Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings introduces a new member to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) who is forced to face his past when his father, Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung), attempts to retrieve pendants given to Shang-Chi and his sister, Xialing, by their mother long ago.

It was a solid movie overall, significantly elevated by the casting of Tony Leung as the antagonist.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Good

  • Tony Leung as Xu Wenwu.
    I don’t think I’ve ever seen Tony Leung in an English-speaking role so this was interesting. He brings his usual charisma and gravitas to the role here, and the movie’s story combined with his natural appeal turns him into a bit of a “Loki” – the antagonist that very nearly overshadows the protagonist. The story sets him up as a bad guy, but then love changes him and when he does return to his villainous side, the audience understands and sympathises.
    Unlike Loki, Wenwu isn’t at all likely to return from the dead. haha (For one thing, Tony Leung is in a completely different position from Tom Hiddleston as he’s very established and doesn’t need this role at all, and would probably require near-RDJ levels of money for a return. But I’m not privy to the contracts they sign, nor Kevin Feige’s plans, so who knows?)
  • The costume design for Tony Leung’s character. Whoever designed his outfits did absolutely right by him. They’re spectacularly flattering and some are even chic. I think I spent a good amount of his scenes admiring the costumes they put on him.
  • Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley) was possibly the best part of the movie after Xu Wenwu. He was just so funny, especially in the scene where Shang-Chi and Katy (Awkwafina) jump and screech at the appearance of Morris the fuzzy, faceless winged creature and Trevor goes, “Oh, you can see him too?” His ability to understand Morris’ squeaks was also really amusing.
  • The fight choreography was generally pretty good. Nothing ground-breaking (to me), but well-done and appropriately Chinese martial arts-y. The stunt coordinator, Brad Allen, passed away before the movie came out and gets a tribute in the end credits. Allen worked with Jackie Chan and that influence is clear in the much-talked-about bus fight. The wire work is also significantly better than in the 2020 Mulan.
  • The incorporation of mythical beasts from Chinese legends was quite nicely done, although they were not extremely significant to the story apart from the dragon. Morris was interesting because I’d never heard of hundun before. For something that has no face or head, it was somehow pretty cute. I put it down to the fur, the scurrying movement, and the squeaking sounds.
  • Wong from Doctor Strange showing up in Xialing’s underground fight club was pretty funny too.
  • Generally pretty good representation of Chinese (and presumably the specific Chinese American) experience/culture throughout the movie I think.

The Bad

  • There was not enough Michelle Yeoh. She played Yingnan, sister of Shang-Chi’s mom, and ends up as Shang-Chi’s mentor for a bit but she doesn’t get to do a whole lot. She does very well in mentor roles because, like Tony Leung, she has a great deal of natural gravitas that lends itself to such parts. But given that Yingnan didn’t do much in the movie beyond talking to Shang-Chi and Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) for a bit and teaching Shang-Chi how to fight in the way that the people of Ta Lo do, I thought she was wasted in the role.
  • Katy’s miraculous ability to do any sort of decent archery in the final battle came out of nowhere. They had three days at Ta Lo before Wenwu and the Ten Rings group turned up there. From what I could tell of the movie, Katy had never done archery before that. Movies require a certain suspension of disbelief, but in a movie that sets up the hero and his sister as being super competent fighters because they trained for years (and in the hero’s case, he was trained by the absolute best), Katy becoming a semi-competent archer allowed to join a crucial battle in three days was… Confounding. True, the grumpy Guangbo (played by another HK movie stalwart, Yuen Wah) who is kind of Katy’s mentor does show some softening towards her, which implies that she’s at least somewhat capable. Yes, there was a subplot of Katy needing to arrive at a place where she realises that she is capable of doing something, and that subplot required that Katy make a contribution to the final battle in some unexpected way. But it didn’t work for me.
  • I did not like that the climactic battle turned into a monster battle akin to Godzilla versus King Kong. I would’ve been happier if the fight between Shang-Chi and Wenwu had been more prominent and had been the climax of the movie instead of the Xu siblings turning into dragon riders and having the dragon duke it out with the other monster with some help from Shang-Chi and Xialing.

And Other Stuff

  • The Ten Rings are a mystery, and though I’m a little perplexed as to what they are, I’m not really dying to know. The mid-credits scene with Bruce Banner and Captain Marvel puzzling over the Rings with Wong was supposed to generate even more mystery around them but I was mostly entertained by Wong in the whole thing.
  • I was confused by how Yingnan knew about Yingli’s (Fala Chen) children and how Yingli had communicated with her. Actually, how did the people in Ta Lo even know Yingli had died? Who communicated with them? If Morris couldn’t find his way back there alone and Wenwu never met any of them, how did Yingli tell Yingnan to prepare the special dragonscale outfits for her children? How did Yingli tell Yingnan anything at all after she left Ta Lo to marry Wenwu??
  • There’ve been a lot of comments online about how the Mandarin dialogue actually conveys more depth than the English subtitles do. This is completely unsurprising. I’m sure many English movies lose some depth in translation to other languages too. As someone who can’t say more than a few basic lines in Mandarin, I’m thankful to the people who’ve been explaining what’s been missed or the slight difference in weight that some lines have. Nice to know that the filmmakers really went all the way and put genuine thought into the script!

Got anything to add or say? :D