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Review: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

  • Release year: 2021
  • Director: Destin Daniel Cretton.
  • Producers: Kevin Feige and Jonathan Schwartz.
  • Screenplay by: Dave Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton and Andrew Lanham.
  • Cinematographer: Bill Pope.
  • Music by: Joel P West.

Synopsis: the past of a mob-trained kid comes back for him when his immortal mob-boss father decides to use his ten magical bracelets to rescue what he believes to be his dead wife from imprisonment.

Shotgun Commentary: the best movie Marvel has given us fans since 2017.

Fig. 1. Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) fights with 5 rings against his father Wenwu (Tony Leung), also using 5 rings. Source: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021).

Review

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is, not counting Dr Strange and Wandavision (2021), the best thing Marvel has done since Captain America: Civil War (2016), and here’s why:

First of all, Asian superhero? Hell yeah, about damn time! Sure, Wong (Benedict Wong) is already the boss, but he’s not the main guy, is he?

In terms of representation, Shang-Chi has done for the Asian-American community much like Black Panther (2018) did for African culture. For a company as huge as Marvel to take the time to represent the different communities that form real-life society and humanity in a respectful and accurate way is a great sign in terms of education, culture and progress.

Fig. 2. Clandestine fight club set up by Xialing (Meng’er Zhang). Source: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021).

Not only are you creating role models for communities who have had to watch themselves in the same three stereotypes over and over, but you are also showing their culture to a mainstream audience, thus helping society evolve and learn past their prejudices.

Moving past the significance of the film, the content does not disappoint either.

Devil’s in the details

The design and execution of settings is absolutely astonishing. Every place has its own personality and tells a story. Out of all of them, three sets stand out for their jaw-dropping factor. Ta Lo was built following traditional Chinese architecture techniques. It showcases Chinese tradition and the importance of their protector through the placement of their temple. This relevance is also applied to their connection with past generations. Their images are displayed in the temple as a reminder of their influence over the present, a pivotal idea in the film that will be further analysed below.

Fig. 3. Katy (Awkwafina) and Shang-Chi singing at a karaoke place.
Source: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021).

The waterfall set and the nightclub are the other two sets that will blow your mind. The first is inspired by the five elements of ancient Chinese cosmology. You can watch its creation, as well as learning further information on each set and of the film, in Marvel Studios Assembled: Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings. The latter set, says so much about the culture, influences, attitude, and reinvention spirit of Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), Shang-Chi’s younger sister, that it feels like a character introduction on its own.

Much of the same, for better or worse

Much in the Marvel fashion, the special effects are absolutely stunning. Every movie is a new chance to go even further and they deliver flawlessly in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Aside from the incredible water effects, the computer-created creatures are worth a lot of attention. They are based in Chinese folklore and, while some of them are internationally known, like the Fu lions, others are less famous and it’s fascinating to get to know them in such an engaging way.

Fig. 4. Villagers of Ta Lo fighting against Wenwu’s army. Source:
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021).

There is, however, a minor complaint that needs to be filed here. Why does every Marvel film feel the need to add a cute little thingamajig? Sure, it makes sense in terms of merchandising, but the level of cuteness exploitation that Marvel has achieved since it became part of Disney is getting absurd. It is repetitive and tiring and, while it is really cool that this time’s cute potato is actually a Dijiang and not just a random made up Disney thing with huge eyes, the reiteration is still there.

All the right choices

The wardrobe department also had their job cut out for them and the results are marvellous (pun unintended). The final superhero suit tells the story of Shang-Chi’s life. It mixes his mom’s influence through the dragon scales, his dad’s power with the ten rings. Even his American influence is showcased with the sneakers. Regardless, the best feature is the endless knot, symbolising wisdom and compassion, qualities that Shang-Chi only realises he has when he finally understands himself and his roots.

Fig. 5. Marvel’s cute thingamajig for this film. Source:
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021).

Additionally, the decision to make the ten rings into bracelets to avoid repetition with Thanos’ infinity stones and Dr Strange’s ring is a very wise one. They are more visually engaging and also add a singular feature to Shang-Chi, and Wenwu before him, the likes of which have never been seen before in Marvel.

Marvel comic fans have been waiting for the ten rings to finally show up since Iron Man (2008). This film featured the first reference about the organisation, making Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings the culmination of a very slow-burn story that has finally been brought to the light.

Fig. 6. Shang-Chi fighting his dad. Source: Shang-Chi and
the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021).

The power of this narrative lays, not only in its omnipresence in the shadows of the MCU, but also in the amazing cast that has been chosen to bring it forth.

All hail the casting director

Any story is only as good as its villain, and Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) is absolutely mesmerising. Wenwu is not the cliché Asian mobster boss who’s always yelling and making stupid decisions. He is a calm, kind-looking, educated man with a plan, makes him terrifying as well as original and charismatic. He is a good man who, despite his corruption and hunger for power, is motivated by love. Ever since he meets his future wife, all his decisions, however twisted they may be, are always guided by that, which is pretty unique and delightful to watch.

Fig. 7. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) right after being kidnapped. Source: Shang-Chi
and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021).

Another big personality in the film is Katy, played by Awkwafina. This actress plays the same character in every movie, and yet she’s found a really nice fit in the MCU.

The good choices just keep coming

As for Simu Liu, his performance was extra challenging to analyse. As a person who’s watched this film at the end of 2023, I couldn’t help but hear the “I’m just Ken” song every time he was on screen during the first half hour. Despite this, he managed to make me forget all about his Ken role after that. That’s how good this film is. Moreover, the fact that this was his first performance in a feature is really impressive. The commitment to the role and his craft are obvious just by watching the film.

Fig. 8. Wenwu talking to Shang-Chi when he was little. Source: Shang-Chi
and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021).

Last but most definitely not least, Michelle Yeoh. Considering the relevance of the film and the incredible amount of martial arts featured in it, it would’ve been almost offensive if she wasn’t in it. Ying Nan, her character, is crucial to the hero’s journey despite her short time on screen. Yeoh, being an icon herself, has the presence and strength to carry out this job flawlessly.

Body talks

Ying Nan teaches Shang-Chi about the influence that your past and ancestors have in who you are and will become. This theme is mentioned before by both of his parents. Wenwu refers to it when explaining the importance of Chinese names, and Li (Fala Chen), Shang-Chi’s mom, when talking about Shang-Chi having the heart of the dragon.

However, it is with Ying Nan that the translation of this message into practical behaviour is shown. Shang-Chi was trained following his dad’s methods, violent and impulsive, but that doesn’t mean that is all he is. His mom’s influence, balanced and patient, is also there and can be unlocked with the right mentor: Ying Nan.

Fig. 9. Ying Nan (Michelle Yeoh) teaching Shang-Chi a valuable lesson.
Source: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021).

The combination of fighting styles and martial arts is used with a level of artistry worth continuous rewatch. It showcases each character’s state of mind, emotions and goals. But it also tells a story, the context in which the fight is happening (falling in love, survival, lesson, etc.).

Go to make people cry at a superhero movie

Shang-Chi is all about finding the power, his heroism, through facing his past instead of avoiding it. The culmination of his journey is shown through the use of both his mother and his father’s signature moves. He makes them his own in an absolutely beautiful choreography. The scene is so powerful that, despite his moves being the most ordinary that is going on at the time, they go straight to your heart.

Fig. 10. Li (Fala Chen) teaching Shang-Chi taichi. Source: Shang-Chi
and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021).

That’s where the magic of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings lies really, a story so well written that is capable of zoning out even the most amazing of special effects featured in it.

Advice to take from this movie:

  • If dead people talk to you and someone is trying to offer an explanation, try listening before destroying their hometown?
  • Don’t be surprised if your sibling holds a grundge after you abandon them with a tyrant.
  • Nice people can also kill. Be nice to nice people.
Fig. 11. Katy and Shang-Chi chillin’ at a bar. Source:
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021).

What’s your take? Are you a Marvel fan? Have you watched Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings? Don’t hesitate to let me know your thoughts in the comments section below or leave a message in my contact page! For more reviews and cinema-related articles check out the rest of my blog! 😀

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