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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

"I thought I could change my name, start a new life... but I could never escape his shadow."

Several years back Marvel gambled hard on an obscure comic adaptation that was poised to spin the Marvel Cinematic Universe in an entirely new direction with Guardians of the Galaxy. In retrospect, it doesn’t seem like much of a gamble. It was a well made movie that did what it needed to do to introduce a group of wacky new characters. Now, they're throwing the dice again on another obscure comic book franchise with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

I’ll admit I wasn’t thrilled about this one at first. It looked very separate from the MCU to the point that I wasn’t sure I even wanted to bother. But given the level of quality that Marvel is generally capable of, I decided to give it a shot. I’m glad I did.

This is very much a stand alone entry. However, it is unmistakably a part of the MCU and it is established early on that this story exists not only in the same universe we have come to know so well, but takes place after the snap. What's really interesting to me, from what we've seen of Phase 4 so far, things are shaping up to not be just another iteration of the Infinity War Saga. It's very clear that Marvel has a plan.

Maybe this is because the people behind the MCU are more confident with storytelling, and perhaps Disney/Marvel is more willing to take risks with their properties. I could never have imagined a show like WandaVision or Loki coming out in Phase 2 when they could barely commit to a concept like Dark Elves in Thor: The Dark World. While Black Widow was a relatively safe movie (although again showing us a part of the world we hadn’t seen before), Shang-Chi is a completely new experience.

The cast is solid all the way around, with the main four all standing out in different ways. Simu Liu is the titular Shang-Chi and he is a great mix of charm, humor and incredibly convincing martial arts prowess. You can absolutely believe this man is doing everything he is doing, and that’s an important quality to have in a movie like this. He is also not your usual straight man hero either, leaning into humor whenever he has a chance to breathe. Yet he doesn’t break serious moments just to ease tension. When he is going all out, he is a great hero that belongs among the ranks of the Avengers.


Tony Leung is Xu Wenwu, the leader of the Ten Rings and the real Mandarin. This is basically a new character, created from a blend of the Mandarin and the rather stereotypical Fu Manchu who was Shang-Chi’s father in the comics. I imagine this was done for a number of reasons, but primarily because they wanted to have full rights to the character and to bring him some depth. What they created here is a complex, multilayered villain that I liked as much as Thanos. Not only could you understand the motivations of the character, you felt for him in a way.

Meng’er Zhang plays Xu Xialing, a rather unexpected sister to Shang-Chi who quickly becomes one of my favorite parts of the film. Xu Xialing is a strong willed, confident fighter who is in many ways an equal to her brother both in fighting prowess and in her role in the film. I can see why they didn’t show her much in the trailers, but she helps to humanize the hero and the villain, and does a lot to expand the emotion and depth to the entire story. I also loved her character arc, although it isn't explored quite as much as the rest of the characters.

Which brings me to Awkwafina as Katy, who was my favorite character. Her chemistry with Simu Liu was just wonderful, although it never really crosses into romance between the two. That friendship between Shang-Chi and Katy anchors the film, and there is rarely a scene the two of them don’t share. They have this sense of history and shorthand that feels real and she brings out his lighter side easily. She also acts as the primary comic relief for the film, but I never found her annoying. Instead she made me smile every single time she was on screen.

Fala Chen has a rather large role as Shang-Chi and Xu Xialing’s mother, and she has this wonderful presence that the plot kind of hinges around. Michelle Yeoh has a small but wonderful part that helps sell a section of the film that deals with some heavy world building. Florian Munteanu is one of the primary antagonists and has some very memorable moments. There were two more I would love to talk about but could be considered spoilery since they are direct connections to the MCU.

The special effects were mostly great, although towards the end it did get a bit chaotic. There were some incredibly cool moments and the fight scenes were complicated and well choreographed, as well as very different from what we’ve seen in the MCU before, leaning more heavily into martial arts than the more rough and tumble brawls most of the Avengers have participated in. There were some absolutely stunning visuals, and some of the world building was very unexpected and absolutely gorgeous. I honestly cannot wait to see more from this character and this world.

Comic Book Bits:

Shang-Chi was created during the Bruce Lee craze sweeping through America in the 1970’s. Marvel originally wanted to adapt Kung Fu, but couldn’t get the rights because Warner Bros owns rival publishing company DC and also owned the rights to the TV show. The character was even originally modeled after Bruce Lee, and at least one supporting character was drawn like Kwai Chang Caine with the addition of a mustache.

The eponymous ten rings are usually depicted as actual rings worn one per finger in the comics. Each ring usually has unique traits that are entirely overpowered and I’m honestly happy they didn’t try to incorporate them into the MCU because I could easily see how they could become the next Infinity Stones. Still they are a constant presence throughout the film as a primary source of power but are never sought after as a normal McGuffin.

Pieces:

The name Shang-Chi was based on the I-Ching, a variation on Sheng meaning ‘ascending’ and Chi which is a type of energy linked to vitality.

The Mandarin is usually an Iron Man villain and I wonder what a Wenwu versus Tony fight would’ve looked like.

There are both mid-credits and after credits scenes that are actually vital to the characters and their journey. The first one was one of my favorites of these scenes in the entire MCU.

Quotes:

Katy: "I know you don't like to talk about your life, but a guy with a freaking machete for an arm just chopped our bus in half!"

Shang-Chi: "If I die, it's your fault!"

Well paced, well acted, well written and overall well made. This is a solid entry into the MCU and a great new expansion to the landscape of this ever growing franchise.

3 1/2 out of 4 Epic High-Flying Martial Arts Fight Scenes

Samantha M. Quinn spends most of her time in front of a computer typing away at one thing or another; when she has free time, she enjoys pretty much anything science fiction or fantasy-related.

7 comments:

Frank said...

Cool review, makes me want to watch it!

Samantha M. Quinn said...

Thank you so much Frank, it is worth watching. The good news is if you are worried about going to a theater it'll be on Disney + by mid-October (there is now a 45 day release window).

Mark Greig said...

Saw it last night and loved every minute of it.

JBA said...

As a huge fan of the MCU, I loved this movie. Almost everything was great, although I agree with the review that it became a bit chaotic toward the end. I only found one or two things that didn't make sense to me, but they were minor, nitpicky things. I would like to know, however, how two hotel valet parking attendants in San Francisco can afford last minute plane tickets to Macao!??! I believe spoilers are usually allowed in the comments, but just in case - SPOILER ALERT:

I didn't understand the looks of the cameos, as far as the timeline. It takes place after Endgame, because Mark Ruffalo is still wearing his cast and they mention the blip in the movie. However, why is he just Bruce, and not Smart Hulk? This may be explained in something in the future, possibly the She-Hulk Disney+ series, but until then, I don't understand. Also, Captain Marvel's hair is back to the way it was at the beginning of the movie, which doesn't make a lot of sense. I know it could grow back, but I would assume it takes longer for that to happen (and Bruce is still wearing his cast, so how long has it actually been?).

Samantha M. Quinn said...

Spoilers:

As for why Ruffalo looks the way he does? My only guess is that whatever happened to him with the snap he isn't able to maintain Professor Hulk form. Or maybe he wasn't healing in that form and reverted to human to recover. Or maybe he is trying to revitalize himself to bring his strength back and he needs to be human to go through the process, maybe this could be why we get She-Hulk. Plus it is easier to have him appear in a TV show if he isn't always CGI.

As for Captain Marvel, who knows, but wouldn't it be fun if a side-effect of her power is her hair grows really fast. So she always has different hair lengths, and as a joke at the end of The Marvels she is in a alien barber shop frowning getting her weekly hair cut.

Baby M said...

You had me at "Awkwafina . . . acts as the primary comic relief."

Samantha M. Quinn said...

Disney just announced it will be a 70 day release window, so this will be on Disney+ in early November.