Marvel’s first Asian lead character gets his groove on.
I’m a film critic, who likes to stuck up for the little guys, which is why I always comment on how the little things become big things. To clarify, it’s independent filmmakers, who have to start small in order to achieve big movies. After all, Kevin Smith had to max out his parents’ credit cards and scrap some money in order to make his cult classic “Clerks.”
The point is: the new Marvel movie with its first Asian lead is “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” which is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, the same genius behind “Short Term 12” and “Just Mercy.” Stepping up his game, he needs to learn how to assemble the best special effects artists, but he does provide an interesting story, real emotions, and a lot of hilarious jokes. And he also uses the Asian culture to give us the tone and attitude of the film very well. All the qualities that make the MCU movie fun.
This martial arts story involves ten magic rings that gives people powers and immortality. Throughout the centuries, the powerful Wenwu (Tony Leung) has been the leader of the Ten Rings, and only wants power and money. He has a son named Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), whom he trains to be an assassin. Rejecting the evils, he has been hiding out in San Francisco, where he works with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina) as a valet under the name Shaun.
Katy finds out about his past, when papa plans to capture Shang-Chi and his sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), who has gone estranged from him for leaving her behind.
The reason why Wenwu wants Shang-Chi back in China is that he wants his son to take his place as the leader of the Ten Rings, and to free his deceased wife Jiang Li (Fala Chen) from a spiritual prison. He’s so desperate that he’s willing to believe the voices that tells him she’s still alive, and he plans to attack Ta Lo to get her back. That is if she’s even there.
That’s when Shang-Chi must follow his roots and fight his dad.
The supporting cast includes Michelle Yeoh as Shang-Chi’s kind aunt Jiang Nan, who is also a guardian of Ta Lo, one of the God Realms, and trains her niece and nephew to fight. And reprising MCU actors include Benedict Wong as Wong and Ben Kingsley as Trevor Slattery.
Most of the CGI effects, regarding people falling, demon dragons sucking the lives out of them, and the landscapes that show those scenes, are cheesy and uninspired. So, I can’t call “Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings” an MCU masterpiece. At least there are a few attractive things like the martial arts stunt work, some creatures looking like Hayao Miyazaki meets Dr. Seuss, the rings lighting up yellow or blue, and a water map.
I was more enthralled by the characters and narrative than the boring effects. I’ve never heard of Simu Liu before, but he makes his leading debut with a sincere and charming attitude. This year, both her voice role in “Raya and the Last Dragon” and her live-action role here allow Awkwafina to portray comic relief characters with big laughs and big hearts. Leung makes a great antagonist, who has his vulnerabilities. Kingsley is hilarious when his character plays the actor in an action movie, And the supporting work from Zhang and Yeoh is excellent.
I was disappointed in MCU’s last entry “Black Widow,” but “Shang-Chi” delivers the goods with its flexible, emotional, and comical attitude, which has the attention spans of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the best and worst martial arts movies. I was laughing my ass off in various parts, and I was moved by its characters’ humanities. Kudos to Destin Daniel Cretton for following this particular film career pattern.
In Theaters This Friday