‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ Is An Action-Packed Origin Story Of Self-Discovery And Identity – Review
It’s been a long time coming – Marvel’s first Asian superhero has taken center stage in the MCU and is finally on the big screen.
Written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings follows the origin story of Shang-Chi as he explores his past and journeys into becoming the eventual superhero that saves the world. The movie stars Simu Liu as the titular superhero, Awkwafina (Nora Lum) as Katy, Tony Leung as The Mandarin, Michelle Yeoh as Jiang Nan, Meng’er Zhang as Xialing, Fala Chen as Jiang Li, and Ronny Chieng as Jon Jon, with Benedict Wong reprising his role as Wong and Sir Ben Kingsley as Trevor Slattery.
The MCU has officially begun Phase 4 and what a start it is with its introduction to Shang-Chi. Thankfully, this movie doesn’t require any prior Marvel knowledge in order to watch and enjoy it. Though some prior movies like the Iron Man trilogy laid the groundwork for Shang-Chi, this movie explains all of that for you. This really allows Shang-Chi to shine as a stand-alone origin movie.
One of the many high expectations for this film is the action, does it live up to the hype? Let’s just say it’s an absolute no-brainer that I have to highlight is the action sequences. Everyone’s been praising the fight scenes and the choreography and the praise is well-deserved. Simu Liu, Tony Leung, Michelle Yeoh, Fala Chen, Meng’er Zhang, Andy Le (Death Dealer), and the entirety of the stunt team and choreographers expertly created something captivating and dynamic. You can tell that this team put in so much work into perfecting their stunts, and the one-shot moments are tremendously impressive.
This movie showcases so many different martial arts styles that I wish I was able to list them all off when I watched it. As someone who grew up watching a lot of wuxia movies (a genre of Chinese fiction that focuses on martial arts), Shang-Chi honors this tradition and genre in a way that makes my heart soar. Fight scenes tend to be dramatic and intense, but there were a couple of wuxia fights in this movie that were so elegant and even serene. Those wuxia scenes truly looked like beautifully choreographed dances that carried their own narratives. The mixture of multiple forms of martial arts is just as persuasive in its storytelling as the dialogue and the characters, and I love how a specific conflict of fighting styles is a mirror reflection of Shang-Chi’s identity conflict and ultimate self-acceptance.
Speaking of conflict and acceptance, I love the way this movie explores Shang-Chi’s internal conflict and his growth. Shang-Chi’s journey explores common diaspora experiences that many Asians in Western communities encounter when trying to adapt and survive. The constant struggle of fitting in between Western and Eastern societies is so poignant for many people, and this movie does not shy away from being unapologetically Chinese. Even just the fact that the characters are multilingual and will switch between English and Mandarin in the middle of a scene is an accurate reflection of how many multilingual communities communicate.
Not only that, this origin story follows the clash of different cultures as well as the turmoil of who he was and who he could be. Even just the fact that Shang-Chi changed his name to Sean is a relatable experience for many Asian immigrants who are simply trying to fit in. It’s a small, humorous moment but it definitely will resonate with many people because our names connect us to our history and our family. On the other hand, the more explicit struggle that Shang-Chi faces is whether or not he will follow in the footsteps of his father and whether he can accept that he is the culmination of everyone who had come before him. Combining that with the conflict of family tensions and balancing the importance of family, the story is multidimensional without being confusing, and the resolution is impactful. I absolutely adored watching that unfold and seeing how it rippled out, not just to Shang-Chi, but to those around him.
The friendship between Shang-Chi and Katy is so natural with a great mix of vulnerability and quippy humor that makes them so relatable. It’s a testament to Liu and Lum’s fantastic on-screen chemistry. Honestly, the rapport for the entire cast is so effortless and it genuinely feels like everyone meshes well together. Liu and Zhang also have some great moments of connection and tension that easily serves as a strong foundation to their story and relationship. This is Meng’er Zhang’s first foray onto the big screen and she absolutely kills it. Her character Xialing is captivating and it left me wanting to learn more about her which I hope Marvel really considers. I wouldn’t be upset if there was an eventual spin-off focusing solely on her because I need more of her.
We can’t talk about the cast without addressing the legends in the room, Michelle Yeoh and Tony Leung. Michelle Yeoh has taken Hollywood by storm and continues to reign supreme in her performances here especially when her martial arts skills shine. Tony Leung is phenomenal and is one of my favorite actors of all time, so I’m incredibly thrilled that mainstream Western audiences finally get to experience his mastery. Although his character The Mandarin, or Wen Wu, is technically the villain, Leung’s portrayal is multidimensional and sympathetic which is a much-improved contrast to his racially insensitive comic book counterpart. Also, though I was watching for the plot, I was definitely looking very respectfully at Mister Tony Leung.
I will admit that I went into this movie with low expectations. I am not someone who has watched a lot of Marvel movies or shows, nor am I an avid fan of action or superhero movies. Despite that, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It is a fantastic origin story that is very friendly for viewers like me with little to no existing Marvel knowledge. Overall, I found this movie to be a must-watch; better yet, I came out of this movie wanting to watch it again and again!
Most of all, I can’t understate the cultural significance and impact of Shang-Chi and what it means to the Asian-American community. This is a major milestone for Asian representation in something as hugely accessible and prominent as Marvel. A new generation of Asian-American children now will get to see someone who looks like them on the big screen, and many older Asian-American folks can celebrate this achievement.
P. S. There are two credit scenes and both are worth sticking around for, so be sure to watch out for them. I’m excited to know what foundation they’re laying for the future and what connections will be made later down the line.