Raphael Georg Klopper’s review published on Letterboxd:
That video of Anthony Mackie talking about how the evolution of the superhero now meant the death of the movie star, and how the industry now only majorly worries about making movies for sixteen year olds and China; still comes around my mind, especially on how truthful it proves to be in what he states, no further evidenced than right here as those effects transpire from all over the place!
As much as the crew and team behind Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings would likely deny that, claiming all so passionately about the social importance and relevance that the movie represents, so filled with praise about how revolutionary it is by bringing Asian representation to mainstream Hollywood, but it rather shows something much more eager to represent China than Asian Americans.
With the sort of preaching mentality of how Asian-people should value and worry more about their heritages as Chinese, or Japanese, or Korean, or wherever they came from first, than true Americans, kind of the very thematic journey that the main hero takes here! But I guess the entire point is to find a balance between both heritages, costumes and culture that director and co-writer Destin Daniel Cretton is trying to pull off, although the result feels often redundant and lacking any final point in a supposed reflection that it tries to convey.
While as a film, and much like Eternals did later, Shang-Chi is a solid pretense of hiding yet another generic forgettable MCU flick with some tangible flavor and differential flair to keep the interest and even at times emotional response in check to what is being delivered, and disguise it with enough entertainment its own flaws and real intentions of a big product placement movie being sold to Chinese audiences (don’t even try to deny it).
The entire 10 minutes of the film is all Chinese-dialogue with subtitles – as if it’s saying: “see how differentiated and cult that is folks?!”; the pacing is more sluggish and center-focused; the more…”subdued” intrusive quips and one-liners (although still invading in out of place instances). And the first half of the film actually feels pretty classical comic-book origin story, well made and with some interesting nods to both Raimi’s Spiderman films, as it sheds light on a humble everyday guy protagonist facing his own personal underdog struggles (though barely touched upon again after the first minutes).
While the dramatic attempts are solid for the most part, revolved around a turbulent family drama about individual tensions, with each of their said role in that family realm and the path we choose based or intervened by creation we received and the expectations placed on us in building our future; is all interesting stuff, but ultimately just feels merely touched upon rather than explored. And completely sabotages itself in the latter half with loads of expositive monologues – completely wasting Michelle Yeoh by putting her to play that sort of role; exploring the lore and the dramatic innuendos that the characters are going through instead of really showing them feeling it, undermining the weight they could actually carry.
Meng'er Zhang as Xialing has potential, but falls underused, while Awkwafina is a little too overused as the sidekick comic relief character role that Ben Kingsley in his return as Trevor Slattery does averagely better (it is sad seeing this big of an actor being only reduced to such a role, but I digress). While Simu Liu as Shaun / Shang is yet another very decent protagonist in the Marvel canon, with potentials to brighter heights and his clear excitement and joy in the role is very palpable.
But the star it really is the villain from Tony Leung as Xu Wenwu – the remade and renamed Mandarin (with a whole explanation involving his indirect involvement with the Iron Man films that feels a bit too shoehorned) – is pretty damm good, and a complete anomaly in MCU cannon. He’s cruel and ruthless sure, but also able of love and fondness. While is yet another supper evil daddy with morally ambiguous actions but good intentions underneath, as a lot from the heart in the movie revolves around the villain itself. A widower in grief and that legitimately loves his kids, and his own motivation are solely and literally trying to reunite his family again, by any means necessary...
It has some usual daddy issues hovering around his kids, but that is actually well convinced in a genuine ground by Leung’s formidable acting that’s a joy to behold on screen. Hell, most of the best scenes of the film star him and that’s saying enough! I only wished he could’ve been save for more in the future, but Leung is too much of a big of star and a deserving Hong-Kong martial arts master to stick around a Marvel flick that tries so hard to appeal to eastern audiences.
It goes from a mostly grounded martial arts flick with - Jackie Chan taste, to them perceiving to reach that Chinese blockbuster taste by aspiring to be an full blown Wuxia fantasy martial arts, visual operas of poetic storytelling even capturing action in the middle of it. And the intro too did get a lot of a Wuxia fantasy taste, with a beautiful fight sequence that homages the likes of Zhang Yimou's Hero and House of Flying Daggers, though far from having the same poetic finesse texture, but is a decent try out.
Is kind of ironic though that two of the big diverse sold films from Marvel, this one and previously Black Panther, trying to hit a target representative demographic, though mostly solid, both fail in comparison to something like Blade 1 and 2, not only black empowering comic-book flicks far ahead of their times, but also very much inspired and pretty kick ass martial arts flicks in their own right!
The stunts here are pretty alright and formidable in some extents, a lot of great nods to Jackie Chan classics and even having his own stunt team working here, from Rumble in the Bronx to even Rush Hour 2. But the fight scenes are constantly intercut with the usual Marvel jokes and one-liners, and all feature pretty heavy overly saturated CGI imagery that takes away the weight of the impressive stunts and turns them at times a bit rubbery, and the camera moving in impossible ways and making its “impressive” one-shots that are clearly digitally stitched.
Joel P West's music has some bright spots in building excitement in the action, though falls forgettable over quickly, and Bill Pope's cinematography in the action scene is wonderful, till is ruined by the already said bunch of overlapping chaotic CGI fest or the usual grainy look of a MCU flick that takes over in the climax, exactly where things get a bit generic second act moving forward, but still pretty enjoyable on its clichéd basis in superhero adventure.
But leading up to yet another big third act generic battle between group A vs B and a huge CGI fest when dragons and Lovecraft looking monsters take on the screen that could’ve definitely benefited with some inspirations from bad-shit crazy Wuxia fantasy flicks such as Soi-Cheang’s The Monkey King that earn their corny tone in operatic blast, but here is all but too serious for its own taste!
The idea of having a central final grounded fight with personal stakes between a father and his son, that feels already powerful just by saying, but the result is your usual big CGI fake screen third act, but serviceable in that central conflict, but going to waste when big generic soul sucking demon monster erupt from the ground and becomes the main threat to fight against, and all just sinks into generic plate.
I won't even go into the merits of not even appealing or reaching the masterful levels of King Hu's Dragon Inn or A Touch of Zen. At best it settles for some low tier, though still far pleasant Wong Kar-wai’s Ashes of Time or The Grandmaster - both starring Leung himself, or stick to the homage level of Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but not even remotely in the same purist nostalgic and fantastical level. Although in texture it looks way more with something like Kung Fu Panda 3 (yet another film that legitimately feels much more a martial arts film than this one).
But then again, that’s all unfair to ask for a Marvel movie, but with if they were willing to go for it, they should’ve gone full wild! It was a chance of kick starting the Phase Four with some new flair, which it definitely has in it while introducing the first new major protagonist in the MCU post-Endgame it could’ve done in some interesting fresh ways, but still covering pretty standard recognizable ground and feeling all yet too filed with familiar elements stucked in the past.
At least it does with a bit of heart and some great imaginative fantasy to it that makes the movie reach, among all its blockbuster lackluster shenanigans, a taste of real purity so rare in modern MCU film, and even superhero films in general. The simplicity in the adventure, the corny mythology that reaches some wonderment here and there, but unfortunately never in a everlasting effect, just sufficient enough to launch yet another new diverse face and franchise to the MCU cannon, that’s definitely above average, though not much memorable as it deserved to be as it is a well patched refined product to be sold to China…and it didn’t even launched there.