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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Review

September 2, 2021 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Shang-Chi And the Legend of the Ten Rings Image Credit: Marvel Studios
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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Review  

Directed By: Destin Daniel Cretton
Written By: Dave Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton and Andrew Lanham; Based on the Marvel comics & characters
Runtime: 132 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and language

Simu Liu – Shang-Chi
Awkwafina – Katy Chen
Tony Leung – Wenwu
Meng’er Zhang – Xu Xialing
Fala Chen – Ying Li
Michelle Yeoh – Ying Nan
Benedict Wong – Wong
Florian Munteanu – Razor Fist
Andy Le – Death Dealer

After multiple delays, Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings finally hits theaters. First created by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin in the early 1970s, Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu finally makes his long-awaited debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While Shang-Chi might be a more obscure character compared to the more mainstay heroes of the MCU, his new movie brings a fresh set of characters and strong direction to the table with Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings.

Set sometime after the events of Avengers: Endgame, Shang-Chi introduces Simu Liu as its eponymous hero. Living in San Francisco as a mild-mannered valet by the name of Shaun, he’s ripped from his quiet and unassuming life when attacked by a group of thugs and a maniac with a sword for an arm, Razor Fist (Munteanu). While Shang-Chi is more than able to handle himself, the thugs make off with his pendant — a precious heirloom given to him by his mother. However, it’s a sign that Shang-Chi’s long-lost father, Wenwu (Tony Leung), knows of his whereabouts and is likely targeting Shang-Chi’s estranged sister, Xialing (Zhang), next.

Wenwu is the true founder and leader of the shadow organization, the Ten Rings, first glimpsed in 2008’s Iron Man. His organization is aptly named after discovering 10 rings of unknown origin, which carry immense power and grant Wenwu eternal life. Falling in love and starting a family appeared to temper Wenwu’s goals for world domination, but the tragic loss of his wife tore away Wenwu’s more peaceful veneer. Now, Shang-Chi must confront his father and stop him from unleashing an even darker power.

Among the best attributes for Shang-Chi are its action scenes, fight choreography and direction by Destin Daniel Cretton, who also co-wrote the film along with Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham. Additionally, Cretton’s direction has energy and style that bolsters the film. Thankfully, Shang-Chi does not suffer from the same fate of many recent contemporary action movies. Case in point, the lugubrious Snake Eyes: GI Joe Origins, which wasn’t fun or exciting to watch. The action scenes were edited and shot terribly. That’s not the case here.

The action in Shang-Chi is fast-paced, but the fight scenes are not incomprehensibly edited. Cretton pulls the camera back and lets the fight sequences play out. The audience is allowed to see a sequence of moves play out with longer shots and takes, so you can see the actors and stunt team pull off impressive moves, along with the remarkable choreography. No move is wasted here, and the movie displays a nice variety of different fighting styles. There are touches familiar to fans of fight scenes from Jackie Chan movies, as well as scenes with a heavier wuxia influence. All the action scenes are nicely edited and beautifully shot, which makes the film a lot more entertaining to watch than an action film that’s constantly cutting for every move and shaking the camera in a constantly disorienting and nauseating manner.

Simu Liu and Meng’er Zhang assert themselves well as the brother and sister duo of Shang-Chi and Xialing with great presence and physical charisma. Liu’s outwardly mild-mannered appearance and blue-collar demeanor are juxtaposed with his ability when his body turns into a living weapon. Tony Leung delivers the best performance as Wenwu, who offers up an antagonist who is both a villainous tyrant and possesses some empathetic qualities.

The way the writers build Wenwu as a villain who has been part of the MCU and acting in the shadows for a while was a wise move. The AIM terrorists in Iron man 3 modeled their Ten Rings and Trevor Slattery’s decoy version of The Mandarin after the “real” villain Wenwu and his organization. Finally, after 13 years, the Ten Rings set up from Iron Man finally has a payoff. Sadly, it occurs after Tony Stark has been retired as Iron Man.

In some respects, this is the MCU’s updated version of The Mandarin. However, Cretton and his co-writers did a good job of tweaking the character to make him both a threat to the heroes, yet layered and dimensional. The Ten Rings have also been adapted, now resembling Kung Fu iron rings. Thankfully, the rings are still weapons of supreme power, and the film does give a slight nod to their likely origin.

The rest of the supporting cast is a bit lacking. Awkwafina’s comedy is likely an acquired taste to some already. As Katy Chen, she brings little to the table for this narrative. She serves no other purpose other than a comedic foil for Shang-Chi to play off of and to lighten the mood with some jokes. Most of Katy’s jokes are painfully not funny. To Awkwafina’s credit, when her character calls for a more solemn tone, she’s infinitely more tolerable, similar to her role in Raya the Last Dragon. In Shang-Chi, the character is more watchable when she has to be dramatic. In addition, Katy is a character created for the film’s story and is not an existing character from the supporting cast of the Marvel Comics mythos.

Secondly, Shang-Chi focuses on the wrong baddie, Razor Fist, for the Ten Rings’ second in command. The film sets up a nice subplot and rivalry with the Death Dealer (Le) as the man who oversaw Shang-Chi’s brutal training as a youth. Midway through the movie, there is a cool setpiece with Death Dealer that should have a better payoff. Instead, the film chooses to focus on Razor Fist, who is a rather bland and cheesy villain, aside from his arm sword prosthetic. Shang-Chi really could have used some more of Death Dealer.

Another main drawback of Shang-Chi is that the film makes some significant missteps in the second act. A one-note character of the MCU makes a rather pointless return. Some fans might find this amusing, but this character overall adds little to the grand scheme of the film. His need for the main characters is silly and perfunctory.

The other issue is the crux of the final act just gets a bit too overwrought. Shang-Chi has a strong conflict at its center between the despotic Wenwu and his noble son Shang-Chi. The finale moves away from that a bit too much with a misplaced threat. Considering the villain is Wenwu, the real Mandarin, another big villain in the final act, there was a far more obvious and appropriate choice for another big villain in the final act.

Regardless, Tony Leung’s Wenwu is easily one of the better villains in the MCU in a while. Some of the not so funny bits of comedy and narrative missteps aside, when Simu Liu’s Shang-Chi springs into action and Joel P. West’s exceptional score ramps up, The Legend of the Ten Rings finds its stride.

The final score: review Good
The 411
As a new MCU film, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has great energy, strong direction and a fresh new set of characters. The film makes some missteps in the second half that move it a bit too far away from the strong central conflict between father and son. Some of the supporting cast are either bland or painfully unamusing. The movie contains quite a bit of comedy and jokes that are rather forced and not very good. However, when Shang-Chi starts fighting and takes center stage, along with Wenwu, Shang-Chi finds its stride.