Film Review: Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings

Film Review of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings starring Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng'er Zhang, Florian Munteanu, Michelle Yeoh and Tony Leung

DIRECTED BY

Destin Daniel Cretton

STARRING

Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Michelle Yeoh, Ronny Chieng, Yeun Wah and Tony Leung

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SYNOPSIS

Shang-Chi, the master of unarmed weaponry-based Kung Fu, is forced to confront his past after being drawn into the Ten Rings organisation.

Film Review - Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ren Rings - TOny Leung as Xu Wenwu

Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings focuses on Shang-Chi, who must confront the past he thought he left behind when he is drawn into the web of the mysterious Ten Rings organisation.

Marvel Studios sees the release of their twenty-fifth film within the Marvel Cinematic Universe this weekend with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. We follow Shang-Chi, who is working as a valet alongside his best friend Katy in San Francisco. While he’s maintaining living a normal life, one day he’s confronted by men from the Ten Rings that focuses Shang-Chi to confront the past that he thought he had left behind, including that of his father Xu Wenwu, the leader of the Ten Rings.

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While some come into these films for the spectacle, the ones that work really well are those that focus more on the characters and friendships first, the rest are just an added bonus. Thankfully with the screenplay written by Cretton, Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham, that primarily focus on creating layered characters for the audience to follow and with that they’ve made one of the most solid films to come from the Marvel Studios banner in quite a while. While it still fits into the ‘MCU formula’ mould, it still feels fresh and different for the audience with it’s wuxia fantastical-elements, the lore behind the Ten Rings as well as that of Ta Lo, and of course the characters. The film does a lot of juggling between present day and flashbacks in order to provide moments which shape the characters to be what they are and usually this technique usually hinders the film but I was honestly riveted by the story it was telling, particularly with questions like what set Wenwu back on his dark path of murder? Why did Shang-Chi run away from his father? Why did Shang-Chi not take his sister Xu Xialing with him?

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Simu Liu (of Kim’s Convenience fame) has his biggest film role to date and I thought he was absolutely terrific in the role of Shang-Chi and he makes his performance as the lead in a comic-book tentpole film feel effortless. There’s an affability to his character, with an interesting backstory that gets fleshed out over the course of the film and I felt between the moments of humanity Liu one these well, and lest we forget what he put into the fighting sequences. Awkwafina also gives a good performance as Shang-Chi’s friend and it’s clear that there’s a really good chemistry between the pair and they are practically inseparable (for the most part) and I really hope that in future sequels their friendship is maintained as it is. Someone who will definitely be one to keep an eye on is Meng’er Zhang as Shang-Chi’s sister Xu Xialing. Considering that this is her acting debut, she makes a memorable impression and, besides Tony Leung as Wenwu, arguably has just as tragic a backstory and she gives a good performance as Xialing, though unfortunately it felt like she got lost in the shuffle in moments of the final act, but there’s potential to do so much more with her character in the future.

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Tony Leung Chiu-wai is an acting veteran whose filmography spans across four decades and this role marks his first role in an American film, and I’m very much looking forward to people being impressed by his performance enough to seek out his other work because Leung’s performance as the antagonist of Shang-Chi here is one of the most compelling aspects of the film for me. Leung radiates an aurora in portraying a man who has taken on ‘many names’ over his long lifespan, and can be a menacing figure without even having to shout at those that oppose him and the reasoning for his actions in the film make him one of the most compelling and coolest villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. One of my favourite scenes with Wenwu is when he takes a young Shang-Chi on a taking your son out in the field to show him your true-self day. What makes this scene and a lot of particular scenes work is how Cretton directs them and how cinematographer Bill Pope captures them. You can see how Cretton and Pope were clearly influenced by Jackie Chan films and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with how they execute the bus ride action scene as well as the fight between Wenwu and Ying Li in a magical forest near the village of Ta Lo.

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Joel P. West has collaborated with Cretton by composing his previous films (Short Term 12, The Glass Castle and Just Mercy) and here I thought his score was really good, as were the costume designs created by Kym Barrett. While I liked a lot of what Shang-Chi was doing, it did lose me though with the finale. That’s primarily as the first two-thirds of the film are somewhat character-focused with fantastical elements but the final act goes for a full-blown CGI/green screen Marvel Studios extravaganza that kind of make the film lose its charm. There’s also a cameo here that while I did initially enjoy, it certainly felt like they overstayed their welcome and existed just to add that Marvel Studios humour flare here and there during proceedings. As nice as it always is to see Michelle Yeoh on the screen, is it too much to as for more?

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VERDICT

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is certainly my favourite MCU film since Avengers: Infinity War with a star turn from Simu Liu as the main hero and a compelling performance from Tony Leung as the villain. Even though the final act is over-reliant on CGI, there is some lovely action/fight set pieces and character building that makes the film a worthwhile watch.

★★★½