In a film centrally focused on legacy, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” not only lives up to the martial arts films that came before it, but manages to pave a road of its own.
In it’s runtime of just over two hours, the visual spectacle that director Destin Daniel Cretton delivers as he introduces the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first leading Asian superhero is amazing.
The film follows the titular character who must confront the legacy of his family and his father’s expectations to inherit control of the dangerous Ten Rings organization.
Drawing clear inspiration from early martial arts films that employ what is known as “Wire Fu,” using wires and pulleys to make the actors seem as if they are floating in air, this film’s fight sequences are truly a sight to behold.
A lot of the jaw dropping action sequences have clear inspiration from films such as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and “The Matrix.” Which makes sense considering this film was shot by cinematographer Bill Pope, who also shot films such as “The Matrix” series, “Spider Man 2” and “Scott Pilgrim vs the World” among others.
The fight sequence that opens the film quickly establishes the tone and never lets up. One of the more memorable moments in the film finds Shang-Chi fighting for his life on a bus in what is a beautifully choreographed scene.
One of the things this movie does best is infusing Eastern and Western cultures, accomplishing what “Black Panther” did for African-Americans and telling a story that unapologetically celebrates the Asian and Asian-American communities.
Instead of attempting to kowtow to the Asian audience, overseas as many Hollywood studio films now find imperative to a film’s commercial success, Eastern culture sensibilities are weaved into “Shang-Chi’s” DNA in a genuine way.
Starring as the film’s titular character, Simu Liu delivers a fantastic performance alongside Hong Kong and international legend Tony Leung Chiu Wai, who plays his father and leader of the deadly Ten Rings organization.
Liu is a welcome addition to the amazing actors currently playing in the MCU and this film does a great job of establishing him as a future anchor in the fictional world. One of the most important reasons for his presence is representation, as the superhero film industry has historically been a medium dominated by white male actors.
He’s perfectly cast and manages to play both the everyman Shang-Chi tries to be, and the hero he becomes, effortlessly.
Leung’s performance as Shang-Chi’s estranged father strays from being a one-note villainous stereotype and, along with the script, manages to humanize him and his motivations in a heartbreaking way.
The women also shine bright in this film. Fala Chen is amazing as Shang-Chi’s mother, an integral side of his duality. Her moments throughout the film anchors the pathos of the narrative.
Meng’er Zhang plays the ultimate warrior named Xialing. Along with Chen, her presence and performance evokes a range of emotions from sorrow to being in plain awe. Watching her swing a spear on a rope is one of the coolest things we’ve seen a Marvel character do.
One of the minor letdowns of this film is the same trap that most Hollywood blockbuster films fall into, which is relying on CGI-heavy spectacle to close out a film. Once the third act has reached an emotionally satisfying conclusion, there tends to be another 15 minutes of visual noise that kills movies like “Wonder Woman.”
There are plenty of references and gags from past MCU films including the redemption of the Ten Rings organization, amongst other things that are best experienced without spoilers.
Both the mid-credits scene and post-credits scene, Marvel Studios’ staples, push the narrative forward in an exciting way so make sure to stay seated after the movie.
Marvel Studios is finally starting to do a fantastic job of representing different cultures and with upcoming projects like “Ms. Marvel” focusing on the Muslim Pakistani-American community, the future looks bright.
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is now in theaters with a rating of PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and language.