I know I’m late to the party, with Marvel’s Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings having had its theatrical debut earlier this fall. With the pandemic and COVID numbers surging again, I’ve not been in a movie theatre in almost two years, so I missed the film during its $363.4 million box office run, which has it sitting pretty at the fourth biggest box office success of the year.
But Shang-Chi just made it home via streaming and digital outlets, and I had to tell you that with the new film, the world may have been introduced to a new Black Panther.
Now, calm your thumbs down. Don’t start tweeting me with a bunch of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner nonsense. I don’t think that the late Chadwick Boseman can be replaced, either. But Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings is one of the best superhero movies that I’ve ever seen.
For a couple of reasons, I didn’t rush out to see the movie back in September after it debuted. First, not being a huge Marvel fan, I don’t have to be first in line to see one of their movies. The whole gauntlet snap thing was more confusing than thrilling to me. I barely read Marvel comic books as a kid, as I spent too many of my quarters (that’s how long it’s been since I read comics) reading DC and the exploits of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman et al.
Second, as excited as I was about the long-overdue arrival of an Asian superhero on the silver screen, I wasn’t all that amped about the guy being a martial artist, in part because I’ve also never been a huge fan of martial arts movies.
And indulge me as I address the Asiatic elephant in the room: can you get any more stereotypical than having the first Asian hero be a martial arts master? It would have been like having Boseman play the owner of a soul food restaurant in Atlanta instead of the King of Wakanda.
So, I took my time seeing Shang-Chi, catching it last weekend in my home theatre. And I’m very, very glad that I did, as Marvel and Shang-Chi star Simu Liu have infused what could have been a run-of-the-mill action flick with healthy doses of heart and humor.
Like Black Panther, Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings is more about family, and specifically the dynamic between father and son, than superpowers or saving the world (although it includes more than a bit of both). Also like the former film, female empowerment is one of the orders of the day, the action scenes are incredible, and the movie’s obligatory CGI-dominated third act is very well done. Also, character development is very well handled by Shang-Chi’s crisp script, so by the time you get to our hero’s big stand-off, you’ll actually care about him and his supporting crew.
In Shang-Chi, we have not just a handsome, heroic lead in Liu, but a sympathetic villain which, to my mind, is essential for any A-list action movie. T-Challa needs Killmonger. Wonder Woman needs Cheetah. Simba needs Scar. There’s no Superman without Lex Luthor.
SPOILER ALERT! Skip the next paragraph if you don’t want to know about a mind-blowing Shang-Chi plot twist, and pick us back up with “But as good as the movie’s supporting cast are…”.
And Shang-Chi has his dad, Wenwu, played to perfection by Asian cinema’s legendary Tony Leung. Brace yourself: this fractured family tale delivers a Rocky-esque gut punch or two, especially if you — like this writer — have a complicated relationship with your father and siblings. The movie also has some great comic relief, largely due to comedian Aquafina’s star turn as Shang-Chi’s best buddy and possible romantic interest.
But as good as the movie’s supporting cast are, let’s not gloss over Liu. He’s a great actor, and gives a powerful, nuanced performance in Shang-Chi. But frankly, I wouldn’t care if Liu couldn’t act his way out of a rice paper bag as long as he shows up on film looking like this:
I’m not one to objectify hard-working, dedicated thespians, but I often objectify hard-working, dedicated thespians. As we used to say back in the day, Liu could get this.
If you’re an action film fan, let alone a lover of the superhero genre, you can’t miss the bus sequence in Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings. It’s one on the best since Tobey McGuire’s Spider-Man had to stop a runaway train, and that was almost twenty years ago.
I’m already waiting for the Shang-Chi sequel. The movie’s title, with it’s “…and the…” lends itself to an Indiana Jones-style franchise.
And if Liu’s Shang-Chi is a future Avenger, as this movie’s mid-credit scene suggests, maybe I’m a Marvel fan after all. Wakanda may well live forever with me, but there’s room on my digital movie shelf for more than a little bit of Shang-Chi!
Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings is available for streaming on Disney+ and to rent or purchase at iTunes and all digital platforms.
This review as first published with the Sac Cultural Hub.