Simu Liu stars as Shang-Chi in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Family dynamics and kinetic fight scenes combine for another impressive effort.
My Marvel cup runneth over, and Black Widow was a bore, so it was with a somewhat trudging gait that I took myself to see Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, whose title sounds like a drive-in movie from 1974. Yet the 25th offering in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a pleasant surprise: The action scenes are nifty, and the underlying family drama has a lot of heart. I would have shifted the balance a bit from spectacle to emotion, but then I would have been fired for failing to spend enough money on digital effects.
A cheesy prologue gives us the backstory of a thousand-year-old Chinese immortal named Wenwu (Tony Leung) who gains superpowers from ten magical rings. If they’re worn on the forearms they’re not rings, but I guess “Legend of the Ten Bracelets” doesn’t sound very badass. Charged up with the rings, Wenwu slays his enemies by firing blue lightning at them. If there had been two hours of this, I wouldn’t have made it to the end.
But! As artfully directed and co-written by an Asian American named Destin Daniel Cretton, who made the heartfelt indie Short Term 12 (2013) and the injustice drama Just Mercy (2019), the movie proceeds to a disarmingly lovely forest scene, worthy of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon that is both a fight and a seduction, in which mighty Wenwu falls for a similarly super-powered lady, Jiang Li (Fala Chen). Decades later, in San Francisco, we meet their son, Shaun (Simu Liu), whose buddy Katy (Awkwafina) has lost touch with her Chinese roots and barely speaks the language. In a long, inventive martial-arts fight with a gang of attackers on a city bus, we learn that Shaun is a bit more than he appears to be, and from then on, the movie is a spirited blend of action, comedy, and family drama. A mysterious message brings Shaun (whose real name is
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