“I understood the movie!” was the first thing my mom, #1 certified MCU noob, proclaimed after the show ended. As it turns out, Marvel’s 25th movie, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, was the first-ever MCU film she enjoyed and managed to stay awake through.
With a mostly Asian cast and a compelling, yet easy-to-grasp storyline, Shang-Chi is a breath of fresh air for longtime fans and is perfect for Marvel newcomers too. And if you’re a fan like I am, rest assured that the film still has that distinct fast-paced storytelling that we know and love, being a promising addition to MCU’s Phase 4.
Disclaimer: Spoilers ahead!
Finally, an MCU film everyone will understand
Simu Liu as the titular Shang-Chi
Image credit: Marvel Studios
No worries if “Infinity Stones” and “Asgard” sound like words from another language – those don’t matter here. While it’s still part of the bigger Marvel universe, Shang-Chi’s story stands well on its own – viewers will be able to follow its flow, even without having watched Infinity War or the latest Black Widow.
Image credit: Coming Soon
The film follows the story of Shang-Chi, a brand-new character in the MCU, played by Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu. And if you thought your parents were tough on you, wait till you meet his dad, immortal warlord Wenwu, also known as The Mandarin.
After his wife passed on years prior, Wenwu brought Shang-Chi and his younger sister Xialing up with an iron fist, leading – unsurprisingly – to both children running away from home. Shang-Chi ends up alone in America where he befriends Katy, played by the hilarious Awkwafina.
Shang-Chi and Katy in the movie’s iconic bus scene
Image credit: Walt Disney Studios
Our protagonist leads a normal life until one day, his father’s henchmen jump him on a bus, making away with an important necklace. From here on, the pace of the movie picks up, unveiling secrets, sick kung fu moves and mystical creatures from dragons to Dementor-like demons.
Fight scenes you’ll be rewatching on YouTube after
Ariana Grande may have 7 rings but this guy has 10
Video credit: ONE Media
It’s not a Marvel movie without a good fight scene, or maybe ten. Shang-Chi dishes out non-stop action sequences throughout the movie, with a war scene unfolding right off the bat. Some have even coined the movie’s fight scenes to be the best of Marvel’s thus far.
Video credit: Marvel Entertainment
Unlike the usual affair of powered suits, invincible shields and lightning-summoning hammers, Shang-Chi’s action scenes are much more reminiscent of old-school kung fu films. Think hand-to-hand combats and slick split-kicks – something I’d take over the mindless machine guns from most movies these days.
As someone who grew up watching Jackie Chan movies and Ip Man, I thoroughly enjoyed the well-choreographed moves that were thrilling without resorting to bloody gore – it’s PG13 y’all. Not to mention, it was nice to see age-old Chinese martial art traditions being represented well in a huge franchise like Marvel.
Image credit: Marvel Studios via Variety
And then, there’s Simu Liu. If you haven’t already heard, the actor has a resume that includes stock image modelling, playing Jung in the sitcom Kim’s Convenience, and stunt double acting. Speaking of which, he does his own stunts in the movie, which makes the fight sequences all the more satisfying to watch.
Here’s what one colleague had to say:
Jin Heok: The action scenes were excellently edited, with no shaky cams to hide the cuts between actor and stuntman.
Predominantly East Asian cast and crew
Tony Leung as Wenwu
Image credit: Screen Rant
One of the reasons why the movie was so well-received was because it set itself up to the task of Asian representation – specifically, Chinese culture – in Hollywood. Superstars Michelle Yeoh and Tony Leung agreeing to be on board were, if anything, a promise to the success of the show before filming even began.
Michelle Yeoh and Awkwafina
Image credit: Marvel Studios
Word on the street is that Tony Leung is picky with the directors he works with, and Shang-Chi is the first Hollywood film he’s said yes to, saying it was “destiny”. And we’re glad he did, as there was probably no one to better portray the complex villain Wenwu. Also watch out for Fala Chen and newcomer Meng’er Zhang, who play Shang-Chi’s mum and sister respectively.
Meng’er Zhang kicking butt in a fighting ring
Image credit: Marvel Studios
To avoid a “whitewashed Kung Fu movie” as director Destin Daniel Cretton, who is of Asian descent, described, the team went through great lengths to ensure an accurate portrayal of Chinese culture – including hiring stunt coordinators who used to choreograph fights scenes with the legendary Jackie Chan.
Josiah: While you can kinda tell it’s a Marvel movie, it doesn’t have the stereotypical Marvel tropes – probably because it’s the first time majority of the cast is Asian. Tony Leung’s Wenwu is also one of the most nuanced villains ever. You can almost sympathise with why he’s doing what he’s doing because he’s motivated by love and loss.
The mandatory Marvel comic relief
Trevor Slattery, played by Ben Kingsley.
Image credit: Epic Streams
Unlike in usual Marvel films starring the Avengers, we don’t have the usual comic relief that comes from characters like Loki this time. Instead, we’re introduced to the quirky Trevor Slattery – an actor that Wenwu captures for impersonating him.
With his pet, Morris, Trevor delivers punchlines that’ll tickle you even after the movie is over while being a clever plot device that drives the movie forward so no one falls asleep at “boring parts”.
Shang-Chi – A showstopper of a movie
It’s not every day that we come across a Marvel show so disparate from the rest. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a good starting point for anyone who wants to hop on the MCU bandwagon without having to watch all 50 hours of the entire franchise starting with 2008’s Iron Man.
I walked into the theatre expecting just another exciting Marvel film but was pleasantly surprised with a plot and characters that redefined what a superhero in Hollywood could look like.
If there was one criticism, it’d be that the motivations for Wenwu leading up to the final conflict could have been much better developed. A warlord who’s lived hundreds of years would need plenty to take down – and being fooled by the mere whispers of soul-sucking demons just didn’t cut it for me.
That aside, the movie is heartwarming, exciting and definitely exceeded the high bar that Marvel set for itself. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a great set-up for the things to come in MCU Phase 4.
And if you need any more reason to watch, the show has got elements that Singaporeans of all ages can enjoy, from relatable cultural references to familiar actors and actresses the older gens may recognise.
The characters in Ta Lo
Image credit: Marvel Studios via The Direct
I’ll give it a solid 8.5/10 – below are the final ratings from other folks who watched the show:
Josiah: 9/10. The sets are gorgeous, and the casting is perfect. Banter isn’t cringey and the flashback scenes are very poignant. The second part of the movie that’s set in Ta Lo is a bit dull – think Wakanda vibes, but make it China. It’s not that novel, although the visual effects were pretty cool.
Renae: 8.5/10. I’m not a diehard Marvel fan, but it was pretty darn cool to see a predominantly Asian cast taking the stage in a superhero blockbuster of this scale. The action scenes were captivating and well-choreographed, and there were plenty of LOL-worthy moments peppered throughout the movie.
Jin Heok: 8/10. I think Shang-Chi did a great job in terms of story pacing and character development. The main cast was very fun to follow and they have great chemistry on screen. Even the villain had a compelling backstory. The only gripe I have is that the movie could have gone into more detail about how Asian Americans are treated in the US.
Alastair: 8.5/10. The “Marvel Formula” is real and it leads to movies that are entertaining yet extremely similar to one another. But Shang-Chi brought a new style to the MCU and was one of the most surprising Marvel films that I watched. Overall, it’s a great movie with amazing action, a solid theme and plot, as well as nice comic relief in between.
Overall rating: 8.5/10
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Cover image adapted from: Marvel Studios