The Marvel Cinematic Universe goes in a bold new direction with the story of a comic book character who isn’t heavily known but has his own complicated history, Shang-Chi. Marvel Studios takes a gamble with their newest feature Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings by introducing audiences to an Asian superhero to break the stereotype and create something that has heart and promise.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings follow our hero (Simu Liu), who was raised by his warlord father Wenwu (Tony Leung), the immortal leader of the clandestine Ten Rings. Since losing his mother, Shang-Chi ends up running away from home and starts a new life in San Francisco as a parking valet and making friends with the hilarious Katy (Awkwafina). Once his past catches up to him, Shang-Chi is thrust back into his father’s world as he discovers his own identity and the legacy he carries. He’ll also uncover an ancient history that’s been passed down on his mother’s side, which introduces a magical realm within the MCU.
By paying homage to many martial arts films, Shang-Chi puts on a lot of work in the action department when it comes to the fight choreography. The action sequences really showcase Simu Liu’s talents as a potential action star thanks to some amazing stunt work by the late Brad Allan. Tony Leung also puts in the work with his scenes with Simu and Fala Chen, displaying different techniques that showcase the evolving forms of martial arts. Some of the fights were also shot really well with the use of mirror shots to showcase the action from a different perspective. Many of the fights between Simu and the Ten Rings are fluid in execution and style through the use of different fighting styles like wushu and wuxia.
Simu proves to be leading star material with his rendition of the character Shang-Chi by building the character from the ground up as the film displays his strengths as well as his faults. The film brings some emotional drama when it comes to family, especially with scenes between Simu and Tony as they display their father-son dynamic on-screen. Tony proves how much of a megastar he is in Hong Kong with his outstanding performance as Wenwu, a man who found the love of his life and feels lost once he loses it. Tony’s Wenwu gets to show how much of a tragic villain Wenwu is as we discover the true nature of who the world knows as the Mandarin. Awkwafina brings in her comedic chops with some great scenes with Simu, showing off their amazing chemistry on screen.
The first half of the film displays an emotional journey of how Wenwu came to become the leader of the Ten Rings. We get introduced to Shang-Chi, a man who is conflicted by his father’s ways and the wisdom that was bestowed upon him from his late mother. Because of his abandonment from the Ten Rings, Shang-Chi also has a strained relationship with his sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), who is trying to gain her father’s approval and ends up making it on her own without the need of her brother. Once we get to see the Ten Rings going after both siblings, that’s when the film starts to pick up some steam. Unfortunately, the film does take on the similar formula of the MCU by mixing in visuals through CGI in the last act of the film that kind of takes away from the driven story of these characters. What we get in the end is a rushed final fight scene that relies heavily on CGI with the fantastical elements that the film introduces. Director Destin Daniel Cretton isn’t known for his action pieces as he comes from the world of indie cinema with his many films focused on character development, so this is where the film kind of falls short.
Overall, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a nice change of pace as we enter Phase Four of the MCU with a new hero. It truly honors the Asian culture as the film focuses enough of its time with its characters during the first half with family and identity as strong themes going into this origin story of Shang-Chi. The action sequences pull off some incredible displays of martial arts while straying away from the typical stereotypes that audiences know. What falters is the third act that incorporates the usual MCU formula in what would’ve been a great standalone piece to the superhero genre as a whole. It may not be as strong as other films from the MCU, but it does put some amazing fight choreography and incredible performances from this all-Asian cast led by Simu Liu and Tony Leung.