Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings


A new hero rises.

(2021) Superhero (Disney) Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Michelle Yeoh, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Yuen Wah, Andy Le, Paul He, Jayden Zhang, Elodie Fong, Arnold Sun, Stephanie Hsu, Kunal Dudheker, Tsai Chin, Jodi Long, Dallas Liu, Ronny Chieng, Stella Ye, Ben Kingsley, Michael-Anthony Taylor, Zach Cherry, Raymond Ma, Benedict Wong, Harmonie He. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton

 

There are a number of firsts going on in the latest entry into the MCU. The first Asian-American superhero. The first Marvel feature to introduce a new hero into the mix since Captain Marvel. The first MCU film with a director of Asian descent. The first villainous role for Chinese action legend Tony Leung (and also his first English-language film). The first to debut on Labor Day weekend. The first Disney film to resume production after the initial pandemic shutdown.

But is that all there is to a movie? Ground-breaking alone doesn’t make for a great, entertaining film. Thankfully, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings fits the bill and then some.

A prologue tells us of Wenwu (Leung), a villain who found (or stole) ten magic arm rings that rendered him invincible as well as virtually immortal. Over a thousand years, he conquered everything there was to conquer, but he wanted more. The “more” was a village called Ta Lo, a hidden village that sits in a neighboring dimension where dwell legendary magical creatures and contains magical power of immense proportions. Wenwu – who would later be used as the blueprint to create the fictional terrorist known as the Mandarin – already led a criminal enterprise and commanded an army of ninjas, including killers Death Dealer (Le) and Razor Fist (Munteanu), but comes by a map that helps him arrive at the village, although the bamboo forest it is located in seemed to be a living guardian of the peaceful village. There is also a human guardian – the beautiful Li (Chen) who bests Wenwu in a fight. The criminal overlord promptly falls in love and, improbably, ends up marrying her.

Because of Wenwu’s criminal past, the couple is denied residence in Ta Lo so Macau is where they end up living. Li gives birth to a son and daughter before she dies, and Wenwu, who had softened into a family man, hardens right back up, training his young son, Shang-Chi, to be a killer while mostly ignoring his daughter, Xiang.

Shang-Chi (Liu) eventually runs away from his father, choosing not to become like him, and ends up in San Francisco, using the name Shaun. He has a bestie named Katy (Awkwafina) who, like him, parks cars at a swanky SF hotel. While Katy’s mom (Long) and grandma (Chin) wonder when the two are going to get married, but they’re just friends (without benefits – this is a PG-13 film after all). However, on a bus ride to work, Shaun is attacked by a group of thugs including Razor Fist and turns out that he has extraordinary martial arts abilities, much to the shock of Katy who is unaware of his past. He manages to beat the thugs, but they steal a pendant that his mother had given him, but let slip that they are going after his sister next. So Shang-Chi boards a plane for Macau, having received a cryptic postcard from his sister which apparently reveals her address and Katy insists on going with.

There they find a bitter Xiang (Zhang) who had resented her brother for leaving her behind with their father. She, too, had eventually run away from home and began an empire of her own with a high-tech fight club on top of a skyscraper. That’s when the goons arrive and so does dear old dad. You see, it seems he needs the pendants to reveal a map that will navigate a safe passage through the bamboo forest to Ta Lo. Wenwu has been hearing his wife’s voice, begging him to set her free from imprisonment in her former home. But he also intends to destroy that home, much to Shang-Chi’s horror. They must find a way to get there first if they are going to stop their dad, who is unwittingly going to release a horrible, Apocalypse-bringing monster onto the earth if he succeeds.

First of all, the good news: this is one of the best Marvel movies yet, right up there with Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy. It is beautifully shot, the fight sequences are phenomenal (particularly the first one on the bus) and the CGI without peer. Simu Liu, who was previously best known for the Canadian TV series Kim’s Convenience, is going to be a huge star, following the example of Chris Hemsworth who was a little-known actor before being cast as Thor. Add to that the lustrous Michelle Yeoh as Auntie Nan, Leung who gets to show American filmgoers what Asian audiences have known for decades, and Awkwafina who continues to become a major A-list star with her performance here.

weaves all the elements together pretty well. I will admit that during the middle the movie becomes necessarily exposition-heavy and drags somewhat, but other than that, he shows a sure hand on the big stage even though he comes from an indie background (Short Term 12) and this is really his first big budget major tentpole release. Undoubtedly he’ll get a lot more like this, in all likelihood including Shang-Chi 2 which is almost a certainty to make it onto Marvel’s schedule eventually.

There are two post-credit sequences, incidentally, and the first one is maybe the best one in the franchise with a couple of cameos by Marvel superheroes and hints at what Shang-Chi’s place in the larger MCU is going to be. Given what I’ve seen here, he’s not going to fade into the woodwork any time soon. This is the must-see movie of the season and by all means go out and see it in a theater if you can.

REASONS TO SEE: Wonderfully weaves Chinese culture, myths and legends into the MCU. Simu Liu is going to be a star and Awkwafina further cements her own reputation. Incredible action sequences and effects. One of the best Marvel movies ever.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit long, dragging a bit in the middle third.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of fantasy/superhero action and violence, as well as some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Stunt coordinator Bradley James Allen, who was the first (and only) non-Asian member of Jackie Chan’s stunt team, passed away on August 7 from an undisclosed illness. The film is dedicated to him.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/4/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews; Metacritic: 71/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hero
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
NEXT:
Triaphilia

New Releases for the Week of September 3, 2021


SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS

(Disney) Simu Liu, Tony Leung, Awkafina, Michelle Yeoh, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Yuen Wah, Florian Munteanu, Andy Le. Directed by Destin Daniel Crettin

Shang-Chi is the son of a criminal mastermind, leader of the Ten Rings organization. His father trains him to be a lethal weapon, but Shang-Chi rejects his father’s ways and flees to America. However, you can’t run from your past any more than you can run from who you are and he will have to find it within him to stand against his own father to become the hero within him.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, and language)

Cinderella

(Amazon/Columbia) Camilo Cebello, Idina Menzel, Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver. The familiar fairy tale is given a modern update with a pop soundtrack. Hopefully, Pierce Brosnan isn’t singing in this one.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Cinemark Universal Citywalk (also on Amazon Prime)
Rating: PG (for suggestive material and language)

The Gateway

(Lionsgate) Shea Whigham, Olivia Munn, Frank Grillo, Keith David. A social worker winds up in a situation out of control when he tries to protect one of his clients from her violent drug-dealing husband, recently paroled from jail. He and his crew will do anything to find their stash of drugs – and kill anyone who stands in their way.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Crime Thriller
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grille Sunset Walk
Rating: R (for strong violence, pervasive language, drug use, some sexual content and nudity)

The Lost Leonardo

(Sony Classics) Jerry Saltz, Martin Kemp, Doug Patteson, Robert K. Wittman. The story of the most expensive painting ever sold, which purports to be a lost masterpiece by Leonardo Da Vinci. But is it, or is it a game piece in an elaborate charade?

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian
Rating: PG-13 (for nude art images)

Wild Indian

(Vertical) Michael Greyeyes, Kate Bosworth, Jesse Eisenberg, Chaske Spencer. A native American man has left his violent past – and murderous secret – on the reservation. Now the new life he has made for himself is threatened by a ghost from that past.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grill Sunset Walk
Rating: NR

Yakuza Princess

(Magnet) Masumi, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Eijiro Ozaki. An orphan discovers that she is heir to half of the Yakuza criminal empire. Joining with an amnesiac stranger who believes that both of their destinies are tied up in an ancient sword, she must fight against the heir to the other half of the Yakuza fortune who wants to kill her for complete control.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Crime
Now Playing: Fashion Square Premiere
Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, some language and graphic nudity)

COMING TO VIRTUAL CINEMA/VOD:

Afterlife of the Party (Thursday)
Attention Attention
Good
Hands Up
The J Team
Karen
The Madness Inside Me
Memory House
Samantha Rose
(Tuesday)
Saving Paradise
Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman
We Need to Do Something
Worth

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Good
The Lost Leonardo
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Worth