Review by Lauryn Angel
I admit that even though I love Marvel comics and the MCU, I did not know anything about Shang-Chi before seeing Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Since it was a Marvel flick, I expected to enjoy it, but I had no idea what a treat I was in for.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is an origin story, but from the very beginning, it sets itself apart by telling the story of the Ten Rings in wuxia style – which also means the story is told in Chinese with English subtitles. It also means the story of Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) and how he used the Ten Rings to build his empire is told in a lush style on an epic scale. When he meets his beloved Jiang Li (Fala Chen) the fight scene is as much a flirtatious dance as it is a fight between equals. The intro sets up a large-scale fantasy.
But then the movie abruptly shifts to the present day and the story of Sean – or, as we’ll soon come to know him, Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) – who works for a valet service in San Francisco with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). We see a day in their normal lives before they are attacked by Xu Wenwu’s henchmen (also known as the Ten Rings) and thrown into an adventure.
The juxtaposition between high fantasy story-telling and real-world action is a theme that continues throughout the film, used to great effect by director Dave Callaham and writers Destin Daniel Cretton and Andrew Lanham.
Comparisons will likely be drawn to Marvel’s Black Panther, since this film is forging a similar path with the franchise’s first Asian superhero. Shang-Chi also meditates on the subjects of duty and family – do you follow your own path or the one your family expects you to? It also has beautiful, mystical imagery. It’s also, like Black Panther, one of the best films in the franchise.
The characters are fully fleshed out in this film, unlike in some other Marvel films. While Xu Wenwu is obviously a villainous character, he is more complex than just being a “bad guy.” His motives regarding the pocket dimension of Ta Lo are understandable here, and it’s clear that his children love him. Leung’s performance has a lot to do with this. We also see character growth, particularly in Katy, who goes from being somewhat shiftless to a skilled fighter in a multi-dimensional battle. She’s also very, very funny.
There is a lot more I could tell you about why I loved Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, but that would spoil the surprises. If you’re a Marvel fan, you don’t need me to tell you to see it. If you’re not a Marvel fan, Shang-Chi is a stand-alone story – sure, you’ll miss a few of the references, but you don’t need to know Tony Stark’s life story to appreciate this movie. Do yourself a favor and get to the theater to see it this weekend!
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