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Review: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

5 Star.png
5 Star.png

#movie review, #Film, #Cinema

David North-Martino

Dec 3, 2021

Review: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a superhero film directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Just Mercy) and stars Simu Liu, Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians), Florian Munteanu (Creed II), Benedict Wong (The Martian, Dr. Strange), Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Ben Kingsley (Gandhi, Iron Man III) and Tony Leung.

I’ve been a fan of Shang-Chi since the 1970s. Back then his comic book was known as The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung-Fu. I’ve been an enthusiast and practitioner of martial arts for most of my life and Shang-Chi was one of my inspirations.

I would have loved to see a period piece with Shang-Chi in the 1970s. It would have been easy to move him to the present using Dr. Strange’s magic or somesuch, but they probably didn’t want the man-out-of-time motif that was prevalent with the Captain America movies.

The big problem with Shang-Chi is that he was never a superhero, just a highly trained martial artist. Let’s not forget he was the son of one of the most legendary villains of all time. More on that later. He also worked for MI-6. Marvel probably didn’t want to have another spy character (think Black Widow), as they already have one in The Avengers.

How then, pray tell, do you take a non-powered human with above average martial arts skills and get him into the Avengers? Simple. You give him ten rings of power that effectively make him a superhero. But therein lies the problem. The filmmakers rely too much on superpowers and not enough on pure skill and grit.

There are plenty of great low-budget martial arts movies that are exciting to watch. Shang-Chi may have a big budget, but it could learn a lot from its low-budget brethren.

The fights here aren’t spectacular and the CGI fest we get on the scaffolding in one scene takes away any sense of danger. Speaking of this, many scenes seem to be inspired by Jackie Chan movies. That makes sense since the original comic was inspired by Bruce Lee and the Kung Fu craze of the 1970s. Today, Chan has become an inspiration to many creative artists of all stripes. The problem here is Jackie Chan is not only a force of nature in his abilities, but he’s actually in danger when doing action or stunts. We can feel his danger and that makes the fights visceral and spectacular. Not so much with Shang-Chi. The opening sequence with the adult Shang-Chi is reminiscent of Meals on Wheels (1984), but there’s only a hint of it. Later, the fight on the bus also has some of Chan’s influence but without any of the fun that Chan brings to his roles.

While we’re here let me just say that Zack Cherry as Klev the Street Vendor stole the show in this scene. He’s hilarious. We last saw him in Spider-Man: Homecoming. I hope he continues to do these little cameos in subsequent MCU films.

Most of Shang Chi’s origin story is shown in flashback robbing the movie of its forward momentum. The training scenes, usually the best sequences in a movie like this are glossed over.

Then there’s the lack of a love interest. Shang tells his grandmother that Katy, played by Awkwafina, is just a friend. There’s no romantic tension and the movie suffers for it.

Shang’s father Xu Wenwu played by Tony Leung is a weak villain. It’s admirable that the filmmakers didn’t want to play to stereotypes. Shang-Chi’s original father, Fu Man Chu, a popular villain for over 90 years, is no longer a Marvel property and is considered problematic. Still, I would have liked to see Leung allowed to play a stronger villain. I think this could have been accomplished without needing to evoke stereotypes and insensitivities.

Now it may seem that I have thoroughly trashed this film, but I didn’t hate it. However, I only found it mediocre. If you have Disney+, it’s well worth the time to watch and make up your own mind.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings is streaming on Disney+.

Story Doctoring:

Besides what I’ve listed above, the best way to improve this movie would be with a separate origin story when Shang was a kid. Then in the next film, we follow him in either the 1970s or the present day. Later, Doctor Strange’s magic could transport him to modern times and install him into the Avengers.

Rating: Three out of five stars.

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