Marvel introduced their first ever Asian superhero with the release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. This movie is one of the first Marvel movie’s to be released throughout their “phase 4” line-up.
The story follows Shang-Chi, who fled from his home at the age of 14 after he is sent on a mission to kill that man who was responsible for the death of his mother by his crime warlord father Wen Wu, played by Tony Leung. He spends 10 years in San Francisco as a valet driver, until he is confronted by his past, and is forced to return home.
During the film, the protagonist, Simu Liu, goes through a journey of self-discovery. He learns to accept his past in order to become the eventual wielder of the Ten Rings. After keeping his identity a secret from his friends, he fully embraces his new role as the hero, completely separate from his father’s corrupt ideologies.
The story relates to the Iron Man films
The story dates back to the very birth of the MCU, with its opening title Iron Man, which released in 2008. The reason why these two films have a connection is because the terrorist organisation Tony Stark was captured by were the ‘Ten Rings’, which was the organisation Wen Wu ran.
In addition, Iron Man 2 continued this trope of the ‘Ten Rings’ by introducing who we believed to be at the time the leader of the organisation, called the Mandarin. However, this portrayal did not stick too well with the fans, and luckily Marvel were able to rectify their mistakes in their one-shot short film All hail the King.
At the end of Iron Man 3, we discover that the fake Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley was exposed to just be an actor who took on the mantle of the Ten Rings. He was then captured by the real leader and sentenced to his death. This film brings a full circle call back by re-introducing Kingsley to provide the much-needed comedic relief.
Awkwafina’s best performance yet
Awkwafina plays the supporting role of Shang-Chi’s best friend, Katy. She has starred in a lot of movies recently, including Crazy Rich Asians and Raya and The Last Dragon. However, this role was arguably her best performance yet.
I have heavily criticised her career as an actress because of her on-screen persona, “the try-too-hard to be funny girl,” but her performance as Katy has a deeper undertone that emphasises a lot of Asian struggles.
Throughout the film, she and Shang-Chi are often criticised for their jobs as valet drivers, although it is something that they both enjoy. The constant criticism from her peers and even family members cause her to question her worth. However, eventually, she proves to be one of the most crucial pieces in defeating the movie’s villain.
In addition, their on-screen chemistry really shines through in this movie. Both actors have had a background in comedy. Most known for his role in the show Kim’s Convenience, Simu shows that he can handle the comedic elements of a Marvel movie, yet he is an experienced enough actor to be taken seriously in dramatic scenes.
Excellent supporting cast
On top of that, the supporting cast was excellent. Besides the already mentioned Tony Leung, Michelle Yeoh shows her skills as a seasoned actress with her time on-screen. Her on-screen chemistry with Simu in a mentorship role worked well, and Marvel should continue to develop her character in the films to follow.
Shang Chi’s Sister Xialing, played by Meng’ er Zhang, also does an excellent job despite her little time on screen and fairly short speaking lines. However, it is clear that Marvel aims to establish this character further in the future based on the end-credit scene.
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Female empowerment and Asian culture
As much as this film focuses on the main protagonist, it is also about female empowerment. Awkwafina, as previously mentioned plays a pivotal role in the final act of the movie, but in fact Xialing establishes her own journey too.
After being neglected by her father, she independently learnt martial arts to become as good as her brother. Eventually running her own underground fighting ring in Macau, her character proves that females can take on important roles without the help of a man.
This film emphasised their need to keep the film as authentic to Asian culture as possible. However, I would argue that they tried too hard to stick to the culture that sometimes, the plot loses its identity.
The first half of the film clearly showed the antagonist to be Tony Leung’s character, and his battle as a widowed father who wants to destroy their mother’s village after believing she is held captive there. However, the mystical creatures like the ‘Great Protector Dragon’ and the ‘Dweller in Darkness’ overshadow a more realistic take on villains like terrorist organisations.
Despite this, I commend Marvel, as this is one of their most mystical stories to date, bar projects like Doctor Strange. It features dragons, Chinese protector lions, and for those who have seen the movie, headless chickens and “weird horses.”
This film does fall into the typical trope of an Asian martial arts film. The characters do speak in parables, creating a cliché of when movies used to be dubbed into English translation.
Despite that though, it is a Marvel film, so there is undoubtedly an expectation for action, and that is exactly what they deliver. This film was the first of its kind being martial arts based. The film incorporated styles like Wing-Chun and Tai-Chi. On top of that, the cinematograprapher for Shang-Chi is Bill Pope, the same cinematographer for the iconic Matrix films. This movie does draw a lot of similarities to the trilogy, with wire stunts being used throughout the movie.
Finally… relatable Asian role models
Another thing to note is that throughout the movie, I noticed homages to several Asian cultural movies. The scaffolding scene from the trailers is very reminiscent of Rush Hour 2, and not to mention the obvious Dragon Ball Z reference towards the end of the film.
However, despite its occasional cringe-worthy moments and stereotypical sub-plot, this movie was extremely important for the Asian community going forward.
Growing up Asian, I never saw characters who felt relatable to what I was currently experiencing. The closest figure to that was Spider-Man. However, he was a white teenager from Brooklyn, so he didn’t look or sound anything like me.
Black Panther did so much for the African American community when police brutality and black racism was at its highest, and this film did exactly that. It highlighted the importance of respect and honour within the Asian culture, and it showed that ordinary Asian people can and should be shown in a positive light.
This film has proven to be a huge success and a long-awaited film as it received 90 million dollars on opening weekend. It has also proven its longevity as it has seen the second largest weekend in the box office since the start of the pandemic. Their second week numbers total to about 35.8 million, beating Black Widow’s 25.8 million.
Shang-Chi finally opens the doors to young Asian kids having a role model that they can look up to, and in the midst of a global pandemic that has seen xenophobic acts committed to people within the Asian community… there was no better time than now to release this movie.