Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
by Hope Madden and George Wolf
Imagine finding out your best friend and karaoke partner isn’t really a mild-mannered valet attendant, but a highly-trained ass-kicker with chiseled abs who’s the son of an immortal conqueror leading his own army.
That’s a lot for Katy (Awkwafina) to digest, but when thugs come for her bestie Shaun (Simu Liu), the bus ride beatdown he gives them goes viral – in the first of many spectacular fight sequences – and the truth comes out.
Shaun is really Shang-Chi, whose childhood was filled with intense training to one day fight alongside his father Wenwu (Tony Leung), a God-like figure powered by the five rings worn on each arm.
The tragic death of Shang-Chi’s mother Li (Fala Chen) brought grief that stripped the mercy from Wenwu, forcing Shang-Chi to leave his younger sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) and run from his destiny. But Daddy’s patience for his wayward children has run out.
So some familiar Disney building blocks are in place, with well-positioned signage (“post blip anxiety?”) and cameos (one very surprising, and welcome) to remind us what universe we’re in. But Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings soars highest when it follows its groundbreaking hero’s lead and vows to build its own world.
A quick look at the indie drama sensibilities of director and co-writer Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12) might prepare you for the savvy complexities his Big Movie brings to Marvel’s favorite topic: family dynamics and daddy issues. But his filmography would not suggest this level of badassedness when it comes to action sequences. (And let’s be honest, neither would that subpar trailer.)
The setpiece on the bus, though, tips you off. It’s followed by plenty of fun and funny, with often breathtaking feats of fisticuffs and flight (with dragons, no less!)
Performers balance humor and pathos in that patented Marvel manner. This, of course, is Awkwafina’s wheelhouse and she is a hoot.
Liu, who’s done mostly TV, shoulders lead responsibilities with poise and charm. Michelle Yeoh, always welcome, adds gravitas as Li’s sister Ying Nan, but Zhang struggles with Xialing’s underwritten angry sister storyline.
Cretton’s film layers in feminism that almost works, but not entirely, as three women support a boy who must stand up to his father to become a man. Points for trying, I guess?
But the wait for the MCU’s first Asian Avenger (sit tight for those 2 extra scenes) ultimately pays off with a visionary, big-screen-begging spectacle full of emotional pull and future promise. Pure, eye-popping entertainment is a welcome ring to reach for – especially now – and Shang-Chi never misses.