By Chris “Boogie” Brown
“Shang Chi” is the latest film in the MCU and one that has been long anticipated by many fans of this supremely underrated character in the pantheon of Marvel Heroes. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, “Shang Chi” follows the adventures of our lead character of the same name in one of the MCU’s best origin films in recent years.
After a spectacular opening sequence that narrates and sets the stage of the story, “Shang-Chi” introduces us to the character of “Shaun”, a valet driver who lives in the city of San Francisco, CA. On the surface, Shaun appears to be an every day, working-class citizen enjoying life with his best friend “Katy” (Awkwafina). However, Shaun carries a long-kept secret that is unknown to those around him: He is actually “Shang-Chi”, a Martial Arts Master who was trained from an early age. He is also the son of “Xu Wenwu”, a crime lord who is head of a criminal organization known as the “Ten Rings”. On one particular day, Shaun’s mysterious past catches up to his present as he and his best friend find themselves surprisingly under attack by henchmen from his Father’s crime organization. This intense encounter ultimately takes both Shaun and Katy across the globe so that Shaun can once and for all confront the past he put behind him and embrace the hero that his lineage has destined him to be.
“Shang Chi” is a unique film that is epic in scale and features elements of Martial Arts Action, Fantasy and Superhero-esque qualities you would come to expect from an origin feature of this ilk. The film’s storyline, unraveling mysteries, action & thrills all make “Shang Chi” both an entertaining & compelling film to watch. Obviously, the fewer details you know about the film’s actual plot, the more refreshing your viewing experience will be. However, I will say that for all of the thrills this film provides, “Shang Chi” also boasts a well-crafted story about Family that is both powerful & emotional. Within this family dynamic on display, the film showcases poignant character moments that are bound to resonate and make you actually care for the characters in the film. In addition, “Shang Chi” features a predominantly Asian cast which further bolsters Asian representation in Hollywood as well as introduces viewers to certain cultural aspects which add to the authenticity of the material.
However, for all the talk about the film’s engrossing story, what certainly can’t be overlooked is the action in “Shang Chi”. Simply put, the action here is awesome! Much of the impressive fight choreography and stuntwork found in “Shang Chi” can be credited to famed stunt coordinator, Bradley Allan who sadly passed away recently. Allan, who was a long-time member of Jackie Chan’s stunt team for years, not only planned the stunt work here but also acted as a second unit director for the fight scenes. That being said, the action and more specifically the fight sequences are explosive, entertaining, and worth the price of admission alone! In my opinion, this film has some of the best hand-to-hand combat we’ve seen in the MCU since “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”.
Many of the fights in key action sequences have a kinetic type of energy and come off authentic as lead actor Simu Liu himself has a background in Martial Arts, Gymnastics, and Stunt Work experience. Here, Simu’s character seems to alternate between the flowing style of Tai Chi, the more combative/close-quarters style of Wing Chun, and a more acrobatic Wu-Shu style reminiscent of a younger Jackie Chan. Speaking of Chan, there are certain fight sequences that pay direct homage to some of Jackie Chan’s famous fight scenes on film in which Shang Chi uses props & fixtures from his immediate surroundings during combat sequences. However, there are other Wuxia-inspired action sequences that are less grounded and more fantastical in nature. These sequences take place in a certain location in the film and are more akin to what you’ve seen in “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” with CGI and fantasy elements blended in them. Nevertheless, regardless of the setting, I thought each of the action-oriented scenes was a blast to watch up on the big screen.
The last thing I’ll add about the action and fight sequences overall is that they are well directed and competently edited. The way the scenes are shot, the viewer can clearly see all the action taking place as the director appeared to know exactly how long to hold a wide-angle and when to cut to a close-up shot. In this way, we are able to feel the full effect & impact of the scenes which was a problem at times in the most recently released Martial Arts related film, “Snake Eyes”. The overall presentation of action here in “Shang Chi” is very smooth and comes off easy on the eyes.As far as the cast of the film, I’ll start by saying Simu Liu is absolutely amazing in this role and perfectly cast as the lead of the film. As Shaun/Shang Chi, he is very likable, engaging, charismatic, and most importantly, is able to believably handle the action and physicality needed for the role. Awkwafina, who portrays “Katy”, acts as Shang Chi’s voice of reason and also provides most of the film’s comedic bits, some of which hit and miss.
However, one of the biggest surprises here is the addition of the legendary Tony Leung who has an absolutely commanding performance as Shang Chi’s father, “Xu Wenwu”. While the character himself is already well written, Leung nearly steals the show in each of his scenes with his nuanced acting prowess and imposing presence. Additional standouts include actress Meng’er Zhang who portrays Shang-Chi’s sister, “Xialing” as well as the legendary Michelle Yeoh as Shang Chi’s Aunt, “Jiang Nan”. Seeing Michelle Yeoh in all of her glory here will definitely give you flashbacks to the aforementioned “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”.If I had any criticism about the film,
it would be that after a pretty amazing first act, the second act slows down in spots with long scenes of exposition and dialogue that shows the past actions of certain characters in the film. This section of the film details the backstory of our lead’s complex family dynamic. Although I thought it was an effective storytelling method used to convey the overarching story, I could see how viewers could anticipate the pace being sped back up by a certain point. Other than that, there may have been a few contrived moments here and there where things may have been a bit “too” convenient for the lead Hero of the film. Lastly, I thought the extended inclusion of a certain character from a previous MCU film added very little to the movie and wasn’t very necessary in my opinion.
However, these are all minor nitpicks which in no way took away from my overall enjoyment of the film.Overall, “Shang Chi” features the perfect blend of traditional Martial Arts Action, Superhero Sensibilities, and Fantasy which results in one highly entertaining film! For me, this is Marvel’s best cinematic feature since “Avengers: Endgame” and one of the very best origin films on their roster. The film is well directed, has great cinematography, beautiful costume & production design, stunning VFX, and is backed by a great musical score.
Let me also add that when it comes to “Shang Chi” as a film, comparisons are sure to be made to 2018’s “Black Panther”. Aside from the respective display of cultural representation found in each, I can certainly see similar narrative choices found in “Black Panther” that have been executed here. However, despite minor similarities, there are enough differences from both a cultural and storyline standpoint that allow “Shang Chi” to stand on its own as yet another exciting entry into the MCU. Lastly, as you’ve probably guessed, there are TWO post-credit scenes that are definitely worth checking out! “Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings” is in Theatres now and if you are either a fan of Superheroes, Martial Arts, Action/Fantasy Films or all of the above, I definitely recommend checking this one out – Enjoy!