Right from the opening scene, it was clear Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was going to be completely different from any Marvel movie we’ve seen before. The first words of English aren’t spoken until about 10 minutes into the movie. The opening martial arts sequence between Wenwu (Tony Leung) and Ying Li (Fala Chen) was a gorgeous artistic short film all on its own.
Simu Liu absolutely shone in his Marvel debut. We’ve come so far from Liu tweeting Marvel about playing Shang-Chi, and he was absolutely the right choice. He brought a depth and humanity to a character that was so often surrounded by racist stereotypes in the comic on which the character was based. Awkwafina is a perfect match for Liu, and their chemistry throughout is just a joy to watch.
It’s impossible to discuss Shang-Chi without discussing the absolute triumph that is Tony Leung. His character in particular is piled with extremely offensive racist stereotypes, and Leung clearly approached the character as less of a one-dimensional villain and more of a much more complex anti-hero. In a Marvel-ism known too well, he was dispatched far too quickly, and it’s such a shame this character had such a short run in the MCU.
Michelle Yeoh is another legend that absolutely took her moment in the Marvel spotlight. She understood the assignment in the most spectacular way, and it would only improve the MCU if she returned for a future entry. In the meantime, make sure you check out all of her filmography from the beginning of her career to present day, it’s more than worth it.
Meng’er Zhang gave a near perfect performance as Xu Xialing in her debut in a mainstream movie. Her character in particular is set up to have a very important place in the MCU, and we definitely can’t wait to see what is in store for her next.
There were so many elements of Shang-Chi that were callbacks to classic kung fu movies. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin in particular inspired the iron ten-rings themselves according to producer Jonathan Schwartz. Yuen Wah of Kung Fu Hustle fame also got his turn as a Marvel character and it was great to see another example of Marvel wanting to make their first kung fu movie an authentic one. Marvel really made an effort to make Shang-Chi worthy of the likes of kung-fu movie essentials. Cantonese speakers have brought up online the odd choice to have so many actors from Hong Cong, where Cantonese is the main language spoken, speak Mandarin through the movie.
The Chinese imagery throughout Shang-Chi is unmistakable. From the nine-tailed fox to the adorable Morris who is a Hundun, Chinese mythological creatures are everywhere to be found. Various martial arts styles, including Hung Gar, Tai Chi and Baguazhang, are prominently featured adding to the cultural accuracy Shang-Chi was so clearly striving for.
Shang-Chi was ultimately a meditation on grief, and not just the grief that comes from losing a loved one, but the loss that’s felt when a loved one who’s very much alive maintains no contact or relationship. Finding these meditations in a Marvel movie was certainly unusual, but it’s a testament to the more adult themes Marvel has been addressing in recent entries.
The music of Shang-Chi was exceptional, and the way it was woven into the story itself was a confirmation of Marvel’s ability to tell a story. The hip hop beat combined with traditional Chinese drums invoking a sense of the immigrant struggle of assimilating into American society while maintaining their cultural roots, and the overlay of Shang-Chi’s parents’ themes are such an effective use of music to tell a full story on its own.
The Marvel components were what weakened Shang Chi, particularly the parts that relied on viewers having seen previous Marvel entries. The third act could have very easily have been a typical Marvel finale involving swarms of faceless enemies confronting the heroes. While it did fall into the Marvel finale problem of being incredibly poorly lit, it was just short-lived enough to keep our attention until the end. Marvel’s insistence on having heroes with dead parents was also an overdone story beat that every time we see it gets a little less impactful.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is one of Marvel’s most exceptional properties released to date. Hopefully, it is an indication that Marvel is willing to explore more diverse voices and methods of storytelling as the MCU continues to expand.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is currently available to stream on Disney+.