I was always a fan of Shang-Chi, known as the Master of Kung Fu, in the comics, but it is clear that the character would require some loving care to transfer its troublesome background into the live action format of the MCU, not the least amount doing something with Shang-Chi’s father, the hugely racial stereotype Fu Manchu. Marvel Studios took up that challenge and have created a movie that should do for Asian culture what Black Panther did for black culture.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a masterpiece as it seamlessly blended the Marvel franchise formula with plenty of parts that felt unlike any Marvel movie before it.
Instead of Fu Manchu, Shang-Chi’s (Simu Liu) father is Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung), the master of the mystical Ten Rings, the artifacts that the terrorist organization The Ten Rings, originally seen in the first Iron Man movie, use as control. Though Xu Wenwu makes one reference to The Mandarin, the character that he is clearly based upon, he does not use that name, instead poo-pooing it as a name chosen by the idiot actor Trevor Slattery (Sir Ben Kingsley) used in Iron Man 3.
After the death of his mother Jiang Li (Fala Chen), Shang-Chi ran away from his father, to the United States, changing his name and living out his life. Years living in San Francisco had seen Shang-Chi as a valet parking cars with his fellow under achieving best friend Katy (Awkwafina). When Shang-Chi received a post card from his sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), he began to believe she was in danger. When he is attacked on a bus in San Fran, Shang-Chi was certain of it.
Shang-Chi and Katy headed to confront his father and find out exactly what he was planning to do.
There is so much to this movie. It is one of the best origin stories Marvel has had in many years. The film exists squarely in the MCU, but it also feels as if it is in its own universe. The film does a masterful job of setting up the setting for the film and establishing the history and the rules of the locations.
The martial arts scenes, in particular in the first half of the movie, are the best fight scenes in the MCU and has some of the greatest martial arts action in many years. The fight on the bus, which you see some of in the trailer, is so amazing and breathtaking. You see only the very slightest bit of that fight in the trailers. Then, it gets topped by the fight in the scaffolding. The fight choreography is superb and really carries the first part of the movie.
The imagery is beautiful throughout the movie. While the third act leans a little too much on the CGI spectacle, there is no denying that the look of these scenes are special. It does an excellent job of highlighting Asian culture and history through several eras of the world.
The story of Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings was not what I expected it to be. The relationship between Shang-Chi and Xu Wenwu was so different, so deeper than what the trailers led us to believe that it felt as if the family dynamic was to become a tragedy. Xu Wenwu absolutely was more than just a villain. He was a deeply flawed, complex character whose actions had reason to him.
Flashbacks are used throughout the film to wonderfully deepen the connections between the characters, whether it be Shang-Chi and his parents, Xu Wenwu and Jiang Li or Shang Chi and his sister.
Simu Liu is a star in the making. He carried himself with such a gravitas that I would not have one bit of concern seeing him standing next to the powerhouses of the Avengers as this character progresses in the MCU. Awkwafina is used in a perfect amount of moments, as she was funny and expressed what the audience was thinking many times. She is given some very powerful moments during the film and does a lot to develop the character of Katy beyond just the comedic friend.
Ton Leung, one of the biggest stars of international movies (particularly China), is not as well known in the States, but his performance as the multi-dimensional Xu Wenwu is one of the best performances of the film. He shows his conflict and his pain so well, along with his striving for power. In the end, his goal is one that could be relatable for audiences even though his methods may not be.
Two post credit scenes and they are epic, especially the first one. You may not understand what’s happening, but it is apparent that it has serious repercussions for the MCU.
Great new hero. Great supporting cast. Amazing visuals and music. Several surprise cameos that fit beautifully. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings feels like its own thing while perfectly fitting into the MCU proper. This movie is a lot of fun and a thrilling action film with some of the best martial arts action in any MCU movie. Shang-Chi is he best comic book movie of the year so far.