08th Sep2021

‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Yuen Wah, Ronny Chieng, Zach Cherry, Dallas Liu, Michelle Yeoh, Tony Leung | Written by Dave Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham | Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton

The MCU takes a flying leap forward with their latest superhero blockbuster, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which features a predominantly East Asian cast and serves up some of their most exciting action sequences to date.

Simu Liu (Kim’s Convenience) plays Shaun, a San Francisco parking valet content to pass his days joy riding and singing karaoke with wise-cracking colleague-slash-best buddy Katy (Awkwafina). That is until a gang of thugs attack him on a bus, causing him to bust out some seriously impressive fight moves that leave Katy with a lot of questions.

It turns out Shaun is actually Shang-Chi (Katy rightly takes him to task for picking an alias so close to his real name), the son of centuries-old Chinese warlord Wenwu (Tony Leung), who rules over nefarious syndicate The Ten Rings with the aid of ten magical bracelets. With Katy in tow, Shang-Chi travels back to his homeland to confront his past and prevent his father from a dangerous course of action involving Ta Lo, the hidden mystical village of his dead mother, Li (Fala Chen).

The first half of the film is terrific, delivering not one but three of the best fight scenes the MCU has yet produced. The first is wildly entertaining, taking place aboard an out-of-control San Francisco bendy bus and instantly recalling both Speed and the recent Nobody with Bob Odenkirk. Beautifully choreographed and very funny, it also perfectly establishes the comic rapport between Liu and Awkwafina.

The second and third fight scenes couldn’t be more different, but they’re a great example of the way the film constantly pushes itself in fun directions. The second is an insanely thrilling vertiginous battle on bamboo scaffolding in Macao, a scene that pays spectacular tribute to the work of Jackie Chan, with Liu and co-star Meng’er Zhang (as Shang-Chi’s estranged sister Xialing) whirling around planks and poles while fighting off assassins.

The third fight scene is equally stunning, a flashback sequence detailing how Wenwu and Li fell in love while fighting in the forest outside Ta Lo. Incorporating elements of wuxia (recalling Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), it’s a superbly directed, utterly charming sequence (the looks they give each other as their punches miss are pitch perfect) that serves as a splendid example of action storytelling.

Script-wise, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings doesn’t stray too far from the usual Marvel formula, but it still delivers plenty of action, humour and strong emotion before the inevitable CGI-fuelled battle at the end. That said, there is one interesting difference, in that the villain actually has a much more moving story arc than the ostensible hero – propelled by a soulful performance from Tony Leung.

As for Shang-Chi himself, Simu Liu makes an effortlessly charismatic lead, busting out some seriously impressive fight moves (he’s a former stuntman) and sparking strong chemistry with his co-stars. Similarly, Awkwafina steals practically every scene she’s in with her endearingly goofy comic delivery and there’s terrific support from both Zhang (who brings an intriguing edge to Xialing and is equally capable in her fight scenes) and Michelle Yeo as Shang-Chi’s aunt, Ying Nan.

It’s fair to say that the latter half of the film feels a little too familiar and formulaic, even if the CGI-heavy climax does try and mix things up a bit with giant mythical creatures. To that end, the film effectively introduces a job lot of strange beasties to the MCU (courtesy of Ta Lo) and one suspects they may come to regret the “chicken-pig”, as Katy calls it.

Generally speaking, Shang-Chi keeps the connections to the wider MCU to a minimum, though there are a couple of crowd-pleasing cameos and the obligatory post-credits scenes to tease future movies. However, there is one interesting note, in that Wenwu is established as the basis for fictional terrorist The Mandarin, the classic Marvel baddie retooled for Iron Man 3.

In short, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a highly entertaining addition to the MCU that has already become a deservedly huge hit. It also takes the Marvel Universe in a refreshing new direction, leaving audiences excited to see what impact the character will have in future Phase 4 appearances.

**** 4/5

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is in cinemas now.


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