Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a 2021 American superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character Shang-Chi. The film stars Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Ben Kingsley and Tony Leung and is the 25th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings follows titular character Shang-Chi, as he is forced to confront his past after being drawn into his father’s Ten Rings organisation. The film explores an essentially brand-new narrative within the MCU and serves as an origin story for several new characters who debut within the wider Marvel universe. Whilst Shang-Chi may necessarily not be a household name (yet anyway!), it’s brilliant to see Marvel exploring the narratives of lesser-known characters, particularly the aforementioned Shang-Chi of an Asian heritage.
Plot wise, Shang-Chi is a whole lot of fun! When introducing a brand-new character to a series, there’s always a risk that exploring their background can slow a film down and leaving it feeling stagnant, but that’s not the case here! Shang-Chi has a great pace to it, particularly in the opening half of the film. There’s never that much going on that you need a breather, but there’s more than enough action, subplots, and direction within the narrative, to keep the film constantly moving forward. The pace and energy of the film does tail off a little in the final act, but that can be forgiven following a highly enjoyable first two thirds to the film.
Whilst Shang-Chi is brand new to the MCU, the Ten Rings has featured previously, most notably in the Iron Man trilogy of films. Despite the Ten Rings obviously being a major focus within Shang-Chi, weirdly for me the film as a whole didn’t overly feel like a Marvel film. Of course, there are various easter eggs, MCU references and cameos from various MCU characters too, but overall, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings felt much more like a fantasy come action movie, rather than a Marvel film. This is by no means a bad thing, I just think the feel and setting to the film made Shang-Chi feel much more of a standalone film than just another MCU iteration, which frankly to me is a great thing!
One thing which Shang-Chi does brilliantly is explore and represent Asian culture in various forms. I was particularly impressed with the film’s representation of an Asian-American family as seen in the early stages of the film; it felt genuine and authentic. The same can be said for the representation of Asian culture throughout, with Shang-Chi avoiding many of the clichés and stereotypes we’ve seen before. In the same vein in which Black Panther became so culturally significant, I believe Shang-Chi could offer the same kind of empowerment.
Stepping into the role of any superhero character is no easy task, yet Simu Liu who plays the titular Shang-Chi makes it look easy! He’s likeable, charming and generally brings a whole lot of charisma to the character of Shang-Chi. Whilst he’s no Iron Man or Captain America, Shang-Chi is very much his own character in his own right, one of which will no doubt be a fan favourite in years to come. The Legend of the Ten Rings is very much a “welcome to the Avengers” for Shang-Chi, so I hope in any future Shang-Chi iterations, we see a little more scope and depth to the character.
The majority of the supporting cast make their debuts within the MCU and there are some notable performances including Awkwafina who plays Katy, Shang-Chi’s commitment-shy best friend. I’ve been a fan of Awkwafina’s for a while and in typical fashion, she brings a great hilarity and absurdity to the character. Likewise, there’s a great performance from Tony Leung who plays films main protagonist Xu Wenwu and Shang-Chi’s father. I really liked the complexity of his character and the way in which Tony Leung portrayed him; there’s plenty to dislike about the persona of the character but you can also empathise with his motives.
I was a big fan of the various action sequences throughout Shang-Chi, particularly their style and choreography. Given the large Asian influence of the film, there’s a vast amount of martial arts on show in all of the action sequences. Again, this focus on martial arts rather than the typical action we see in Marvel films, makes Shang-Chi a breath of fresh air. There are times when there is so much going on it can be hard to keep a track of precisely everything that’s happening, but nevertheless, some of the action sequences are that immersive it’s hard not to be sat on the edge of your seat!
With a brilliant affable cast, a fantastic exploration and representation of Asian culture and some of the best action sequence choreography of any Marvel film to date, Shang-Chi has more than enough identity to hold its own against some of Marvel’s strongest movies.