Having earned an impressive $71.4 million at the box office during its first weekend in theatres, Marvel Studios’ most recent picture has garnered plenty of hype. Some have even gone on to say it is one of the franchise’s best origin stories. On top of that, the film itself makes history as Marvel’s first project with an Asian director and a cast that comes damn close to being all-Asian as well. But does Shang-Chi live up to all the praise?
Yes, it does.
The ten rings, and the man who wields them, made immortal and indestructible by their very power, has been regarded as legend for years, but all legends are rooted in reality. For Shaun (Simu Liu), a laidback valet worker in San Francisco, that reality – and all his secrets – come back to haunt him when he least expects it. On the way to work one morning, he’s forced to reveal his true self – that of Shang-Chi, a martial arts child prodigy – when he and best friend Katy (Awkwafina) are attacked on the bus. The assassins have been sent by a figure from his past, someone who Shaun has worked hard to hide from over the last ten years: his father, Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) and it is he who commands the ten rings.
Learning that his estranged sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) is his father’s next target, Shang-Chi, with Katy’s help, travels to Macau to warn her before it’s too late. But their movements are being monitored and the trio end up in a trap. Coming face to face with their father and the heartbreaking memories each were desperate to forget. Forcibly reunited, Wenwu tells his children of his plans to bring back their deceased mother Li (Fala Chen), the love of his life, from a dark alternate realm. Both Shang-Chi and Xialing refuse to help him, as they are unwilling to destroy the mystical village and massacre its people who guard the world against such malevolence.
Loyalties are tested, the fabric of nature remade, and light rises to meet the dark. Shang-Chi, Xialing, and Katy must race to locate the village and stop their father from unleashing an ancient evil that cannot be defeated – even if it means sacrificing their family to do so.
Pulsing with vivid colour and energy, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a Chinese fable come to life. The opening sequence is measured and beautiful as audiences are introduced to the history behind the appearance of the Ten Rings. The film in no way feels like a traditional superhero flick; rather it is a hybrid of many genres – a martial arts epic, a monster film, a familial drama as well as a high-fantasy spinoff.
While the choreography is still just as intense as any Marvel fight sequence, it is more of a dance between enemies and lovers: violent, sensual, and purposeful. The environment in which these scenes take place is also something to be admired: whether it’s on an out-of-control bus or a train, the outside of a skyscraper, a tranquil mountainside, or an underground club, the result feels thrilling and authentic, as the characters are forced to adapt to their surroundings.
Cast-wise, Marvel once again proves how seriously they take the task of comic-to-movie accuracy. Simu Liu, who ignited efforts that lead to not only his own casting but the push towards representation too, is incredibly charismatic on screen. In fact, the only time audiences take their eyes off him is to admire the exquisite cinematography and special effects. With his background in stunt work, Liu delivers captivating fight routines with speed, passion, and skill.
The latest female inductees to the MCU are as stunning as they are fierce. Xialing, his mother, and his aunt Ying Nan (Michelle Yeoh), all have their own unique martial arts style and each of them brings out something within our hero that makes him a better man. Regardless of how screen time is divided between them, each leading lady feels fully realised and their contributions to Shang-Chi’s growth into a budding Avenger is organic and necessary. For Xialing especially, it is her story of acceptance just as much as her brother’s. Considering this is Meng’er Zhang’s Hollywood debut, her performance is wonderfully badass. Finally, Awkwafina’s Katy provides a splendid amount of heart and humour, as is the duty of any sidekick.
Shang-Chi is clearly an important piece in the establishment of the multiverse and the introduction of a new generation of Avengers, yet the storyline is not impeded by the parallel, ‘here’s the hero, here’s the villain, and their paths eventually cross’ plot that can serve as a typical formula for this genre. Obviously, Marvel is stepping away from conventions with this latest phase, what with WandaVision’s sitcom-based style, and Chloe Zhao’s Eternals, in which we can see from the trailers alone that it is meant to be an aesthetically pleasing visual ballad of sorts. Shang-Chi is a self-contained piece but leaves room for further exploration.
Who knew advocating and producing diverse pieces of cinema could be so successful? (spoiler: everyone). After the credits roll, we are told that “The Ten Rings will return” and it will most definitely be worth the wait.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is out in cinemas now
by Kacy Hogg
Kacy is an English Lit student living in the Great White North (no not Winterfell unfortunately), Canada. Her favorite films include the Harry Potter series, Cinderella, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Hangover, and Lady Bird. She’s also an avid binge-watcher of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. You can follow her on Twitter here: @KacHogg95