Sunday, September 5

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Review

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Dir: Destin Daniel Cretton

Starring: Simu Lu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen,

and Michelle Yeoh

2h 13m


The first big action sequence in Marvel Studios’ newest superhero origin story, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” happens on a bus in the busy streets of San Francisco. It is easily one of the best action moments of recent Marvel movie memory. The scene boasts beautifully choreographed martial arts moves, which sometimes feel like an homage to the Jackie Chan/Sammo Hung school of battle ballet, in a traveling bus that adds a sense of danger up and down every hill road. This sequence helps establish director Destin Daniel Cretton’s film with early energy, excitement, and, most notably within the vast catalog of Marvel films, identity.


“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” separates itself from the typical Marvel action fanfare by introducing this early, ingenious action scene, but there is more to enjoy. Cretton, who co-wrote the script with David Callaham and Andrew Lanham, takes the Marvel formula, adjusts the scope and storytelling structure, and tells a superhero origin tale with Asian-American representation. The film ultimately bends to the formulaic structure that keeps many of Marvel’s films from succeeding from start to finish. Still, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” works best when avoiding clichés and allowing the culture to lead the heart, humor, and heroics that define comic book stories.


Shaun (Simu Lu) works as a valet in a swanky San Francisco building with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). The two live for simple pleasures, like driving the valet cars fast and singing karaoke all night long. When a group of assassins targets Shaun, and he suddenly reveals some impressive hand-to-hand combat skills, the secret is revealed that Shaun, whose real name is Shang-Chi, is the son of Wenwu (Tony Leung Chiu-wai), an ancient Chinese warrior. Wenwu has survived and conquered for centuries by wielding the power of the Ten Rings.


The narrative throughout “Shang-Chi” is working towards a few different goals. One is the final encounter between good and evil, in this case, Shang-Chi and his father. The journey getting to this point is where the film becomes rather complicated and hurried with the goals it’s trying to achieve. Sprinkling a Marvel crossover storyline to link the franchise universe is fun, while a trip to the past helps connect the dots of how Shang-Chi became so skilled at martial arts and why he’s hiding from his father. Unfortunately, the film rushes through some crucial character moments, leaving Awkwafina’s amusing character Katy left as an afterthought and at times robbing Shang-Chi’s story of the emotional depth necessary to make the solid familial elements have an impact when they eventually collide. 


Simu Lu’s charming performance keeps Shang-Chi’s character gaps from being too obvious, while Awkwafina is consistently entertaining whenever she is on screen. However, and this is an obvious statement for cinephiles, the performance of special note belongs to the great Tony Leung Chiu-wei playing Wenwu. Leung’s graceful and captivating presence allows the villainous character to be both dangerous and vulnerable, an equally unforgiving father but also a passion-driven husband. It’s a bold and confident casting choice in regards to the source material Shang-Chi is derived from. In Stan Lee and Don Heck’s original comic book, the character Fu Manchu, an offensive stereotype for Asian people, was the villain. With no mention of that character, Leung is allowed to create his complicated baddie, and the actor shines during the entire process.


“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” struggles to find the balance in its storytelling. Still, it succeeds in maintaining a clear sight of entertainment value and allowing its cast to lead the charge into new, necessary territory for superhero storytelling.


Monte’s Rating

3.25 out of 5.00

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