Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings ★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Before the review:

Roughly 3 years before it comes out, the movie caused a bit of an uproar in China for two reasons: the lead selections and Shang-Chi's past connection with Fu Manchu. Firstly, the Chinese-speaking audience found the lead Simu Liu (who was born and raised in the Northern Chinese city of Harbin before he immigrated and settled in Canada when he was 5 years old) as too "plain-looking" and "unappealing" and labelled Awkwafina as “ugly” compare to other Marvel castings, and they see these castings as something that upholds certain negative stereotypes on Asian facial appearances.

Secondly, Shang-Chi's connection with Fu Manchu in earlier Marvel comics angered Chinese-speaking audience due to Fu Manchu’s cultural significance. Fu Manchu was Shang-Chi's father for a brief period in the 1970s Marvel comics but due to copyright and licensing issues Fu was abandoned and different characters took place on Shang-Chi's family lore. Fu Manchu, as a character, is a mad-scientist supervillain based on racist stereotypes against the Chinese first introduced in the early 20th Century. The character was appropriated to rile up the anti-Chinese/anti-Japanese "yellow peril" sentiment, particularly in countries like the US and the UK that views people coming from said places as "existential dangers". Given Fu's history and his connection with Shang-Chi, it's understandable that the Chinese-speaking audience were either irked or skeptical on how the movie would turn out.

Now, the review:

The movie, up until the third act, was actually very good. First of all, hats off to Veteran Hong Kong actor Tony Leung. Gone with the Fu Manchu character and come with the Warlord/Conqueror The Mandarin, Leung takes the cake by utilizing his multi-decade-long acting chops to craft an emotional and relatable villain. Through his lines and demeanors I can feel his expectation and tenderness for his family (particularly the scenes between Leung and Shang-Chi's mother), but also his manipulation of Shang-Chi to achieve his purposes, which is something I can certainly relate to. Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin cosplayer injects some form of hilarity into this film. The film itself is certainly a love-letter to Martial Art/Wuxia films, as the action sequences were well crafted and choreographed since it enlisted the help of the late Brad Allen from the Jackie Chan stunt team, and the cinematography is very fluid and kinetic for the most part due to stellar work from William Pope (the Matrix, Spider-Man 2). As for the lead, Simu Liu's stunt performances as Shang-Chi were mostly competent and even stellar due to his early career beginning as a stuntman (and before that he worked at Deloitte but was laid off), and his on-screen chemistry with Awkwafina are genuine and charming (after all he was notable for his comedic role in Kim's Convenience), but it is quite apparent that Liu needs further improvement with his dramatic range. I personally very much liked the score because the mixture of East and West musical styles blend very well with the movie, which makes it a pleasing experience.

While the first two acts flow fairly well with character-focused moments and practical fight scenes, the third act became a muddled CGI fuck-fest that makes people growl rather than excites. The moment when Shang-Chi rides the mythical dragon I chuckled out loud because it was very reminiscent of the way Aquaman rides the sea-monster after he got his trident. While the initial fight scenes between Leung and Liu have real punch as it was a well-executed, emotional battle between father and son, the rest of the battle sequence felt underwhelming and in some cases juvenile. the CGI sequence between the mythical dragon and the mythical monster was just there, and when the battle is over everything just kinda go back to normal without enough room to process all these emotions. Awkwafina's acting and line delivery in this movie are a mixture of hit and miss, but I do love her Karaoke sessions (A whole new world, Old Town Road, I Don't wanna miss a thing, and Hotel California in the end). Michelle Yeoh was not given a lot to do apart from being the kind sage aunt exposition machine and she had little kickass moment, which is a bit of a shame considering the fact that she got her start also in the Hong Kong action films. The newcomer, Meng'er Zhang, who plays Shang-Chi's sister, was also not given too much to do narratively, yet she can certainly holds her own from the action sequences to character interactions. Lastly, although the movie deserves credit for faithfully incorporating various Chinese cultural styles (from the architecture and the food to philosophical concepts such as honoring your ancestors) and emblems (dragon and traditionalist houses) into the movie, there are several errors in subtitle translation during the scenes involving characters speaking Mandarin.

Overall, Shang-Chi, compare to the tonally inconsistent Black Widow, is a much more enjoyable experience and certainly one of Marvel's stronger movies. And personally, the more I read about Simu Liu's experiences (we both are first generation immigrants to Canada, and we both came from Northern China, to name a few similarities), the more I relate to him and am happy for his success, especially since Liu personally lobbied for the role on twitter in 2018. I sincerely wish him the best of luck in his future adventures.

Edit: regarding the recently winded controversy surrounding Simu Liu’s past internet presence (predominantly Reddit), here’s a good twitter thread explaining what happened:

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