Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the story of Shaun (Simu Liu), a valet coasting through life with his best friend, Katy (Awkwafina). When Shaun gets ambushed by some his estranged father’s assassins, he goes on a journey of self-discovery to confront his mysterious past and accept his own personal destiny.
What works in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the exploratory of Chinese fantasy, lore, and film history within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The execution of the choreography under supervising stunt coordinator Bradley James Allan is nothing short of spellbinding. This is especially true given that Liu (and the rest of the cast) performed the majority of their own stunts. The authenticity is apparent and makes the action pop with jaw-dropping sequences. These are reminiscent of older martial arts movies which relied far more on athletic performances than visual tricks or effects.
The story within Shang-Chi is incredibly layered weaving together relatable themes of honor and family loyalty with fabled mythology. Without giving away any spoilers, audiences may be surprised at just how fantastical Shang-Chi gets—but it’s all for the better as director Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12) successfully bridges the MCU to new genres and grows the universe in exciting and thrilling ways. There’s a clear reverence for both the Shang-Chi comics, as well as the history of Chinese storytelling, but also an understanding of how to deliver these elements to modern audiences.
Individuals may feel a little divided on Shang-Chi, the character (aka Shaun). Unlike other superheroes in the MCU, Liu portrays a man of quiet reserve. He’s certainly affable, thoughtful, and even laugh-out-loud funny at times, but for the majority of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Shaun bounces from place to place learning things (and beating up wave after wave of villains). As such, it’s hard to get to know him as a person since he really doesn’t know himself. This “issue” gets compounded because Shang-Chi’s supporting cast is exceptional, especially Tony Leung as Wenwu/The Mandarian (Shang-Chi’s father), Michelle Yeoh, and Awkwafina who all demonstrate great depth.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a response to the fair criticism that the Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn’t take enough risks or deviate from its formula. Shang-Chi has some of the absolute best stunt and fight choreography seen on film in years, is engaging from beginning to end, and opens the door to some exhilarating possibilities for the future of the MCU.
Recommended if you enjoyed: Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon