~Warning: This review includes mild spoilers.~
On September 3, 2021, Marvel released their first Asian lead superhero film-Shang-Chi. The film became a momentous event for the Asian community worldwide, similar to Black Panther’s solo film for the array of African/Black cultures globally. Additionally, Shang-Chi and Black Panther(T’challa) both struggle to deal with power beyond them; and that power is Destiny. However, how Shang-Chi chooses to deal with destiny differs from the King of Wakanda.
Shang-Chi seemingly had a normal life. He grew up with his mom, dad, and younger sister in China. Only, his mom is from a secret village called Ta Lo, and his dad(Tony Leung) is the leader of the Ten Rings, which he named after the Ten Ring weapon he posses. Shang-Chi is destined to one day rule the Ten Rings gang but also own its namesake. His “normal” life is disrupted when a rival gang murders his mother(played by Fala Chen). Grief turns into revenge, and that revenge speeds up Shang-Chi’s training into a brutal assassin. While his sister, Xialing, is ignored by their father. The two siblings decide to escape their destinies and cultivate their own paths.
The movie has to movie, and destiny has to be destiny. A grown Shang-Chi finds himself face to face with the destiny he ran so far away from and must make a choice between who he wants to be and who he is destined to be. Most of the film has our superhero battling “villains” with a sword for an arm, the Death Dealer, his younger sister, a hard-to-see dragon-bat, and his father. But also his own guilt and grief for the loss of his mother and betraying his younger sister.
Let me be honest; I thoroughly enjoyed Shang-Chi! With that being said, choosing to do an “origin” story with a predictable plot makes the first half of this film feel boring. We know he’s not going to want to go back and face his father; we know he wants to live a normal life, we know he has to accept its not his fault his mom died, and in the end, we know he eventually picks up the mantle he never wanted in the first place. That’s all fine and dandy, but the Shang-Chi comics are filled with rich stories that are more fulfilling than an origin.
The film becomes less predictable and funny around the 2nd half, and that’s when we truly see the gravitas that Simu Liu brings to this character. Liu’s casting is as perfect as RDJ’s Ironman. There are some impeccable action scenes, a surprise cameo, and a tonal shift that the 2nd half provides that proves Shang-Chi will be in many fans’ top ten and even top five list. I loved how this film pays homage to traditional Chinese cinema and the meticulous way it spotlights Chinese culture and lore. They also paid great attention to detail by making each world distinct with its own coloring; the Ten Rings compound is dark and gloomy, where Ta Lo is vibrant and inviting. Marvel’s commitment to making sure Shang-Chi has its own identity definitely deserves a round of applause.
Shang-Chi’s strong suit is that the movie has a lot of heart, has amazing action, is beautifully designed, and features my favorite movie trope, “knocking the block off your dad.” I kid, I kid. While Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings is great, it isn’t perfect. Besides the film’s predictability, it also does a disservice to Xiuling, played by Meng’er Zhang. Zhang’s character is given the tried and tiring troupe of “the girl who couldn’t do ‘boy stuff’ but can do it better than them and now it’s her whole identity.” Awkwafina’s Katy put it best, “you’re badass.” Xiuling is a badass, but why does it have to be tied to a stereotypical plot device? The film doubles down on this by not letting her help her brother face their father but also an edit credit scene that really didn’t need to be an end credit scene. Xiuling deserved more than a story that ultimately revolved around men, even though it attempts to say it isn’t.
Also, the final act…Marvel STOP WITH THE BIG SKY MONSTER NO ONE CAN PROPERLY SEE! It was comparable to the Game of Thrones episode where they fought the Knight King’s army at night. No, that’s not you suddenly losing your vision; that’s the film. Even the cool scene where a Dragon saves Shang-Chi is hard to make out. I quote the man in my screening, “The fuck is that? An Eel? Oh…it’s Shenron!” He made the entire theater laugh with his accurate commentary. Marvel/Disney is a multi-billion dollar company; why can’t they get big sky villains right? Why make them so large? While it doesn’t completely hurt their film and it does distract from an overall great movie.
I give Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings a B+
Shang-Chi and The Legends of the Ten Rings is a must-see film for marvel fans, martial arts lovers, and those just wanting to see a blockbuster-worthy film. Simu Liu does an excellent job making Shang-Chi feel like a more accessible hero than some other Avengers. The film also reminds us though we have the freedom to make our own way in life, we can never truly be free if we don’t face our past. And, that sometimes what destiny has in store for us is not all bad. Sometimes who you want to be and who you are destined to be can be the same thing! This movie has a lot of heart, a tasteful amount of comedy, amazing fight scenes, and an end-credit scene that will have you screaming! It is truly a masterpiece.
My hope for this franchise is that Marvel will take a risk by telling some of Shang-Chi’s best stories, even if they aren’t the most well-known. I also hope that they allow its female characters to be more than support for the hero. They need to stand on their own and with motivations not powered by men or in opposition to men. It’s 2021; women can be badass without trauma. I am looking forward to seeing how this film plays into the larger picture of Phase 4 and beyond.
That completes my review of Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings! Now share your review of the film in the comments and online. Also, feel free to share your theories about the end-credit scenes! Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings is currently available to watch in theaters near you.