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

David Eckstein-Schoemann, Reporter

Marvel is back again with its latest cinematic entry, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”. Based on a character from Marvel comics, Shang-Chi isn’t a character that has gotten a lot of exposure until now. Even comic readers like me who’ve read stories on Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy, and even Ant-Man don’t really know a lot about this character. Despite this, I am open to different characters getting their chance in the spotlight as there seems to be a lot of potential that can be done with this premise. He’s a Chinese martial artist in a world filled with dragons, assassins, and a style that feels distinct to this universe.

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

The film centers on Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), who lives in San Francisco with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). However, their lives are interrupted when a group of assassins from the organization Ten Rings, find Shang-Chi who is revealed to be an expert martial artist who left behind his life as an assassin long ago. Forced to confront his past, Shang-Chi has to locate his sister Xialing, as they are both confronted by the leader of the Ten Rings, their father Xu Wenwu (who is identified as the true Mandarin in this universe). From here we go from bus fights to family dilemmas, to conflicts that add a lot of dimension to this story.

Courtesy of David Eckstein-Schoemann.

As someone who loves martial arts and films that are willing to go above the status quo and do something different, I am happy to say I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. You can tell that the creators put a lot of effort into giving us a story that deviates from the Marvel formula, while still remaining faithful to its roots. It is common knowledge that there are a ton of Marvel movies. While a lot of them are very entertaining, I can probably count on one hand a number of films that legitimately outright astounded me. Some of it does come down to how certain elements like the CG action scenes or even their stock villains. Thankfully, with Shang-Chi we get something that not only has a lot of character but also introduces this world and style that you can easily see playing a part in this universe.

First off, the action is phenomenal! Not since “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” have I seen such great physical fight scenes in a Marvel movie. I’m not talking about the ones revolving around CG, but the scenes when the actors are on set doing these impressive moves with really inventive fight choreography. The first fight scene on the bus alone is worth the price of admission. These scenes felt very reminiscent of classic martial arts films involving Jet Lee and Jackie Chan. The actors do a fantastic job performing these stunts in these creative locations. They’re also well shot so you can see everything. It isn’t just quick shots of people dueling each other, but these well-laid-out shots are done in a way that makes you feel like you’re in the moment. While there are some moments that do feel a bit outlandish where you have people flying or falling off buildings, it works because it feels like you’re watching a comic book fight scene come to life. 

The cast, much like in a lot of Marvel productions, is also top-notch. Simu Liu in his first starring role is one of the biggest standouts. He’s cool, has an interesting character, and gets across a lot of emotion. I can already tell that this guy is going to be a superstar. Awkwafina is also really good as she brings a lot of heart and humor to the film. Meng’er Zhang has a lot of awesome scenes and even a character who I can’t wait to see more of in the future. I even greatly enjoyed Tony Leung as Xu Wenwu. I understand this is Marvel’s apology to fans after the fake Mandarin in “Iron Man 3”. So to see this character be brought to the big screen with a big name actor behind him was something I was excited to see. I was also surprised with how they manage to add history and depth to a character who most people would write off as another villain. It’s obvious that Marvel has been doing a lot of villains with relatable motivations in the past years, but this one surprised me with how it got me to care about this character. While he’s built up to be the main antagonist of the film, when you see his relationship with his family and what his motivations are, it becomes clear that the conflict is a lot more personal than people would have expected. 

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

This film is everything I want a Marvel film to be. It not only gives the fans what they want with the different characters that pop up, but it also introduces a fresh perspective that isn’t seen too much. You can easily tie back a lot of these martial arts elements to films like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, or “Enter the Dragon”. There are even scenes that remind me of the anime “Dragon Ball” with its story and humor. As someone who is a martial artist, who also watches films centering on Asian culture, I can tell that the creators wanted to make this movie as authentic as possible with how its characters often speak in Chinese with subtitles through good portions of the film. I especially love the idea of having the ten rings themselves be similar to Hung Gar Iron Rings, which are used for training and combat. It’s a smart update that not only connects to the martial arts theme, but also retains its roots in the comics. Choices like this are made throughout the film, as they add more depth while also giving the film a unique identity.

What surprised me the most about this film was that throughout the majority of it, it didn’t feel like a Marvel movie. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some Marvel-isms to be found here. But this movie from both a style, tone and even storytelling point of view feels like a departure from the Marvel formula we’re all familiar with. Something about the way this film represents Asian culture, with the portrayal of its characters and the ideas that surround the culture. There’s no denying that everyone involved did everything to make this comic book film as authentic and respectful as possible with its landscapes and imagery. I don’t know about you guys but something about seeing martial artists, dragons, and other Chinese creatures share the same world as the Avengers, has me excited to see more of this side of the universe in the future. 

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

As good as the film is, there are a few elements that I feel people are going to be expecting to find here. For example, it does end with a usual Marvel climax with multiple people fighting some CG monsters in a CG landscape. While that is true, It’s hard for me to think of any other way to end this film as it is an action film with a lot of large elements. There are also scenes when you see characters like Wong from “Doctor Strange” fight the Abomination from “The Incredible Hulk”, it’s mostly done as cool cameos to generate buzz. There are even two end-credits scenes that also have familiar characters show up, but still, get me excited for future sequels. These aspects don’t bother me because they weren’t the movie’s main focus, rather it was the hero’s journey and the family dilemma which in all honesty, does help this film stand out when compared to Marvel’s other entries. 

So yeah, Shang-Chi is a breath of fresh air that I can easily see developing as a film series in the future. If you saw the trailers and aren’t expecting much, I’d say give it a watch because there’s a lot more to this film than meets the eye. 


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