Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Review (2021)

When Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings came out in theatres, most of New Zealand was still in Lockdown so I didn’t get a chance to see it during its theatrical release. I had to bide my time for its eventual debut on Disney Plus but, as I waited, slowly reviews from the rest of the world started trickling in. First from the critics and then from the audience, the consensus seemed to be that Shang Chi was another win for Marvel and a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Seeing Shang Chi’s success was so bittersweet. I really wanted the movie to do well, but it made the wait until November the 12th that much harder. And then finally, Shang Chi arrived on Disney Plus…

And I loved it.

Based on the Marvel Comics from the ’70s, Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings follows the titular protagonist (Simu Liu) as he struggles to choose a path to fulfil his destiny. But ready or not, fate draws him back into the shadowy world of The Ten Rings, a criminal organisation run by his father Xu Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung), also known as The Mandarin.

At its core, Shang Chi basically follows the Hero’s Journey, showing us the growth of the character from someone who is unsure of himself to a fully-fledged superhero. A newcomer to feature films, Simi Liu plays Shang Chi with a great mix of charm, goofiness but also packs a punch when it comes to the action. Liu’s passion for the role is obvious and watching the actor execute martial arts moves with seeming ease really helps sell the whole conceit of a man who had fully mastered all aspects of kung fu.

And a good thing too because when it comes to martial arts, boy, is this movie full of them. From the get-go, the action sequences are very different from the normal MCU template. Featuring various styles from Tai Chi to Wing Chun, the stunt choreographers went all out to make the action set pieces highly kinetic, charged and at times even poetic.

There were a few scenes where the action almost took the form of a dance, impressively augmenting beats of the story, conveying a range of emotions not usually associated with Marvel fight choreography. Coupled with wire-work typical of Asian cinema, and vibrant sets and costumes, the martial arts scenes really help set Shang Chi apart.

And it’s not just in the fight scenes that director, Destin Daniel Cretton and writer Dave Callaham embrace the Asian culture. The entire main cast is predominantly Asian, and they are not afraid to switch from English to Mandarin mid-dialogue if the script calls for it. There are scenes later in the movie focusing on Chinese stories that are a delight to behold but I cannot talk about these too much in case of spoilers. But let me just say that I loved seeing how aspects of Chinese lore came to life on screen.

Shang Chi is not flawless though. It is another MCU film that is a mixed bag when it comes to its visual effects. There are scenes where the VFX is undetectable, yet others where the green screen is obvious. It’s not too jarring though and doesn’t detract from the overall experience.

There are contrivances in the story that could have been built up in a more organic way but seemed rushed for the sake of the plot. For example, certain characters master new skills in the span of a day just when the story is in need of that skill. I am not sure if something was left on the editing floor, but it seemed a little shoe-horned in while the rest of the story seemed to flow better.

Also, Akwafina is one of those actors where people either love her or hate her. Depending on where you sit on that, she may be a pro or a con. I normally find her a little annoying but she did make me laugh a few times in the movie.

And my last nitpick, on the first watch, I didn’t find the musical score of the film particularly memorable. If you asked me now, I would struggle to hum any tune from the film. It may be that once I listen to it on its own, there may be some stand out themes but as it is right now, the Shang Chi theme isn’t going to be an instant classic

Shang Chi was everything I wanted it to be. The action, the characters, the cinematography all blended well together to create a Marvel movie that isn’t afraid to celebrate Asian culture. Make sure you watch the credits to the end because there are two end credit scenes 🙂

I give Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings an 8.5 out of 10.

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