Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings review: with Simu Liu, the superhero movie is a fascinating spectacle
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Actors: Simu Liu, Awkwafina
Rating: 4 stars
Chinese martial arts flair meets Hollywood superhero action in epic, unwavering harmony in Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings, directed and co-written by Destin Daniel Cretton. The very first Marvel movie with an Asian lead role (Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu lives up to it) features a thoughtfully orchestrated pride clash against humanity that makes for a compelling and visually lush cinematic spectacle.
The reluctant superhero takes his time breaking out of a self-made shell. As a result, the screenplay (written by the director with Dave Callahan and Andrew Lanham) has all the scope and space to develop the central character while meticulously setting a precise context for the transformation of the protagonist of a young man caught in two spirits to a fearless fighter ready to face and absorb the reality of his birth and education.
Much the same approach is applied to the villain, a larger than life but incredibly rounded figure beautifully fleshed out by Hong Kong megastar and longtime Wong Kar-wai collaborator Tony Leung. His intentions, unlike those of the hero, are crystal clear from the start. The Ten Rings are his and Xu Wenwu is determined to make the most of the influence they have bestowed on him.
The Antagonist, like many other evil forces in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is unabashedly greedy for power and wants to expand his sphere as far as he can. Every action and decision on his part is triggered either by emotional angularity or by a clear psychological impulse in the best traditions of sharp character study. Wenwu’s overriding ambition is therefore as easy to grasp as it is to hate.
In the beginning Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings, who embraces both the philosophical and personal dimensions of the hero’s quest for greatness with a purpose, Katy (Awkwafina), his best friend and valet from a San Francisco hotel perfectly happy to do what she does, attracts the attention of his dinner companions of the uncertainty and fragility of life, a verbal aside that instantly strikes a chord given the human toll that the current pandemic has caused.
In the specific context of the plot as well, Katy’s worries about life’s vicissitudes contrast sharply with what is revealed by a detailed introductory voiceover that explains why Wenwu is unstoppable. He has “the strength of a god” and “eternal life”. Neither the uncertainty of purpose nor the fragility of life and limbs – both are out of the equation thanks to the ten rings in his possession – can hinder his quest for power and money. He’s been working there for hundreds of years.
These days, Shang-Chi has no interest in claiming her family heritage and lives anonymously in Frisco, working alongside the cheerful arrogant Katy Chen, who when first seen makes the most of her. left the key to a hotel. The guest leaves with her and goes for a ride in an elegant car, Shang-Chi, reluctantly known to his American friends as Shaun.
Shang-chi and Wenwu’s stories come and go through time to reveal the multiple hot spots that have led to the insurmountable distance between the father and his two disgruntled children, the hero and his sister Xu Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) since the death of their mother Ying Li (Fala Chen).
Father and son, brother and sister, a mother who still lives in the hearts of her children and a husband deeply in love with his late wife and believing that she will return are the many facets of a family that separates and sticks together . both by the unquenchable thirst for power of one man.
The intrigue rushes when, receiving a postcard from Xialing, Shang-Chi decides to fly to Macau to meet the sister with whom he has not been in contact for years. Katy accompanies him. In Macau, Shang-Chi finds himself in an underground fight club and in the crosshairs of his sister, who has not forgiven him for having disappeared from her life.
He is repeatedly attacked by the formidable fighters of the Army of the Ten Rings. One of them, Razor Fist (Florian Munteanu), a man with a machete for his arm, brings him on a bus in San Francisco. Shang-chi’s valiant retaliation, recorded by a horseman, goes viral and precedes him in Macau.
A daring leap of faith takes Shang-chi to the village of his mother, Ta Lo, which hides many secrets that Wenwu has his eyes on since realizing that he has nothing left on Earth to conquer. The son knows he has to get there before Wenwu.
The hero is accompanied on the loaded journey by Katy, Xialing, Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley), an actor who has his own troubled history with Wenwu, and the super intelligent and magically premonitory faceless pet of the Last Traveler, a creature Chinese mythology that Katy can’t do better than describe as “a chicken-pig”.
They encounter both wonderful and dangerous things in Ta Lo, where her Aunt Ying Nan (Michelle Yeoh) is on hand to debunk things for Shang-chi. The latter’s mastery of martial arts – he was trained by his father at the age of seven and sent on his first mission at the age of 14 – and his survival instincts are put to the test by Wenwu, his ruthless warriors and his “suckers”.
The challenge for Shang-chi is to free himself from the past, to discover the core of his being, and to strengthen his resolve to harness the powers at his disposal for the good of the world. Even if he finds his calling in this life-changing adventure, neither he nor the public can know how it will play out in the years – and the movies (none have yet been announced) – that lie ahead.
Two mid-credits scenes at the end of the film don’t do much to dispel the ambiguity. Yes, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) turns to Shang-Chi and says, with just a hint of glee, “Welcome to the circus.” With Simu Liu gently settling into the Marvel Superhero Universe, it should be worth the wait to find out what the future holds for the MCU’s new superhero.
Simu Liu, who perfectly masters the behavior of superheroes, does not miss a turn. Awkwafina’s presence introduces irony and humor into the film, as does that of Ben Kingsley. Meng’er Zhang also has a solid impact. But no one in the cast can compete with Tony Leung.
Leung is incredibly sublime. He transforms into the kind of fervent and valiant but layered villain Shang-Chi needs to take flight. The film, with its stunning visual effects, top-notch action choreography, and a captivating duet of Liu and Leung, is certainly beyond the ordinary.
Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings definitely worth the trip to the nearest multiplex.