same could be argued for the film’s final battle in the mystical realm of Ta Lo. The creatures in the film are created with top-notch computer-generated effects, seamlessly blending imagination with realism. This is especially evident in the film’s climax, which feels less like “Avengers: Endgame” and more like “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” While it does follow the basic conventions of most Marvel battles, the film’s final battle is unique in the sense that it superbly combines riveting action with more fanciful elements, including a monstrous Lovecraftian dragon and a headless, yet cute and marketable, winged six-legged dog called a Dijiang.
While still set in the MCU, the film stands perfectly fine on its own with only minimal knowledge of previous MCU films required. A great film should not solely rely on unnecessary Easter eggs and countless references to other films to prove its worth, and “Shang-Chi” attests to that. All a great film needs to prove its worth is to have a great story, a great set of characters, a great cast and a great heart. “Shang-Chi” is one of few Marvel films to possess all of those qualities, which earns itself a spot alongside Marvel’s absolute best. Perhaps that is because rather than being a Marvel movie that just happens to be an Asian movie, “Shang-Chi” is an Asian movie that just happens to be a Marvel movie.
Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is now playing in theaters. Disney CEO Bob Chapek has announced the film will receive a Disney Plus premiere in mid-October.
Graphic courtesy of Justin Oo.