Review of "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings": House of the Hidden Dragons

Home is where the heart is. Unless you’re Shang-Chi. Then home is where your mother’s mystical secret village is located – and her dra...


Home is where the heart is. Unless you’re Shang-Chi. Then home is where your mother’s mystical secret village is located – and her dragon keeper. That’s the case in Marvel’s unstable “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton with a kind eye for kung fu cinema, but not much else.

Meet Shaun (Simu Liu). This is your typical millennial slacker, content with his valet job, where he works with his equally apathetic best friend, Katy (Awkwafina). But Shaun has a secret: his mother (Fala Chen), who died as a child, was a martial arts master from another dimension. Oh, and daddy (Tony Leung) is a conqueror with a secret ninja army and 10 magical arm rings. And sister, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), has not been in touch for a while; she has a metro “Fight club”-Style empire to rule. When Shaun, aka Shang-Chi, receives a cryptic message, he is dragged into a family reunion and must consider his past.

“Shang-Chi” punctuates his hero’s tragic story throughout but doesn’t fully familiarize us with him in the present until he jumps into his past. A sin “Black Widow”, Here is the case of a protagonist who cannot compete with the most fascinating characters around him. Take the character of Leung, a toxic but charismatic father, constantly oscillating between a tender vulnerability and the destructive temper that obscures him. Xialing, too, is wonderfully fierce as a kingpin. Too bad she falls into one of Marvel’s trusted tropes: the cool sister who waits on the fringes of the story. (Other examples include Elena Belova, Shuri and even the alluring villain Ala.)

Then there is the beloved sidekick, a role Awkwafina satisfied in much the same way that she did in several other films, such as in the Constance street scammer and the new-rich bestie peik lin pantyhose – that is to say clumsily and obnoxiously. She doubles as the hero’s potential love interest, an equally inappropriate role given the lack of chemistry between her and Liu. (Benedict Wong, appearing as the connection to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, is however delightful, as always, even in his brief and transparent function in the film.)

At least there’s the fights, right? Nope. Besides a sensational fight streak on a bus, the fights are dimly lit and filmed with such an excited eye that the intricacies of the choreography are lost. This is a travesty, as seasoned stuntman Liu has the effortless acrobatics and tedious martial arts technique of a leading action hero. Liu also has a lovable sense of humor, although “Shang-Chi” doesn’t know how to use it.

The final act of the movie, which turns into a fight with shiny magic bracelets, demonic monsters, and tons of CGI, is the most tedious, and this first Asian MCU movie left me with a bewildering thought: was it supposed to be next “Black Panther”? The dragon, the ninja army, the “crouching tiger“Style Magic Kung Fu” (with Michelle Yeoh, in a small role): The film uses the superficial markers of Asian culture and cinema without presenting anything unique in its Marvel version of that lore. More and more, as the MCU finally tries to diversify its roster, it risks producing more mediocre and overly heavy token hero movies. I hope I’m wrong, because Shang-Chi – and the female heroes, queer heroes, and heroes of color who will hopefully follow – deserve a lot more.

Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings
Rated PG-13 for kung fu fighting. Duration: 2 hours 12 minutes. In theaters.

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