After a few years of eschewing origin stories in favor of skipping ahead to the main event, Marvel gets back to its roots with the upcoming Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Director Destin Daniel Cretton’s film is set to do for the Asian diaspora what Black Panther did for the Black community, with a stunningly talented, all-Asian cast made of veteran action legends, rising stars, and breakout talent.
It’s led by Simu Liu as Shang-Chi, a young guy living in San Francisco and working as a valet with his best friend, Katy (Awkwafina). He’s happy with his life of hanging out, having fun, and doing karaoke. But his past comes for him when his father, Wenwu, known as the Mandarin (Tony Leung), sends his henchmen after Shang-Chi to retrieve his son, as well as his estranged daughter, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), years after the loss of his wife, Jiang Li (Fala Chen). Their relationship with Wenwu is fraught; as the leader of the immortal Ten Rings organization, Wenwu was always more concerned with world domination than with being a father. Both Shang-Chi and Xialing must figure out who they want to be and if they’ll stand with their father or against him and stop his insane and dangerous plan.
In many ways, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is an ambitious film, one that blends slick visual and down and dirty action with fantasy, all while telling a heartfelt story of family drama and introducing major characters to the MCU. So is it up to the task? Is it worth seeing when it releases on September 3rd? Here are three reasons to see Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings when it hits theaters.
1. It’s Arguably The Best Fight Choreography Marvel Has Ever Done
While Marvel movies have been eye popping-at times and are known for big spectacle, with the exception of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and perhaps Black WIdow, MCU movies haven’t exactly been lauded for their fight sequences. Sure, it’s been incredibly cool to see certain characters square off against each other, but, sadly, there have been few truly memorable fights, with hand-to-hand combat sometimes hampered by a handful of actors not being able to pull off the punches convincingly, sometimes by stunt doubles stepping in and necessitating the need to hide their faces, sometimes by the editing required to account for that, and sometimes by just too much going on in a mass brawl.
That all changes with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Fight coordinators Andy Cheng and Guillermo Grispo created dynamic fight sequences between them, and the late supervising stunt coordinator Brad Allan did a masterful job of overseeing it all. Allan was Jackie Chan’s protégé and revered in Hollywood, and Cheng had worked on multiple Jackie Chan films and it shows. The bus fight glimpsed in the trailers could have been ripped straight out of a Hong Kong martial arts flick, with certain moves, such as when Shang-Chi takes his jacket partly off, uses it as a weapon, and then puts it back on all in one fluid move, is pure Jackie Chan. Other fight sequences take on more of a wuxia fantasy quality, as balletic and graceful as any partnered dance, particularly the flashback scenes with Fala Chen as Jiang Li.
Of course, it helps to have notable, veteran martial arts stars like the irreplaceable Michelle Yeoh and revered Chinese icon Tony Leung. They lend authenticity to the fight scenes that live or die on whether or not you can buy what the actor is selling, namely that they’re supernaturally powered martial arts masters.
But Shang-Chi is the focus here as Marvel’s “Master of Kung Fu,” and SImu Liu is more than up to the task. While Liu has had some martial arts training before in taekwondo and wing-chun, as well as having once been a professional hip-hop dancer, he had to level up for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. And boy, did he. Liu can throw hands with the best of them, and his on-screen flexibility–such as the split kick featured in all the trailers–pays off. There’s no need for quick cuts because he can actually fight convincingly; the camera can be planted in one spot and let him fight across the screen and entire complicated moves can unfold in one go. It’s reminiscent of how Sebastian Stan got so good at knife-flipping for The Winter Soldier that they were able to shoot the whole highway sequence with an immediacy that is often lacking in other Marvel movies. The entire stunt team and cast should be commended here, as well as director Cretton for having the wisdom to step back and let Allan be second unit director to oversee the shooting of fighting and stunts.
2. It’s A Gorgeous Movie – No, Really
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has three distinct visual vibes: The slightly grimy, lived-in look of San Francisco, the technofuturism of a bustling Chinese city, and the vibrant pastel fantasy of the mythical Ta-Lo. Each one comes with its own pros, but for my money, the scenes shot in Ta-Lo and its surrounding forest are what really set Shang-Chi apart from other Marvel movies. Longtime fans of wuxia and Chinese fantasy-action movies may not be as impressed by it, but for Western audiences who haven’t been exposed to the genre, Shang-Chi is sure to be an exciting first taste of the limitless possibilities that unfold when fight coordination and the natural environment work in conjunction with one another. The flashback fight sequences between Wenwu and Jiang Li have a particular beauty, both of them graceful as dancers as they combat each other in a fight of courtship across a bamboo forest littered with cherry blossoms and golden leaves.
While (for my money), not quite as visually memorable, the action sequence in the Chinese high-rise building also gets its own nod of recognition with the conceit of them fighting on a bamboo construction platform lending the fight natural opportunities for some eye-popping visuals, especially when set against the backdrop of the neon-soaked buildings reflecting flashes of light off the glass. It’s a nod at the color-splashed nighttime fight sequences of Hong Kong-set action films, and the visuals recreate it adeptly in this big, Hollywood superhero flick.
3. It Has A Surprisingly Heartfelt Story About Family
That said, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings isn’t just about punching, kicking, and neon. The movie is really a family drama wrapped in martial arts. a story of a family torn apart by grief and a father who had no idea how to be there and make himself emotionally available for his kids when they needed him the most. Tony Leung is fantastic in this movie, finally erasing the Mandarin bungle of Iron Man 3 and bringing the real Mandarin to life. Leung’s performance is complex, a man who is immortal and terrifying, utterly ruthless in his desire to rule the world, but one who also fiercely loves his children and his wife, and shows a well of endless tenderness for them in his quieter, more private moments.
Shang-Chi is, of course, the bedrock of the story, and we first meet him and his best friend, Katy, near simultaneously. The banter and camaraderie between Liu and Awkwafina is relatable and real, and it gives the film a different kind of warmth in a way we don’t often see in movies, let alone in Marvel movies, which is that of a close platonic relationship between a man and woman without the story rushing to make it something romantic.
It’s Meng’er Zhang’s Xialing who steals a handful of scenes, however. In the movie, Shang-Chi understandably takes the focus, and it’s a mirror for where the character of Xialing stands in the movie. As the daughter, Xialing is too often overlooked by her father–neglected, undervalued, and left to fend without a mom and without a dad as Wenwu’s focus is entirely consumed by his son and training him up to become the next leader of the Ten Rings. Xialing’s intensity and her hurt both come through on the screen, as well as her frustrations at constantly being in her brother’s shadow, though she’s worked relentlessly hard to make something of herself while Shang-Chi has mostly just scraped by. The dynamic between Shang-Chi, Xialing, and their father is poignant and fraught, and all three make you believe they are a broken family, just as their relationship with their aunt, Ying Nan, takes on immediately relatable love thanks to Michelle Yeoh exuding a warm wisdom in every scene she shares with either Liu or Zhang.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings isn’t a perfect movie. It turns into Marvel’s typical CGI extravaganza in the third act, however different visually, and there’s some rushing with the plot that strips some of the emotional weight from certain scenes. But as origin stories go, this is just about the best thing Marvel has ever done and it’s well worth seeing on the big screen.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is in theaters on Friday, September 3.