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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings review

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings introduces us to the first new hero of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)’s Phase 4. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and starring Simu Liu as the titular hero, Shang-Chi is a love letter to East Asian culture and martial arts films. It boldly begins with narration in Mandarin Chinese, forcing viewers to conquer what Bong Joon-ho famously called “the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles” and immediately immerses them in the multicultural and multilingual world of the film. 

The film centres around Shang-Chi’s struggle with his identity. He is the son of Xu Wenwu, the leader of the Ten Rings, also known as The Mandarin. It takes the time to critically reflect on the fake Mandarin of Iron Man 3 and also updates the Wenwu of the comics, fleshing him out into a fully realised character, played excellently by Tony Leung. Shang-Chi does not seem to fit in anywhere, either in America or at home with his family. His friend Katy, played by Awkwafina, demonstrates a different side of the Asian American experience; that is, someone who has grown up in America and is perhaps not so in-touch with her Asian heritage, struggling to speak Mandarin and even pronounce ‘Shang-Chi’. Throughout the film, both are able to find ways to connect with their identities. By the third act of the film, it struggles to balance the rising action with Shang-Chi’s identity formation. However, the performances by Liu and Leung contain a great deal of depth. 

Despite the film’s male protagonist, a considerable amount of time and respect is given to its female characters. Of particular note is newcomer Meng’er Zhang, stunning in her first film role as Shang-Chi’s sister Xu Xialing; arguably, in many moments, she is more interesting than the film’s protagonist, and it seems like Marvel has a bigger role for her to play in the future.

Shang-Chi’s action scenes are breathtaking and tightly choreographed, owing to their inspiration and utilisation of martial arts. A standout is the film’s bus fight scene, taking place on a commuter bus careening through traffic and constantly ramping up the tension. Taking over a year to plan, the end result is clearly worth the effort. Some of the fights are beautiful and akin to dances, whereas some are high-energy and frantic, yet Shang-Chi leaves you looking forward to every combat scene. 

Another highlight of Shang-Chi is its CGI. Whilst Marvel has been criticised for its extensive use of CGI, Shang-Chi is a film that employs it expertly to create mystical villages and mythological creatures that are stunning to behold on the big screen and invoke childlike wonder. Its only fault is the final action sequence, where the film’s martial arts style gives over to a typical massive CGI fight – which, if visually awesome, is a disappointment in comparison to earlier fight sequences. All in all, whilst Shang-Chi has its flaws (many similar to other MCU releases), it’s an exciting and action-packed film that brings a new perspective to the MCU and is a fun watch for casual audiences and Marvel fans alike. 

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings introduces us to the first new hero of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)’s Phase 4. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and starring Simu Liu as the titular hero, Shang-Chi is a love letter to East Asian culture and martial arts films. It boldly begins with narration in Mandarin Chinese, forcing viewers to conquer what Bong Joon-ho famously called “the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles” and immediately immerses them in the multicultural and multilingual world of the film. 

The film centres around Shang-Chi’s struggle with his identity. He is the son of Xu Wenwu, the leader of the Ten Rings, also known as The Mandarin. It takes the time to critically reflect on the fake Mandarin of Iron Man 3 and also updates the Wenwu of the comics, fleshing him out into a fully realised character, played excellently by Tony Leung. Shang-Chi does not seem to fit in anywhere, either in America or at home with his family. His friend Katy, played by Awkwafina, demonstrates a different side of the Asian American experience; that is, someone who has grown up in America and is perhaps not so in-touch with her Asian heritage, struggling to speak Mandarin and even pronounce ‘Shang-Chi’. Throughout the film, both are able to find ways to connect with their identities. By the third act of the film, it struggles to balance the rising action with Shang-Chi’s identity formation. However, the performances by Liu and Leung contain a great deal of depth. 

Despite the film’s male protagonist, a considerable amount of time and respect is given to its female characters. Of particular note is newcomer Meng’er Zhang, stunning in her first film role as Shang-Chi’s sister Xu Xialing; arguably, in many moments, she is more interesting than the film’s protagonist, and it seems like Marvel has a bigger role for her to play in the future.

Shang-Chi’s action scenes are breathtaking and tightly choreographed, owing to their inspiration and utilisation of martial arts. A standout is the film’s bus fight scene, taking place on a commuter bus careening through traffic and constantly ramping up the tension. Taking over a year to plan, the end result is clearly worth the effort. Some of the fights are beautiful and akin to dances, whereas some are high-energy and frantic, yet Shang-Chi leaves you looking forward to every combat scene. 

Another highlight of Shang-Chi is its CGI. Whilst Marvel has been criticised for its extensive use of CGI, Shang-Chi is a film that employs it expertly to create mystical villages and mythological creatures that are stunning to behold on the big screen and invoke childlike wonder. Its only fault is the final action sequence, where the film’s martial arts style gives over to a typical massive CGI fight – which, if visually awesome, is a disappointment in comparison to earlier fight sequences. All in all, whilst Shang-Chi has its flaws (many similar to other MCU releases), it’s an exciting and action-packed film that brings a new perspective to the MCU and is a fun watch for casual audiences and Marvel fans alike. 

Image: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons