Movie Review: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe film. It follows Shaun (Shang-Chi) who has all but given up his previous life as heir to his father's criminal empire. When his father comes for him, though, Shang-Chi must find his sister, Xialing, and team up with her to see what his father has planned for them. It turns out, Wenwu, Shang-Chi and Xialing's father, is planning on using his ancient rings to attack Shang-Chi and Xialing's mother's ancestral home to unlock a secret buried there. The film stars Simu Liu, Tony Leung, Awkwafina, Meng'er Zhang, Fala Chen, Michelle Yeoh, Wah Yuen, Ronnie Chieng, Florian Munteanu, and Benedict Wong. The film is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and written by Cretton, Dave Callaham, and Andrew Lanham with a screen story by Cretton and Callaham. The film is currently in theaters.
I love when the integration of the Marvel Universe is natural and not forced. Shang-Chi (pronounced Shong) is allowed to be in its own corner, but still greatly affected by the wider world. This film even wraps up or explains some story lines that lingered. I won't spoil it, but there is an incredible sequence of scenes with a beloved character from an earlier film. He's a true delight and while the film already had some excellent comic relief, this character provides some of the absolute best comedy.
Yet, there's also an intriguing story to go along with it. You can't say that for all of the Marvel films and a few of the origin stories especially, but Destin Daniel Cretton, et al have crafted a superior script. As I wrote it has a lot of humor, but what's even better is its backstory is revealed in unique layers as well as slightly unreliable narratives. It depends on who is telling what part of the story for us to get the truth of what really happened to drive Shang-Chi and Xialing away from Wenwu.
Though, as has happened in the past, sometimes the more compelling figure of the story is our antagonist. It doesn't help matters that the film employs the incomparable Tony Leung as Wenwu, more on that later. With this approach, our hero suffers. Yes, we know the character will appear in more films to come, will get more character development, and is not completely flat, it is just we like a bad boy. And Wenwu is a very old, and very bad boy who completely steals our hero's thunder. I just wish that there could be more for these heroes all at once. They can grow even if they have a strong foundation.
That's not to say Shang-Chi himself is without charm. Simu Liu, is ridiculously charming and he plays Shang-Chi as a person of two worlds, the life he escaped to and the life he escaped from with effortless ease. It's also great to see a fighter in a Marvel movie. Let me explain that sentence, often it is the way to get overly close, fast, and dark, which completely muddles all of the action. Cretton gets credit for hiring Bradley James Allen, a member of Jackie Chan's stunt team, and Joseph Le as supervising stunt coordinator and action designer respectively. This team created some uncannily incredible fight scenes. It was classic martial arts action with a Western, digital twist.
Martial arts scenes are only as good as the martial artists, though and when martial artists are also terrific actors it's even better. None are more terrific than one of my all time favorites Tony Leung. As Wenwu he carries a lot of the emotional arc of the story. He's evil and a bad boy, but when he cracks a smile, I dare you not to completely melt. Leung has that effortless ability to be charming, scary, sweet and menacing. He's an actor most American movie goers are likely unfamiliar with whom I hope all of you become intimately familiar with. Two suggestion off the bat, my #2 movie of all time In the Mood for Love and the original Chinese film that inspired The Departed, Infernal Affairs, in which Leung plays the cop undercover with the triad.
I really, really enjoyed Shang-Chi. I think it's my favorite Marvel offering in this year of endless episodic adventures and origin stories (at least two more movies and a series to go for 2021). The story is excellent, the action is top notch (and seeable), and the effects are wondrous. I suggest you see it on the big screen if you feel safe doing so.