Shang-Chi Exceeds all Expectations as One of the Greatest Marvel Films to Date
The long awaited Shang – Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has finally arrived! Members of the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community are finally able to take ownership of their very first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)- and it’s definitely one they’ll be proud to call their own. After Disney’s less-than-successful attempt at bringing Mulan to life, considered by many to be offensive to Chinese culture and the AAPI community as a whole, there was understandable concern regarding the first MCU film featuring an AAPI Superhero. Luckily, the Marvel team learned from their parent company’s mistakes, pulling out of a hat a movie that is all at once accurate to and respectful of Chinese culture in every aspect, mixing with Marvel lore to create a true cinematic masterpiece.
Simu Liu stars as Shang-Chi, a man raised his entire life to be an assassin by his centuries-old father, Warlord Wenwu (played by Hong-Kong acting legend Tony Leung). Once grown to a young man, Shang-Chi goes into hiding in San Francisco (less-than cleverly changing his name from “Shang” to “Shawn”) to create a new life for himself and forget his past – including his younger sister left in his father’s dubious care. Eventually, his father finds him, attempting to steal the small green pendant Shang keeps around his neck for reasons revealed as the plot moves along. The film is filled with amazing hand-to-hand combat (as it should – Shang Chi is sometimes considered the best hand-to-hand combatant in the entire Marvel Universe), heart wrenching drama, and the kind of incredible special effects we have come to know and love from Marvel movies, never disappointing the audience with their beauty and splendor, while also always lending themselves to the story.
The weaving of Chinese culture and Marvel storytelling throughout the movie is seamless. The movie bravely broadcasts it’s Chinese roots from the very beginning, using Mandarin narration over Chinese-epic-war-movie style battle scenes to introduce Wenwu’s story, encompassing the first few minutes of the film and going on to make up at least thirty percent of the dialogue. In the final battle, Chinese stone dogs and water dragons (hint: most Chinese dragons are water dragons) fight alongside the good guys to literally battle the devil incarnate. Elder characters speak age-old Chinese phrases (called “chengyu” in Mandarin) throughout the story to pass knowledge from the older generation to the younger, speaking truths such as “He who aims at nothing, hits nothing”. And, of course, the intricacies of the music, the dialogue, individual fighting styles, even each character’s costumes exemplifies the kind of fantastic storytelling we have come to know and love from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Shang-Chi’s Mega A-list cast seems almost born to play each of their roles. Malaysian Michelle Yeoh (One of China’s biggest stars since the 80s) is perfect as Shang-Chi’s aunt, giving the role the balance of dominance and kindness it needs, and Tony-Leung’s performance as Shang-Chi’s father is all at once moving and terrifying. Awkwafina is exceptional as Simu Liu’s best friend Katy, always hitting the mark with both moments of humor and seriousness, and Zhang Meng’er is the unbelievably cool younger sister turned-crimelord we all hope we would be… if we were abandoned by our brother and forced to escape our warlord father in our teens. Rounding out the cast, Ronny Chieng hits all the laughs as Jon Jon, Meng’er’s crimelord assistant, and Ben Kingsley’s performance as the “Actor who played the Mandarin” creates a snapchat of an at-once hilarious and pitiful actor who’s really just trying to do his art and make it through each gig.
There was a lot on the line for this movie, and I am so glad to say that Shang Chi absolutely blew it out of the water. From the intricate details we have come to know and love from MCU films, to the movie as a whole, every aspect of this film is an absolute gem that I look forward to watching again and again. Kevin Feige, Daniel Dustin Creighton, and the rest of the creative team clearly knew the importance of getting the first AAPI Marvel movie100% right, and they did it with flying colors.
Congratulations MCU on another incredible movie. If you are considering boycotting due to fear of a Mulan repeat, rest assured my friend: Grab your popcorn, put on your mask, and enjoy a movie experience that will likely be heralded as the start of a new generation for AAPI films.