It’s pretty incredible to ask your father, who was an avid Marvel reader in its golden days, who Shang-Chi is and him confidently responding with “who?”. I sensed that Marvel would be attempting to pulling off another Guardians of the Galaxy effect. Take heroes (or in this case hero) relatively unknown to readers and bring them into the public spotlight. There was also the matter of representation, in the way Black Panther celebrated Black culture, could Shang-Chi celebrate Asian culture? With Shang-Chi, it feels as though Marvel is not only embracing new cultures, but also new ways of keeping its almost monopolised superhero genre fresh and exciting, to a point.
Personally, MCU films just don’t excite me as much as they used to anymore. In the beginning it was a breath of fresh air to finally crack the superhero genre, but now even being a good superhero film isn’t enough for me. Part of why Marvel films have stagnated with me is because they’re too safe and take little risks in the way of entertainment. Shang-Chi absolutely challenges this with perfectly choreographed fight I haven’t seen the likes of in a Marvel film before. When you’ve watched one MCU fight, generally you’ve watched them all, but Shang-Chi’s combat is quick and snappy, it feels like a dance. The amount of technique in these fights are so refreshing and gripping, especially when you have a fight in a confined space with the framing really tight.
Shang-Chi is an Asian majority cast and I felt that everyone delivered solid performances. Simu Liu who plays Shang-Chi really played the character well considering that this is only his second feature film performance. Awkwafina plays Katy, Shang-Chi’s best friend and she is the performer where the film can funnel all of its comedy in to and she absolutely nails this responsibility.
Marvel are pretty infamous for having many throwaway villains, the only ones we remember are the one that make a giant wave, the likes of Thanos and Loki spring to mind. Now another wave has come crashing down and, on a personal level, I couldn’t be happier with the actor who causes it, Tony Leung. For those who don’t know, Tony Leung is one of the most recognisable actors in Asia, and he stars in one of my favourite films, 1994’s Chungking Express. So, to see him on the big screen again, I could have screamed in the cinema. He plays Shang-Chi’s dad, Xu Wenwu, and the reason he makes such an impact as a villain in this film is because he has a straightforward motivation. He is a man who is struggling with the loss of his wife and Shang-Chi’s mother and much like what makes Thanos a memorable villain, he has conviction, you can feel how personal this is to him.
While Tony Leung’s appearance in Shang-Chi was my biggest surprise, there is an even bigger surprise waiting for the majority of Marvel fans. It’s hard not to give away spoilers when it comes to Marvel films because the passionate fans are like MI5 spies when it comes to vague clues. Nevertheless, the only way I can describe this surprise is to describe its function, to rectify one of the biggest mistakes made in the MCU. There is no narrative reason for this surprise existing, it is purely self-acknowledgement by Marvel and admitting that this thing happened.
Bringing back the point of Shang-Chi feeling like a breath of fresh air for the superhero genre, I undoubtedly stand by this point. That is for the first act. It was a bit of a let down that the film couldn’t maintain this atmosphere for too long because it is in the second and third act that the film retreats back to the comfort zone of a typical MCU film where it follows a typical Marvel narrative beat for beat. It is exceedingly frustrating to watch a film that clearly wants to break new ground retreating back to familiarity. Take a while guess how Shang-Chi ends? That’s correct, a big fight. I know that a big fight at the end is part of the whole make-up of the superhero genre, but surely this repetitive ending to superhero films is starting to tire.
Because Shang-Chi is a relatively unknown Marvel hero outside it’s hardcore fanbase, we are introduced to many new elements in the world of the MCU, which of course means lots of exposition dialogue. Xu Wenwu’s evil plan is definite “tell and show” affair, but with his motivation being so strong and the fact that Leung can get across the characters obvious grief, do we really need a big verbal explanation to this?
Even though the MCU is a catalogue of decent to good films, there are more films that I immediately forget about because of how formulaic they are. Although Shang-Chi follows this unfortunate trend near the end, this is one of those rare Marvel films I’ll oddly remember for a long time. The action is exciting, the display of Asian (mostly Chinese) culture is respectful and as a result of Awkwafina, it is an humorous ride. I just really wish that the film could have followed through with how different it was in its first act because ultimately, If I’m going to be introduced to a new character in a new world with new lore, I’d like to know what sets him apart from the rest. Hopefully with future installments we’ll have more chances of uniqueness, but for now, it is enough to give Shang-Chi his full attention.
Final Result: 8/10 – Very Good
Have you seen Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
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