Movies / Comics Movie Reviews

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Review


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By Hervé St-Louis
September 6, 2021 - 08:05

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Shaun has escaped from the clutches of his father and lived the last ten years as he intended. But the highlights of his days are parking rich people’s cars and partying at a karaoke bar with his best friend Kathy at night. Soon enough, his old life comes back to haunt him as his father’s goons come pick him up so they can return him to China. His father wants to revive his mother and destroy her people. Will Shaun abandon his mask and become Shang-Chi, the world’s best hand-to-hand combatant so that he may stop his father, the immortal Mandarin?

I limited my exposure to the previews so that I had no clue what to expect from Shang-Chi. I am quite familiar with the comic book series of course, as the originals were inspired by martial arts sploitation films of the 1970s. While the producers of Shang-Chi attempted to avoid the Bruce Lee pastiche that was at the core of the character, they nevertheless embraced newer Asian film genres and all of their tropes with this film. I cannot fault them for that, even though I miss the pure 1970s Martial arts flair of Shang-Chi.

The Shang-Chi in this film is a new character that has nothing to do with the comic character. The only thing he retains from the comic book are his martial arts skills, although the original was known as the master of kung fu, and not all of the other martial arts we saw in the film. In the comics, Shang-Chi’s father is the pulp character Fu Manchu, not the Mandarin. However, Fu Manchu is considered a racist character and a negative stereotype of Chinese men. The Mandarin is not much better, but the producers played with the idea of the old Iron Man villain from the comics and decided to simply refer to him by a new name Xu Wenwu.

The Ten Rings organization in the film is also in the comics but headed by the Mandarin. In the comics, Shang-Chi’s mother is a white American mother. His sister only shares the same father (Fu Manchu, renamed Zheng Zu in the comics after Marvel Comics lost the licence to Fu Manchu) and was initially named Fah Lo Suee, like the pulp character’s daughter. She was later renamed Zheng Bao Yu. Of course, in the film, Shang-Chi’s sister is named Xu Xialing and they both share the same mother, Ying Li. Katy appears to be a new character created for the film.

The film is quite good and once you accept that is has nothing to do with the comics and is simply a vehicle to advance the MCU in its next phase. Shang-Chi is used as a convenient placeholder for Asian audiences so that Marvel and Disney can attempt to repeat the success they had with Black Panther with black audiences, and more. Thus Shang-Chi is set to play a major role in the future of the MCU even though in the comics, he was mainly on the margins with just above one third of the appearances of Iron Fist, a similar martial arts character created in the 1970s. If audiences are favourable to Shang-Chi as depicted in the movie, expect him to play a prominent role in the MCU as was seen in the after-credits shots.

The movie revels in fantasy elements. Viewers familiar with Asian martial arts fantasy films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Shinobi will find Shang-Chi a contemporary version of this genre, complete with the secret organization, the fantastic mythical powers, Michelle Yeoh, and incredible use of stunt wires! Thus, I ask myself if Shang-Chi is enough to woo Asian audiences who have watched such films before, only they were not connected to a universe. Is this Marvel/Disney stamping over and consuming an entire genre and film culture to appeal to audiences?

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Therefore, I claim that although Marvel attempted to shed the more stereotypical aspects of Shang-Chi, it adopted new tropes, or more acceptable clichés that remain clichés. The story has a heart and plays very solidly with the will they-will they not trope of having the main character and the female lead have a lot of tension in their non-relationship. For now, Shang-Chi and Katy are nothing but buddies. We shall see how that evolves in future films.

Speaking of katy, I must mention actress Awkwafina who I did not know before. Her onscreen presence is magnetic, and she did steal every scene she was in, even as an everyday woman. The character of katy worked because of the actress. Considering she was a new sidekick for Shang-Chi, she allowed herself to be popular enough to appear in future Marvel films.

One thing that I disliked very much was the two sets of child actors used in the film. In no way do they resemble Simu Liu’s Shang-Chi nor Meng’er Zhang’s Xialing. While the younger version could pass slightly for Shang-Chi, the teenaged version could not and its use in the film was uncredible. The facial structure between actor Arnold Sun and Simu Liu is totally different. Also, trying to pass Simu Liu for a 25-year-old man was stretching reality. Ditto for his sister who by the account of the film should be around 23 years old. There was no resemblance between the different versions of Xu Xialing.

The effects for this film were interesting. What I really liked was the ballet martial arts that where we could see characters connect with one another. The film had enough action to satisfy. Shang-Chi is a new creature from Marvel, so if you can forgive the misuse of the comics and embrace the cinematography, the story, and the action, you will have a good time.

Rating: 8 /10


Last Updated: September 12, 2021 - 23:24

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