Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Under the alias of Shaun, martial arts master Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is trying to live the life he always wanted, surrounded by good friends and nights to remember. In San Francisco, he seems to have found a form of this dream, albeit parking cars for a living with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina) and sleeping in a garage. They may have known each other for ten years, but the protagonist is hiding something from his companion and before too long the past begins to catch up with him. When Shaun is drawn back into the web of the mysterious “Ten Rings” he once escaped from, he must ascend on a voyage that will see him rebuild and break precious family ties with sister Leiko Wo (Fala Chen) and warlord father Wenwu (Tony Leung) in order to save the world.
First things first, Shang-Chi is undoubtedly going to be a very welcome addition to the MCU and there is a tangible buzz of excitement around where his character arc might lead. He is incredibly likeable, undeniably relatable and masterfully brought to life by Canadian actor and stuntman Liu. There is something delightfully and effortlessly palatable about his character and charismatic performance; the actor manages to take this film to the next level without even really lifting a finger, purely showing through cinematic sequences how badass Shang-Chi is and will be in the future.
Akwafina takes on the role of the comedic friend as Katy but, for the first time in recent memory, the flat comic relief that’s often seen in Marvel films does not pull into the station. She is awesomely dynamic in her own right and never detracts from the seriousness of the circumstances. It may well be thanks to the characters’ relationship that the on-screen pairing is a delight to behold. Tony Leung also plays an excellent villain in the form of the 1000-year-old ruler Wenwu, bringing a complex and well-written role to life with compassion, alongside the tunnel vision a broken heart can enforce. His performance could be the most memorable in the MCU thus far.
However, the most crucial and standout success of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the mesmerising physical direction. The choreography in this piece is off the scale, with the fantastic introduction of martial arts making for some enthralling fight sequences and a number of scenes that can only be described as simply epic. The first act, for example, sees an ode to Jackie Chan with an intense martial arts fight on a bus, and it is genuinely one of Marvel’s best ever opening action sequences.
The movie also successfully avoids the clichéd tropes of an origin story by starring characters who already know who they are, instead of hiding their past and abilities away. This avoids the classic time-wasting scenes as they learn how to use their skills.
On the downside, as seems to be the way with the latest Marvel features, there is once more a heavy overbalance of CGI, to the point of irritation. It is understandable that certain action sequences involving a dragon and a mythical beast cannot be real, but when it comes to simple scenes such as cars driving through a field the computer generation comes across as lazy. Fala Chen feels criminally underused, but one hopes her character might get a standalone film in the future, and although there is a small pacing issue in the second act and some unashamedly on-the-nose dialogue during the opening scenes, thankfully it isn’t a sign of what’s to come, rather just some stable foundation building.
With Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings there is also the subject of prosperous representation that must be addressed. It does not go amiss in 21st century Marvel films, and Shang-Chi is just the movie to provide this cultural opening as the MCU expands its pull worldwide. Some viewers may not know who Shang-Chi is before seeing this film, but a large swathe of the global population already do, and now he has been brought to life in a heroic extravaganza. The next chapter will undoubtedly be eagerly anticipated.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is released nationwide on 3rd September 2021.
Watch the trailer for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings here: