Director; Destin Daniel Cretton. Starring; Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung. Rated PG-13. Color. 132 Minutes.
At last the summer blockbuster that Covid fatigued audiences have been waiting for has arrived. It was a stale 2021 summer at the movies, but coming in at the tail end of the season is this high intensity thrill ride. “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” far exceeds expectations and is one of if not the best installments in the Marvel franchise. The action is fast paced without being too CGI dependent. The origin story is well laid out without being rushed at the beginning. And all of the characters have their place in this mythological world based on Chinese culture.
This fantasy adventure does not begin its story with the main character. Instead we open with the backstory of his father Xu Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung). Xu has been alive for hundreds of years conquering various nations thanks to his discovery of the Ten Rings. Even the narrator admits who cares where the rings came from which I love. It’s a MacGuffin, so let us not bother with it and get started. The Ten Rings make Xu virtually invincible with the power to create shields, shockwaves, and killer punches no man can defend against. In 1996, having conquered the known world, Xu sets his sights on the mystical realm. When he stumbles upon the other world hidden deep in the forrest, Xu finally meets his match in Li (Fala Chen). This beauty standing atop a pond is easily able to handle the power of the rings. Mystified, Xu and Li fall in love and decide to live a normal life by raising two kids. Unfortunately a tragedy happens and…
Cut to modern day. Sean (Simu Liu) is living in San Francisco. He and his best friend Katy (Awkwafina) are inseparable. Katy’s parents want her to do more in life and also marry Sean, but the two are just friends who enjoy being hotel parking valet’s for the rich. It allows them the freedom to goof off. One afternoon on a routine bus ride four goons decide to attack Sean in order to steal an amulet hanging around his neck. Turns out Sean is secretly one badass ninja as he takes out all of the thugs swiftly, one of which has a laser sword for an arm. Needless to say Katy has some serious questions as to who Sean actually is.
The thugs were able to grab the amulet during the skirmish, which means they will be coming after Sean’s sister. Sean has a sister, and who is coming after her? The questions are mounting for Katy as they hop on a flight to Macau in which Sean reveals who he really is. His actual name is Shang-Chi, son of Wenwu aka The Mandarin. He tells Katy about his rigorous training growing up, about how his father tried to make him the next Ten Rings crime syndicate warlord, and how he tried to disappear from this life of crime, leaving his sister behind. Katy has a great reaction by saying very simply “You used the name Sean instead of Shang and you thought he wouldn’t find you? Are you kidding me!?”.
Once they arrive in Macau, Shang finds that his sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) is running an underground cage fighting organization, complete with other Marvel side characters throwing down. Xialing is pissed at the fact that her brother left her alone in the hands of her maniac father years ago. She is also a badass ninja herself. In the middle of the sibling squabble the Ten Rings syndicate show up and things turn into a crazy battle on the side of a high rise building. Just when the possibility of escape shows itself The Mandarin shows up for a nice family reunion. He kidnaps his kids and brings them to his base of operations. The reason why he wants the pair of amulets is he believes they hold the key to bringing his beloved wife back from the dead. Xu’s delusional beliefs could destroy the world, and it is up to Shang-Chi to find the strength needed in order to stop his father.
There are so many elements of excellence in “Shang-Chi” that are not often found in a comic book movie. The most obvious aspect is the unbelievable action sequences. Unlike most of the Marvel movies, “Shang” relies heavily on real time hand-to-hand combat with in your face choreography. Yes there is some CGI, but these warriors are fighting in real time. Simu Liu is literally a real world ninja complete with in air split kicks and flips that look effortless. The fight on the bus and the fight on the side of the building are extremely well put together. The viewer never loses spacial awareness unlike most summer action movies. No doubt a credit to editor Elisabet Ronaldsdottir and her crew.
Speaking of the technical side of things, “Shang-Chi” has all departments on the top of their games. Legendary Cinematographer Bill Pope (the guy who did “The Matrix”) seems to be preforming an orchestra when it comes to this sort of film. Impossible angles are achieved and the lighting design between the various worlds is distinct without being ridiculous. Production designer Su Chen, known more for experimental films such as “Colossal”, has a great sense of how the ancient and modern styles from both the Chinese and American cultures can fit together. And finally, the soundtrack by Composer Joel P West is great. It combines elegant music from Chinese history with modern day jams that will have you tapping your feet. The song “Diamonds + And Pearls” by DPR LIVE & DPR IAN is my new jam.
The only parts keeping this movie from getting a perfect score are minimal. Awkwafina is hilarious, but when she takes up arms in the end it is a bit of a stretch. Also the part with Ben Kingsley coming back is hilarious, but if you had not previously seen the awful “Iron Man 3” then you will not get the joke, making it strange for those not in the know. Other than the minor flaws, for what it is, there’s not much more you could ask for out of a film like “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”. The first major superhero movie starring an Asian hero is finally here, and it is easily better than 90% plus of the white dominated adventures.
Suck Factor: 1 out of 7 (7 Means Your Movie Really SUCKS!)
The SUCK FACTOR! How it works. We have flipped the script on the standard rating system. If you make a masterpiece like “The Godfather” for example your film receives 0 SUCKS! If you make absolute garbage like any Michael Bay, you receive a perfect 7 because your movie truly SUCKS!