Movie Review: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

This weekend has our first MCU Phase 4 theatrical installment that moves the actively moves the timeline forward, along with our first film with a predominantly Asian lead cast.

Title: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Cast and Crew

Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton
Written by Dave Callaham & Destin Daniel Cretton, and Andrew Lanham
Story by Dave Callaham & Destin Daniel Cretton
Based on the comics by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin

Simu Liu as Shaun / Shang-Chi
Tony Leung as Xu Wenwu
Awkwafina as Katy
Meng’er Zhang as Xialing
Fala Chen as Li
Michelle Yeoh as Ying Nan
Wah Yuen as Master Guang Bo (as Yuen Wah)
Florian Munteanu as Razor Fist
Andy Le as Death Dealer

Plus a handful of returning characters from other MCU films who I won’t spoil.

The Premise

Shawn is currently trying to live a normal life as a parking valet in San Francisco in Los Angeles, working with his friend Katy, and generally not trying to really stick out. After a group of assassins, including one with a blade for an arm, attack Shawn on the bus to work, forcing him to demonstrate his considerable martial arts skills, Shawn has to reveal to Katy that his real name is Shang-Chi. Further, his father is Wenwu, the leader of the dreaded criminal organization known as the Ten Rings, and that he has to race to Macau to rescue his long lost sister Xialing, and in the process stop their father from unleashing an unspeakable evil that could threaten the whole world.

(Post Credits Notes: There are two post-credits sequences, one after the flashy credits, one after the regular credits).

High Points

These are the best-filmed fight scenes in the entirety of the MCU. It’s not quite at the level of how these kind of fight scenes are shot in Hong Kong and Taiwanese cinema, where you hand directoral duties off to the fight team and let them handle camera placement and blocking (which is what The Wachowskis did with Yuen Woo-Ping in The Matrix movies). However, they do just let the camera show the fights, and let the actors and the fight team show the dynamism and chaos of the fight, without adding a bunch of unnecessary cuts.

Additionally, the film’s cast and writing is fantastic. NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast had an episode with a group of Asian writers discussing the film and how well it presents the Chinese-American experience, and I’ll let them elaborate on that better than I can as an outsider.

Finally, it bears mentioning that the film has a significant amount of dialog in Mandarin – possibly half the film’s dialog to be specific. That’s particularly notable considering how very little of the dialog in Black Widow, by comparison, was in Russian.

Low Points

There are a handful of shots that feel like “Oh, right, we’re still putting this movie out in some theaters in 3D, better throw in some 3D gimmick shots!” Also, one of the returning character cameo appearances (the one that showed up in the trailers) feels like something of an afterthought.

The Scores

Originality: While this is an adaptation of an existing character’s origin story, it’s reworking the character in a way to remove a lot of the racist Orientalist baggage from the original version of the character – and with an interpretation of the character that isn’t “Bruce Lee style stoic martial artist” – giving him a significant sense of humor, wit, and charm. Having him frequently playing off of Awkwafina definitely helps in this regard. 4/6

Effects: This is an MCU movie, the effects are generally solid – there’s a few bits of compositing that feel a little rough (for an MCU movie) but otherwise it’s fine. 5/6.

Production: See my comments in the High Points about the fight scenes, along with some really good sound design and solid music. 4/6

Acting: Everyone in this film has chemistry with each other. Awkwafina and Simu Liu, Simu Liu and Tony Leung (and, for that matter, Simu Liu and Michell Yeoh) all have amazing chemistry together. Hell, Awkwafina and Wah Yuen (Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer) have great chemistry.  Also, Tony Leung’s performance really helps turn Wenwu into a much more three-dimensional character. 5/6

Story: The majority of the beats of the story were generally solid – if I had a gripe, it’s that stakes of the climax of the film were a little too high. They’re at the level of Doctor Strange, when Shang Chi always felt like a Black Panther or Iron Man level hero, in terms of the specifics of their villains. 4/6

Emotional Response: The emotional beats of the film worked really well, particularly conveying Shang-Chi’s internal emotional journey. Also, the jokes consistently landed. 5/6

Overall: Ultimately, Shang-Chi is a film that is not only meant to buy the audience into the MCU’s first Asian leading superhero, but into wanting to see more appearances from him, in his own films and in other heroes movies, and it succeeded at that goal with flying colors. 5/6

In Total, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings gets 32/42.

2 replies on “Movie Review: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”

  1. First thing I said to myself was, “Yay! No shaky cam!” And if it had occurred to me, I would have noted the lack of quick cuts, too. It was refershing to watch action sequences where you could figure out what was happening.

  2. The character and concept has been changed significantly from the 70s original, mostly, as you note, for the better. And yes, the Marvel movies now all feel the stakes have to be ridiculously high no matter the hero, and that seems unnecessary. If they’d stuck with (say) more Bond-villain-level stakes, it still would have worked.

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