Movie Review: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
For the first time since the start of the pandemic, Disney released a Marvel movie exclusively in theaters.
So, for the first time in more than a decade, my wife and I set out for a drive-in that’s vaguely in our area.
We wound up watching the film in suboptimal conditions, but nothing was going to keep us from watching Tony Leung in a Marvel movie!
Here’s my review of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, a film I did a disservice by watching at a drive-in.
The Story of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
In 2008, Paramount Pictures took a chance on a comic book movie from the other comic book company at the time, Marvel.
While DC Comics characters, most notably Batman, had performed extremely well at the box office, Marvel’s movies had been more of a mixed bag.
We had too many The Punisher and The Hulk duds to say that Marvel movies were here to stay. Then, Robert Downey Jr.’s turn as Iron Man changed everything.
Ever since that film, new Marvel Cinematic Universe releases have turned into event movies.
Still, the seeds of Shang-Chi took root in Iron Man and Iron Man 2. The members of the Ten Rings kidnapped Tony Stark, holding him hostage in a cave.
Later, Stark learned of The Mandarin, the leader of the Ten Rings. He thought he was meeting the terrorist, only to discover it was an actor portraying the character.
Both of those story arcs play a factor in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which comes out more than a decade after those Iron Man stories.
This plot at least theoretically works as an origin story for the character of the Mandarin, although his name is actually Xu Wenwu.
This man discovers the mystical Ten Rings and uses them to form an army and then an empire.
Bored with the natural order after thousands of years of life, Wenwu goes in search of a mystical place known as Ta Lo.
While trying to enter this hidden land, he meets his match, and then something unlikely occurs.
A new family develops, including a son named Shang-Chi and a daughter named Xialing.
The film follows their Shakespearean tragedy of a story, as brother and sister grow separated.
Meanwhile, their absentee father is never quite absent enough.
The Characters of Shang-Chi
Discussing some of the cast would involve spoilers and surprises. So, let’s focus on the core of Shang-Chi, Xialing, and Katy.
When we meet Shang-Chi, he goes by a different name and parks cars for a living. A friend insists that he’s capable of much more.
However, the slacker seems quite happy with his life, especially his relationship with his best friend and fellow valet, Katy.
Actors Simu Liu and Awkwafina play these underachievers earnestly, and they share tremendous onscreen chemistry.
I actually believe that’s true of Awkafina and literally anybody. Also, please watch The Farewell.
Anyway, Xialing doesn’t appear for a significant portion of the film. Once the adult version played by Meng’er Zhang arrives, she’s formidable.
In fact, between the two siblings, Zhang is more mature and harder. She’s had a brutal upbringing that has forged her in steel. This woman’s a fighter.
As for Shang-Chi, he doesn’t seem like he’s good at anything, even parking cars. Katy’s better at that.
Then, an unexpected encounter on public transportation triggers Shang-Chi’s childhood training. He’s a warrior at heart. It’s just not something he likes about himself.
The triad of characters is refreshing, even by MCU standards, as the two women show more wisdom than their male counterpart.
His relationship with his father has stunted his emotional growth, which leads to rich storytelling opportunities.
I quite like the trio, but the secret sauce in this film is screen icons Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh.
We’re talking about two of the most revered Chinese celebrities ever, although Yeoh’s actually Malaysian.
She has had crossover American success in films like Tomorrow Never Dies and has been a Star Trek captain.
For Leung, this is his first American blockbuster. Also, please watch Infernal Affairs, which was the basis for The Departed.
My Review of Shang-Chi
Any comment I make about Shang-Chi feels a bit deceitful in that I didn’t watch this film the way that I normally would.
Disney+ didn’t make it available on Premier Access, and I couldn’t go watch it in a theater. My county has the highest COVID rate in the country at the moment.
So, we went to a drive-in with a projection screen from about 1972. Also, a car parked in front of us right as the film was starting.
The woman in the passenger seat didn’t want to be there and turned on the headlights several times, temporarily blinding us.
As such, I missed some dialogue and didn’t have the best visual perspective of the project.
Acknowledging those flaws, I still felt mesmerized by a lot of what happened.
This story is undeniably the MCU’s answer to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It’s visually resplendent, and the action sequences are hypnotic.
One three-level cage fight is particularly innovative and fun to watch. Other battles do an admirable job of leaving some aspects to the imagination.
Not enough directors act confidently like that, which is to Destin Daniel Cretton’s credit. He trusted the audience, and it worked!
At various points in the film, several other movies sprang to mind. I counted homages to How to Train Your Dragon, Spirited Away, and even Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.
Despite all these bits, Shang-Chi feels unique in the MCU library. It’s the best action movie since Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
More importantly, at least for me, the relationship between the leads feels uncontrived, which is refreshing relative to Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Also, I want to give a shout out to two of the villains, as their physical appearances and fighting styles are terrific.
I had low expectations for Shang-Chi because I honestly hadn’t thought about it that much.
I felt like I spent the body of 18 months talking about Black Widow, always noting that Shang-Chi would arrive soon afterward.
So, the second post-pandemic Marvel movie kind of drafted on its predecessor and four different MCU television series.
That lower profile proved beneficial as I hadn’t overhyped this title. As such, I left the theater feeling pleasantly surprised.
I always expect the best from Marvel, but the timing here worked. I hadn’t enjoyed the most recent episode of What If…?
As such, I wasn’t expecting much from what proved to be a superlative movie.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings qualifies as upper tier Marvel. It’s an opus to the glory of Hong Kong cinema, albeit with a nine-figure budget.
And if more people discover the genius of Tony Leung, it’s so much the better!
This film gets a solid A. On repeat viewing, it might move up to an A+. Not being able to hear or see everything definitely hurt the viewing experience a bit.