Movie Review: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

TL;DR – origin film of the first Asian superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Arguably the first Asian superhero is Wong (Benedict Wong), a powerful sorcerer of the mystic arts who we first see in Doctor Strange. But Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is the first Asian superhero that is the main character of the film.

The film opens introducing Xu Wenwu (the excellent Tony Leung) who discovered the mystical ten rings thousands of years ago, granting him immortal life and tremendous powers. The narrator reveals that the rings could have been used as a force for good but instead Wenwu uses it to create a criminal organisation called the “Ten Rings” and is the actual force that resulted in governments collapsing throughout history and becoming a god-like figure ruling over a global criminal empire.

Unlike other crime lords, Wenwu appears happy to remain in the shadows and reaches a point where he seeks to simply acquire more power. This leads him to search for a legendary village known as Ta Lo that is supposed to harbour mystical beasts. The year is 1996, and he confronts Ying Li (Fala Chen) the village guardian and the pair face off in a martial arts duel. Li is able to defeat Wenwu even with his ten rings and in the process the pair fall in love. It is a love that causes Wenwu to change his ways and give up his criminal and power hungry life. Together they have two children – Xu Shang-Chi and daughter, Xu Xiliang (Meng’er Zhang). The duel between Wenwu and Li is masterful and the choreography a fantastic combination of martial arts and CGI.

Things appear to be all ‘happily ever after’ until Wenwu’s past catches up to him and Li is murdered by the Iron Gang (an enemy of Wenwu). Wenwu turns back to the dark side and seeks revenge on all those responsible for her death. In the process, he trains Shang-Chi to become an assassin and tasks him with terminating the leader of the Iron Gang. Shang-Chi achieves his mission but is guilt-ridden and instead of returning to his father and sister, he leaves to start a new life in San Francisco.

The rest of the film follows Shang-Chi’s journey centred primarily on stopping his father from unknowingly freeing an evil monstrous force held in a prison by the guardians of the Ta Lo village. The outstanding action scenes (the battle in the articulated bus an absolute highlight) are balanced with solid story and character development as we uncover Shang-Chi’s history and his current relationships with friends and family.

Fans of the comics will identify the differences between comic story and MCU story. The biggest difference being Shang-Chi’s father who is depicted as a far more human character in the film when compared to the comic. In the comic, Shang-Chi’s father is Fu Manchu (or Zheng Zu if you follow through the comic book timeline which shows that Fu Manchu was just an alias). Fu Manchu is single-minded in seeking world dominion and (to my knowledge) there is no love interest. In fact, Fu Manchu chooses an unnamed woman in the comics based on her genetic suitability to be the mother of his progeny.

The differences, however, do not detract from the overall story that has been created for Shang-Chi to fit in the MCU and it is an enjoyable ride from beginning to end. Movie watchers should also stay behind for a cut scene during the credits where Captain Marvel and Bruce Banner/Hulk make an appearance attempting to dissect the mysterious origins of the ten rings and for a post-credit scene involving Shang-Chi’s sister.

Speaking about fitting into the MCU universe, Shang-Chi occurs after Avengers: Endgame but before The Falcon and the Winter Solider television series. Working backwards, Wenwu and his ten rings are active since roughly 2004 (when Li dies, and Wenwu takes up the rings once more for revenge) to 2017 (where Thanos clicks his fingers and half the population of the universe disappears). This means, Wenwu and his criminal army are around through the events of Loki, Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther and Wakanda and Infinity War. By all accounts the immensely powerful ten rings are not linked to any of the infinity stones yet the ten rings grant longevity and power on a scale that rivals the stones. It will be interesting to see if there is any historical reveal between the two as I cannot help wonder what Wenwu was doing when the likes of Loki’s attack on New York and Ultron’s decimation of Sokovia were happening.

One of the other great potentials of introducing Shang-Chi to the MCU is that he crosses over into other Marvel Comics and has interactions with many other characters including Captain America, X-Men and Iron Fist. But there is one particular crossover that has me chomping at the bit. It turns out that at one point, Shang-Chi trains Spider-man in kung-fu and Spidey develops his own fighting style known as the “way of the spider”. And to add some additional spice, at one point, Shang-Chi gets infected by a virus that gives him the same powers as Spider-man. The potential twists to this on the big screen are many. This would be totally awesome, and I hope they seek to join these two characters together in upcoming MCU story-lines.

8 out of 10

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