“Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” Marvel’s latest blockbuster and first movie to star an almost entirely Asian cast, delivers on all cylinders. Shawn, or Shang Chi, (Simu Liu) thinks he left behind his past but is forced to confront it as the organization he thought was gone has come back to haunt his present. From the writing to the action, this movie delivers and Marvel hasn’t had this much fun since “Thor Ragnarok” or “Black Panther.” Simu Liu (“Kim’s Convenience”), Awakfina (“Crazy Rich Asians,” “Ocean’s 8”), Tony Leung (“Hero,” “Hard Boiled,” “Grandmaster”), Michelle Yeoh (“Star Trek Discovery,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”), and many more star in this who’s who of Asian action star royalty.
From the very first scene, you get sucked into Shang Chi’s world and backstory as you follow him from a seemingly unassuming valet with a boring life, to an assassin that had been trained by his father to be a cold blooded killer after the death of his mother. The catalyst is when he gets a postcard from his long lost sister Xialing (Meng’her Zhang, in her first role). After he’s assaulted by warriors sent by his father, he goes to find her to try to save her, only to discover that she doesn’t need saving. She not only has a thriving business she built herself with an underground fight club, she also has no idea who sent Shang Chi that postcard.
So why does this movie feel different from most Marvel movies? Obviously, the cast and the backstory diverges from any origin story we’ve seen before. The cast is absolutely amazing and has so much chemistry right off the bat, especially Shang-Chi and Katy. You just feel like they’ve been best friends for years, and that they give one another so much crap because they love each other. You see that play out in their relationship. It doesn’t feel like a typical “boy discovers superhero powers and girl just has to accept it” type of film. Katy questions Shang-Chi on everything, including lying to her for all these years. She’s not one to sit on the sidelines and watch passively while all this is happening. She takes everything with disbelief, but also in stride, and gives as much as she gets. She’s a capable and ass kicking friend in her own right, even if she’s not a classically trained assassin, and she uses her knowledge to help him along their journey.
The fight sequences are also so much fun and a true call back to martial arts films. From the first fight scene in the backstory, to the fight on the bus, the fighting on the bamboo construction, you can feel the nod to its predecessors. When I found out that the fight scene coordinator was a protege of Jackie Chan, you can see his influence immediately, from the moves to a very specific move he patented using a jacket as a weapon of sorts. It’s great to see martial arts movies being honored in current movies and is an excellent throwback for fans to be able to pick up on.
The performance given by Shang-Chi’s sister, Xialing, who incredibly is in her first role ever, is breathtaking, and she will be one to watch out for as a future leading action star. Meng’er Zhang was completely mesmerizing and held her own against an all-star cast and I look forward to seeing what she does next. Michelle Yeoh is incredible as always and Tony Leung leads a gravitas to a villain role that could’ve been very comical if cast badly. Luckily, Marvel seems to have escaped the stereotypes it’s been criticized of perpetuating in the past in this film and every actor just brought their A-game to the set.
The bond of family and friendship is a repeating theme throughout the movie. One aspect I enjoyed was the fact that Shang-Chi and Katy had a purely platonic relationship and were truly friends only, in spite of everyone asking when they’d get married or be together. You can see that friendship play out on screen as Katy gives Shan-Chi her unwavering support. However, she doesn’t blindly follow him either: she calls him out as only true friends can. Family is another strong theme in the movie and the main storyline, which you’ll see as we follow Shang-Chi and Xialing on their journey to find and stop their father.
Overall, this movie is fun, deep, and full of action and fantasy. It combines everything I love about martial arts films and Marvel films and incorporates it into one amazingly thrilling ride.