For over 14 years, fans have seen many superheroes brought to life, and, more recently, die, in the sprawling web that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). But interestingly, none had been Asian, until now and for the first time, the studio is introducing its first-ever Asian superhero in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Shang-Chi introduces our leading hero like many other superhero films, as an origin tale. Shaun/Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is an ordinary dude, who gets up, gets dressed, eats his breakfast and goes to work. Like any guy, he has a best female friend, Katy (Awkwafina) who’s known him for a big part of his life, and they get up to nonsense antics together – in this case, going on crazy joyrides down a busy street in San Francisco. Life seems to be okay for Shaun until the duo gets roughed up in a bus by a group of thugs.
In hopes of protecting Katy, Shaun goes all Shang-Chi and kicks butt to save everyone… well, everyone except the bus of course. Katy confronts him about his sudden ability to fight, only to get reluctant answers. We feel you Katy because we have questions too, mainly because we haven’t seen such beautifully choreographed and action-packed martial arts fight scenes outside of Hong Kong action cinema, let alone in a Marvel film.
Whether or not you grew up idolising Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan or even Tony Leung himself (who plays Shang-Chi’s father, Wenwu, in this movie), Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will have you leaving the cinemas with a deeper appreciation for the art. Martial arts scenes in Western media have always been depicted as intense flying kicks in the air, a lot of grunting and flicking hair away from one’s forehead, as sweat forms around their temples and upper lip. And all are combined by quick edits but none of that is used here.
In Shang-Chi, the choreography, whilst still delivering the action one would expect, is delivered to look and feel beautiful and impactful. It’s not about hurting the opponent, but rather deflecting and finding balance between yourself and your environment. It’s also a fighting style that Marvel hasn’t really explored so seeing it in the big screens, packed with the stunts and visuals that the MCU does so well, is unlike anything you’ve seen since the creation of Iron Man all the way to the latest Black Widow.
Of course, the main pull here would be seeing the legend Leung in action himself, and as expected, the 59-year-old Hong Kong acting icon and heartthrob does not disappoint. In fact, Marvel knew exactly what they were doing with such a giant asset, by starting the movie with a focus on Leung’s character and his crusades with the Ten Rings, and spent a lot of time building the character’s profile and motivations in the film.
Another familiar legend fans have been looking forward to seeing is fellow Asian action star Michelle Yeoh, who marks her return to the MCU in her second outing. Playing a wise aunt to Shang-Chi, Yeoh always brings a sense of ethereal power and beauty to every role she’s in, and her character Jiang Li is no exception. Without spoiling too much, Jiang Li is the guardian of a mythical city and is one of the wise leaders that later leads Shang-Chi and her people into an intense war in the third act.
Known as the leader of the terrorist Ten Rings organisation, Leung is incredibly cold and badass. Classy, hardened and not to be messed with, Leung commands respect the moment he walks on screen and it translates in his portrayal of Wenwu. Shang-Chi also lets viewers see the other side of him that one wouldn’t expect to see when they walk into the cinemas. Wenwu is also soft, loving, kind and misunderstood. Rather than the big bad villain in the movie, he’s more like a tortured lover who really at his core, cares about his family, regardless of the twisted means he’ll take to get it.
And that’s really what Shang-Chi is all about. Yes, we see the becoming of a hero and the unraveling of a villain, but the movie is really about a family overcoming grief and loss in their own ways and that no matter how much we try to run away from our past, it’s important to learn and accept them as who you are, rather than pretending to be someone you’re not. Truthfully, Shang-Chi has seen some terrible things growing up (as you would later see in the movie) and at the end of the day, you just want to give him a hug or rather send him to therapy to heal his inner child wounds. It’s truly hard to leave the theatres disliking the movie because each character you see on screen is flawed and loveable at the same time.
Wenwu, as evil as he is, loves his family dearly. Shang-Chi struggles with his identity and accepting the things he’s done in the past, but actively works on bettering himself. Xialing (Zhang Meng’er), Shang-Chi’s estranged sister is cold and untrustworthy but is incredibly strong and badass. Katy is awkward and noisy but has the kindest and most understanding heart. One can’t help feeling connected to these characters regardless of any racial and cultural background, which goes to show how well Shang-Chi and frankly, the latest MCU movies, have incredibly well-written characters. You enter the theatres expecting to be blown away by Marvel action (which you will as forementioned) and will leave feeling as if you’ve made a new friend.
Speaking of racial and cultural backgrounds, Shang-Chi is definitely a movie that aims to be inclusive and to a certain extent, serve some form of representation for the Asian – well specifically Chinese-American – community. The movie does this in subtle ways like removing one’s shoes before entering your home and having casual conversations between characters that is completely normal to ask in an Asian household by the way such as “When are you going to get married?” instead of “what are your plans for this lovely Monday?”.
The movie also leans into certain experiences that are possibly relatable to Asian-Americans like not being as proficient in one’s own mother tongue, having pressures to be successful else you’re a burden to your immigrant parents, being poked at by mainland Chinese folks for being too ‘Westernised’ and lastly, navigating both the American identity and the Chinese identity at the same time. It’s likely a movie that the Chinese diaspora can identify more strongly with, rather than say regular Asian folks who have lived in their homelands for most or all of their lives.
That said, there are cultural elements included in the film that one can identify with if they’re Asian, like the traditional nuclear family structure present in so many families and the late-night karaoke sessions drunk on soju for example. Of course, if you’re Chinese specifically, you may be familiar with some of the creatures and mythical lore explored in the film.
Wait, mythical lore and creatures? Yes.
Shang-Chi is a Marvel film that meets Fantastic Beasts and Game of Thrones, so if any of these mentioned franchises or the fantasy genre is up your alley, then you can already bet that Shang-Chi is going to be a mind-blowing experience. Once again, Shang-Chi is setting up to be a much more unique hero as compared to the heroes that come before him, and if myth and fantasy is Marvel’s approach to Phase 4 moving forward, then Shang-Chi perfectly sets the tone.
In all, Shang-Chi meets all the marks and requirements to make a good superhero film – action, story, a good villain – and a movie that like Black Panther aims to be inclusive and feature underrepresented communities in film and media by having just enough elements one can identify with and celebrate without alienating an entirely different audience.
With brand new villains and a whole other world explored in Shang-Chi, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is expanding and broadening unlike never before. Shang-Chi is great on its own as an individual movie, but its greatest flex here is definitely taking the overall MCU as we know it to greater, more fantastical heights. With two post-credit scenes, Shang-Chi is definitely laying the foundations and is setting fans up for bigger things to come in the future.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Shang-Chi is an action-packed superhero film, a film about family and community, and a fantasy film all combined. The perfect movie to lay the foundations of what the new future of Marvel may look like, you’ll leave the theatre wowed, mind blown and excited for the journey that’s to come.
Story - 9/10
Direction - 9/10
Characterisation - 8/10
Geek Satisfaction - 9/10