Marvel continues to move forward with “Shang-Chi”:
Family dynamics and kinetic fight scenes combine for another impressive effort.
MYes The Marvel cup is overflowing, and Black Widow was boring, so it was with a little painful step that I caught myself seeing Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings, whose title sounds like a 1974 drive-in. Still, the 25th offering in the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes as a pleasant surprise: the action scenes are cool, and the underlying family drama has a lot of heart. I would have shifted the balance from show to emotion a bit, but then I would have been fired for not spending enough money on digital effects.
A cheesy prologue gives us the story of a millennial Chinese immortal named Wenwu (Tony Leung) who gains superpowers through ten magic rings. If they’re worn on the forearms, they’re not rings, but I guess “The Legend of Ten Bracelets” doesn’t sound very badass. Charged with the rings, Wenwu kills his enemies by shooting blue lightning at them. If it had been two hours ago, I wouldn’t have gone all the way.
Corn! As artfully directed and co-written by an Asian American named Destin Daniel Cretton, who did the heartfelt indie Short term 12 (2013) and the drama of injustice Just mercy (2019), the film takes place on a disarmingly beautiful forest scene, worthy of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon it is both a fight and a seduction, in which the powerful Wenwu falls in love with an equally super powerful woman, Jiang Li (Fala Chen). Decades later, in San Francisco, we meet their son, Shaun (Simu Liu), whose partner Katy (Awkwafina) has lost touch with his Chinese roots and barely speaks the language. During a long and inventive martial arts fight with a gang of attackers on a city bus, we learn that Shaun is little more than he looks, and from that point on, the film is a fiery mix of action, comedy and family drama. Mysterious message leads Shaun (real name Shang-Chi) to reconnect with his estranged sister, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), in Macau, eastern Las Vegas, where the siblings’ father tells the two children that he needs them to join him to invade and eventually destroy the magical civilization forbidden in the forest where their mother came from.
The family dynamic keeps the film together; Leung’s character, Wenwu, driven by the loss of his wife, has a completely understandable motivation: to get her back, if necessary by going to extremes. His angst makes him the best kind of villain – the one who is directional and even slightly sympathetic. Meanwhile, the character arc of Awkwafina, a decidedly 21st-century American girl who delves into her heritage and learns ancient skills as the film progresses, is both a source of energy. comedic and something deeper than that, lending this blockbuster some of the same warmth and respect for overseas ancestry that has characterized The farewell, in which the actress plays a girl from Queens who learns to appreciate the old country. The film is billed as a breakthrough because it has an (almost) all-Asian cast, but that matters less than its genuinely connected feeling for Chinese culture, with its hushed respect for nature, its superstitious fixation on fellowship with the people. dead, his longing for hidden lost kingdoms from a nobler past, and even his karaoke jokes. (Do not write to tell me that karaoke is Japanese; it has a huge valence among the Chinese as well.)
Yet I wish Shang-Chi had a little more respect for his audience. As it stands, the movie assumes that no one can expect to endure more than 20 minutes without a massive fight scene, whether or not they push the plot forward. A sin Black Widow, in which two sisters who haven’t seen each other for a while make up for each other by hosting a mega fight instead of just opening a bottle of Pinot Grigio like everyone else, there’s a completely useless epic between Shang-Chi and her sister . The film never really makes the emotional connection between the siblings that should be at the center of the story; a single calm, well-written five-minute scene with the two talking would have done it.
There are also so many comedic relief moments (including a surprising return of a minor character from MCU history) that they tend to be disgusting, and as is usually the case with these movies, the Writers are so generous in handing out the superpowers for everyone that the characters don’t seem to be straining or particularly vulnerable, two flaws that undermine the supposed excitement of many fights. One of those clashes ends when both sides say, in essence, “Whatever, let’s be allies. Luckily we didn’t hurt ourselves. So Shang-Chi isn’t a staple (and its ties to the rest of the MCU, as a few post-credits footage reveals, are weak), but it’s a gripping action flick bursting with both style and soul.