Shawn is a young man living in San Francisco. His life seems rather aimless as he hangs out with his friend Katy and works as a valet driver. On the surface, it appears as if his life is going nowhere fast.
However, one day he and Katy are attacked on a bus by a gang of martial artists and the unthinkable happens – Shawn is able to successfully fight them off. Katy quickly realizes that there’s more to Shawn than she knows, and she presses him for the truth.
It turns out that Shawn is actually named Shang-Chi and he has been hiding from his father Wenwu, who is back in China. Wenwu is the head of a mysterious organization known as the Ten Rings and his father is over a thousand years old. Wenwu discovered ten rings of unknown origin and used their power to extend his life and wield control of the underworld.
He had been manipulating the world powers for centuries until he met his wife Jiang Li. The two fell in love and had two children – Shang-Chi and daughter Xialing. But upon her death, Wenwu fell back into his old ways. He began training Shang-Chi into an assassin. But after a crisis of conscience, Shang-Chi ran away to the U.S. and hid from his father and sister.
Now that Wenwu has found him, Shang-Chi must return to China to protect his sister and face his father. But he will soon realize that his family roots and his destiny are bigger than even he realized, and the fate of the world will rely on him embracing his past and future.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and language.
While I’ve been a Marvel Comics reader for almost 40 years, Shang-Chi is a comic character I never really got into. Despite this, I was excited to see what Marvel Studios could do on the big screen with this character I knew so little about.
While they didn’t make a bad film, they didn’t make a particularly great film either. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is simply average which, for Marvel Studios, is a bit of a letdown.
The film has two solid action scenes that most people will remember it for. The first is the fight on the speeding bus which is shown extensively in the trailers. The second is a great fight on some bamboo scaffolding on the side of a skyscraper. The two scenes both have a distinctly Jackie Chan feel which makes them so memorable. Jackie was known for fast paced action that really utilized the props around the location of the scene.
On the bus, Shang-Chi swings in and out of windows, uses the bars on the bus to stop punches, and more. Similarly, characters jumping amid the scaffold poles and hanging hundreds of feet in the air give it all an action/comedy feel that is one of the few high points of the story. I would have liked to have seen more of this Jackie Chan spirit throughout the film.
As for the cast, Awkwafina is a standout as Katy. I’m not a huge Awkwafina fan and I feel like she’s best taken in small doses. But she’s some of the little comic relief in the film and she tends to steal every scene she’s in.
The other standout is Ben Kingsley as Trevor Slattery. It would have been better to not know he was going to appear in the movie and let it be a surprise, but Disney has included him in the promos. You know if someone stole the identity of the Mandarin and the Ten Rings that they would eventually pay the price for it. Seeing him here answer for that is funny. He’s also given a sidekick that kids will love despite it literally having no head.
The production design is also noteworthy, especially when we are introduced to a bunch of new magical creatures. Dragons and lions and other beasts come straight from Chinese myth and legend and have unique designs.
For the most part Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings feels like a lot of missed opportunities because Marvel Studios was trying to please Chinese audiences while simultaneously trying not to offend them. So, you end up with a movie that’s decidedly average because it doesn’t take any risks.
Shang-Chi attempts to woo the Chinese market by first copying Asian cinema, just not terribly successfully. It feels like a light version of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as it has characters flying through the air and gracefully defying physics while doing martial arts. Featuring Michelle Yeoh as Ying Nan further reinforces that. It also feels like Jackie Chan-lite because they mimic his fight scenes a little, but never fully enough to be entirely as satisfying as Jackie.
Then it feels like it steals a bit from Miyazaki films by having fantasy creatures in a magical realm. It just doesn’t break new ground for older audiences that have seen all those movies before. I will say, though, that I asked a 20-year-old Marvel fan if they had ever seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Jackie Chan, or Hayao Miyazaki movies and they said they had not. So all this stuff being copied in Shang-Chi may seem new to younger audiences. We’ll see.
One of the best things about any superhero movie is seeing the lead character learning their powers and failing. Those moments provide the most humor and make the audience feel like they are on the hero’s journey along with the protagonist.
But Shang-Chi is confident in his martial arts skills and near flawless in his fights from the moment we meet him. If this were a female character, the “Mary Sue” label would be thrown around. In Marvel’s effort to create a Chinese hero that is not perceived to be weak by Chinese audiences, they’ve made a rather dull character.
Comic book fans are going to be rather disappointed, too. The Mandarin was a great Chinese villain that could have been modernized for the MCU. However, Marvel Studios doubles down on erasing the character from the MCU and even goes so far as to have Tony Chiu-Wai Leung as Wenwu mock the name as “an orange.” One can only assume they didn’t want to offend Chinese censors by having a Chinese villain. The end result is a rather dull antagonist who they go out of their way to portray as a not-so-bad-bad-guy despite him being the head of a major terrorist organization.
They even make his weapons, the Ten Rings, boring. At least the comic versions had a different power for each ring which kept things interesting. Here they’re just a generic weapon no more special than anything we saw in Black Panther. I was also hoping that this film would open the door to introducing Fin Fang Foom, another classic monster villain from the comics. Nope. He’s not included I assume because of sensitivity of how dragons are portrayed in movies. We do get dragons, just not any dragon villains.
Comic fans will also be disappointed by a quick reappearance and disappearance of Abomination which makes little sense in the context of the movies. Oddly enough, Shang-Chi doesn’t even feel like a Marvel Studios movie until cameos by Wong, Trevor, and Abomination take place very late in the film.
Shang-Chi is decidedly lacking another key ingredient – romance. Would you have been satisfied if Thor ended his movie by giving Jane Foster a side-hug? Would you be happy to see Steve Rogers end his movie by giving Sharon Carter a high five? I mean, Loki even kissed the female version of himself in his TV series. Yet here they go completely out of their way to establish that Katy and Shang-Chi are “just friends.” It’s almost insulting to Awkwafina.
The movie music is also strange. It should have had a bigger Asian feel to it than it does. There are some scenes with a traditionally Chinese sound, but there are also big rap songs that sound more like they came from Black Panther. I’d have rather of heard more Asian-inspired music.
A big Marvel Studios trademark is humor, yet there’s a surprising lack of it here. Awkwafina and Trevor provide almost all of the laughs and they are desperately needed. The finale was so serious and so filled with generic big-effects action that my son, a major Marvel fan, almost fell asleep. That’s saying a lot because he lives and breathes these movies.
For fans of the bonus scenes, be aware that there is a mid-credits scene and an end credits scene. However, if you hated the “girl power” moment of Avengers: Endgame, you’re probably not going to be a fan of the final end credits moment.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is worth seeing. It’s not bad and if you’re a completist like myself, you’re going to watch anything that Marvel Studios puts on the big or small screen. But it is also a film I feel like I don’t need to see more than once. It’s simply average. I’d rather move on to whatever Marvel Studios has next.
SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS REVIEW SCORE: 6/10
Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings opens in theaters on September 3, 2021.