Film Review: Marvel Blockbuster ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ Delights With Its Boundary-Breaking Approach6 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
Shang-Chi, the master of unarmed weaponry-based kung fu, is forced to confront his past after being drawn into the Ten Rings organisation.
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Cast: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Tony Leung, Michelle Yeoh, Fala Chen
Country: United States
Language: Mandarin, English
Runtime: 132 minutes
Following the widespread recognition of 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians, it seems that there is a place for Asian American actors in the Hollywood industry — not as a background character, nor the ‘token Asian sidekick’. Marvel’s latest blockbuster, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings presents itself as the first-ever Asian-led Marvel film.
Originally based on the Shang-Chi comic, it was further reworked by director Destin Cretton following the unsuitability of the print’s original content. Working together with fellow Chinese-American screenwriter Dave Callaham, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a refreshing instalment in the Marvel series that sees authenticity as its greatest asset.
Before we are introduced to our main hero Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), the film opens with a fairytale-like narration by a mysterious female character, accompanied by a peek into a secluded area in the woods of Ta Lo — definitely resembling something out of a picture book. The narration tells of Wenwu (Tony Leung) looking for ten rings, items that would grant him immortality and power. His venture doesn’t end, as he finds himself stumbling into the forested area of Ta Lo, guarded by the beguiling Jiang Li (Fala Chen).
The scene then sees itself taking the direction of a meet-cute, as Tony Leung exudes his charm and renowned ‘acting gaze’ — a nod to his acting in In the Mood for Love — to flirt with his counterpart who is just as mysterious and alluring. Something about their encounter is unique, as they engage in a martial arts fight, all while exchanging flirtatious looks with their eyes.
The camera does a wonderful job as it subtly creeps into close-ups of the pair just as Wenwu and Jiang Li are closing the gap between each other. The set design complements the actions in the scene as well as it doesn’t do too much to stand out. Yet, it continues to retain some sort of charm that lets viewers know that this is a place in the woods that is shrouded by mystery and fantasy.
The serenity and allure of the woodlands is then replaced with a bustling city as the camera tracks our main hero, Shang-Chi, on his way to his job as a valet with his best friend, Katy (Awkwafina). The choice to bring viewers back into a lively atmosphere after a rather isolated backstory reminds viewers once again that this is a Marvel film, the calm before the storm. The same type of transition can be heard through the soundtrack, combining an eclectic mix of Western music and music produced by Asian artistes.
The bus fight scene is probably one of the most talked-about scenes in the whole film. With Shang-Chi presenting his kung fu fighting prowess for the first time on screen along with Katy’s intense yet skilful steering of an uncontrollable bus, the bus fight scene is captivatingly choreographed, providing a set-up to the number of thrills following fight scenes hold. The editing in this scene is extremely seamless, almost as if it might have been manipulated to be shot in a one-take. As soon as this happens, backstories are slowly revealed as Shang-Chi’s estranged sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) comes into the spotlight.
Zhang Meng’er is definitely one to look out for in her cinematic debut. Her character is both cool and tough, proving that she is just as formidable as her brother. In spite of that, her arc falls flat a little towards the climax of the film as she is seen, once again, being sidetracked by her brother. Nevertheless, she does get a rewarding post-credit scene which alludes to her strength as a character on her own.
Like most final showdowns across all Marvel films, Shang-Chi’s final battle scene delves into soul-eating winged beasts ravaging the battlefield. With the first three-quarters of the film relying on physical martial arts as part of the fight sequences, there is definitely an uncanny feeling seeing CGI creatures overtake the battlefield. Yet, that can also be attributed to the olden folklores and the legend surrounding the fictional world of Ta Lo.
On the other hand, the remainder of the battle scenes in Shang-Chi is breathtaking. There is a certain uniqueness in the way the camera plays around the characters during the fight scene, following them around in a flowy, systematic way. It almost feels like a technical display of the martial art itself, which draws its influence from the slow, healing methods of taichi. It is definitely something different from the usual rapid back and forth cuts during an intensive fight scene.
Besides its whipping action drawn from Eastern influences, Shang-Chi is essentially also a film about family in an Asian setting. The storytelling aims to tap into the intricacies and complexities of family ties in an Asian household. Grief and reconciliation are explored throughout the film as well, true to director Cretton’s intention.
Along with memorable cameos and homages to the art of Asian kung fu, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is widely considered as a breakthrough in Hollywood for being the first Asian American Marvel film. Certainly, it is a positive nod in the right direction for the production of more Asian American films in Hollywood.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is now available in theatres islandwide.