By Deep Guha
Although the MCU movies receive their fair share of criticism for not being able to produce “cinema”, there have been instances where Kevin Feige and Co. have proved their doubters wrong by giving us films such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, etc. And now, with Shang-Chi And The Legend of The Ten Ring, they have added another gem to that crown.
Shang-Chi And The Legend of The Ten Rings at the core is a dysfunctional family drama disguised as a superhero wuxia film. It tells the story of how Wenwu(Tony Leung), the leader of the Ten Rings organisation has ravaged and plundered throughout history, falls in love with Ying Li(Fala Chen) and decides to settle down with his wife and two children, leaving the life of conquest behind. But things take a turn for the worse when Wenwu’s past catches up with his family. The tragedy pushes him to return to his old ways and trains his son to become a weapon.
While the movie’s plot might sound recycled, it hammers its points with excellence. Simu Liu portrays Shang-Chi with good command. He is innocent, joyous, a good and loyal friend to Katy(Awkwafina), and a lethal martial artist. But at times, his character development seems uneven and not well fleshed out, but Liu does his best with what his given. Leung perfectly portrays the thousand-year-old warrior and the leader of the Ten Rings, who lets his emotions and ambitions get his best. He is conflicted, silent, and vicious. I’m sorry to say this, but even though the poster has Shang-Chi’s name on it, the main emotional driving force behind the movie is Wenwu. But the breakout star of this film has to be Awkwafina’s Katy. She is a bundle of joy pushed into the unknown world of superpowered martial artists and is struggling to keep up with it. But doesn’t waver when her friends need her. Katy’s character along with Shang-Chi’s is a positive portrayal of Asian-American’s who don’t fall into any stereotypical blackholes, rather hold up the conflicting lives and identities of said community. Michelle Yeoh also delivers a captivating and serene performance as Ying Nan, Shang-Chi and Xu Xialing’s aunt who helps them embrace and transcend their parentage and inner conflicts. This is Yeogh’s second MCU appearance after she portrayed a different character in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Ben Kingsley’s Trevor Slattery also makes an appearance which is a very fun addition and adds to his story.
That being said, at times the movie doesn’t do justice with the characters arcs which aren’t as complete as you would want them to be. Particularly Shang-Chi's. Also, the pacing becomes uneven mid-way into the film, which doesn’t hamper the movie, yet will pinch you if you have an eye for it. Also, the music for the movie feels a little underwhelming which fails to deliver at the most epic moments.
The film is clearly influenced by wuxia films. Its action choreography and set pieces reminded me of films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Forbidden Kingdom, and many others. They are well choreographed, beautifully shot, and don’t seem out of place. The final battle features a plethora of weapons and creatures such as guns, arrows and armour made of dragon-scale, chi-induced martial arts, soul-sucking hellions, dragons will put live-action anime adaptions to shame. Now throw all of this together with a good story, credible acting, and MCU-level VFX, and we get a ‘modern-day superhero wuxia hybrid’ that should be noted by aspiring filmmakers who want to step into these genres.
Director Destin Daniel Cretton and Marvel Studios took the perfect decision not to include the problematic Fu Manchu character and instead developed a great character like Wenwu. The positive portrayal of Chinese culture is also a welcome addition, at a time when Asian’s living in Western countries are facing hate crimes. Numerous creatures of Chinese mythology pop up when the characters visit Ta Lo and their designs are breathtaking. The visuals elevate the story to such an extent where the film transcends any and every genre.
In the end, one can say that the introduction of Shang-Chi into the MCU has opened up numerous possibilities and directions to explore.