Marvel’s latest attempt to take an obscure comic book character and turn it into mainstream success comes in the form of Shang-Chi, and it’s a surprising success. Mixing the supernatural and natural worlds is always tricky when it comes to comic book characters, but Marvel now has a solid track record to make it work and they do it again with Shang-Chi, mixing the character’s mystical world with the reality of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Backed by a great cast and fun action scenes, SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS is a worthy entry into the MCU.
Shang-Chi (Liu) is the son of notorious underworld criminal Xu Wenwu (Leung), living a quiet life as a valet in San Francisco, content to chill out with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). Wenwu managed to keep control of his criminal empire by harnessing the power of the Ten Rings, which granted him superpowers. Wenwu and Shang-Chi are both still reeling from the death of Shang-Chi’s mother, which propelled Wenwu into an obsession with bringing her back to life. Li comes from a magical village, which becomes in danger as Wenwu’s obsession grows and turns violent.
Shang-Chi succeeds on several levels, but the most obvious is the film’s ability to blend multiple genres. Fans of Asian cinema will instantly recognize the inspiration from films like CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON and HERO in the later parts of the film, while fans of more traditional martial arts films will notice similarities in the first half of the film. Both genres are wrapped up in the superhero narrative where the selfless hero must overcome his reluctance and stand up to his evil father. There’s a lot going on, especially for a superhero movie, but director Destin Daniel Cretton does a good job of making sure everything runs smoothly and sticks to a solid point of view.
That said, the movie isn’t perfect, and like many Marvel movies, it succumbs to CGI overuse in the third act. I would have been more than happy to see Simu Liu and Tony Chiu-Wai Leung go head to head a la Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris in RETURN OF THE DRAGON, but instead we get an over the top show with dragons, demons. ruffles and a rubbery Shang. Chi flying in the air. I wouldn’t say it’s boring, but it was pointless for a movie that had done such a good job of humanizing its characters until then.
Simu Liu was fantastic as Shang-Chi and he was surrounded by a very strong supporting cast. Awkwafina has carved out a place for herself in Hollywood, and she essentially comes across as her character CRAZY RICH ASIANS, offering plenty of laughs and giving the film a much needed lightness. Tony Chiu-Wai Leung is excellent at everything and here he does well as a redeemed, yet still tortured villain, who isn’t as one-dimensional as the other villains.
Marvel will of course pack Shang-Chi into the bigger MCU and there’s an end credits scene and a few cameos that set the stage for her bigger role. But for this movie at least, Shang-Chi is off to a great start and should help ease the pain of losing the MCU’s Captain America and Iron Man.
Ultra HD 4K digital exam
Video: I watched this on Vudu and was very happy with both the quality of the stream and the video presentation. SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS is a surprisingly bright and colorful film and it appears in 4K.
audio: The Dolby Atmos track made walls shake during action sequences and was crystal clear during heavy dialogue sequences.