Reel Reviews | Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

by Charles Kirkland Jr.

Marvel introduces the world to the Master of Kung-Fu, Shang-Chi in the latest edition of Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

Shaun (Simu Liu) is living the dream.  He and his best friend, Katy (Awkwafina) are enjoying life parking cars, staying up all night at karaoke bars, and basically just slacking off through their lives basically to the dismay of all those around them.  One day when the two are attacked on a bus for a pendant given to him by his mother, Shaun has to explain that he is really Shang-Chi, the son of the leader of the criminal organization known as The Ten Rings.  Shang-Chi embarks on a mission to save his sister from their father with Katy tagging along.  Eventually, he discovers that his father is mourning the loss of their mother and has found a way to bring her back to them so that they can be a family again.  Sound simple right?  Well soon, Shang finds out everything is not as simple as they seem.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is written by Dave Callaham, Andrew Lanham, and Destin Daniel Cretton and directed by Cretton.  It stars Liu and Awkwafina along with Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Fala Chen Michelle Yeoh, Florian Munteanu, Ben Kingsley, and Andy Le.  Being a Marvel movie and connected to the MCU, there are a couple of guest stars including Benedict Wong, Mark Ruffalo, and Brie Larson.  Stay for the end credits!

Of course, Disney would never admit this but, thanks to the lawsuit from Scarlett Johannson, Shang-Chi is only being released in theaters.  Marvel fans are the true beneficiaries on this end.  This movie belongs on the big screen.  Just Mercy’s Destin Daniel Cretton utilizes every inch of the screen in telling this story that is chocked full of special effects.  It demands and deserves a theatrical release for the best experience.

Shang-Chi is the one movie that almost put everyone on the same level as far as knowledge.  Comic book enthusiasts of “The Master of Kung-Fu” will quickly notice that the origin of this character is mostly original and bears little resemblance to the origin in those mags from the early ‘80s.  Although the appearance of Razor Fist and Death Dealer are great references to the comic, there are a number of necessary and original differences from the source material.  The biggest difference is the actual ten rings.  In the comic books, The Mandarin wore the rings on his fingers and each one had powers very similar to those of the Infinity Stones.  In this film, the rings are bracelets and seem to work together to provide power and long life.  Shang-Chi’s father, Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) reportedly possessed them for centuries while never growing old.

Additionally, in the comic books, Shang-Chi’s father was not The Mandarin but a detestable character named Fu Manchu.  Because of his terrible stereotypical characterization of Asian culture, the character was banned from this film in fear of pushback from cancel culture and the loss of the almighty Yen from Chinese markets that were sure to ban the film if the character made an appearance.

But if anything, the Marvel team, which is helmed by Kevin Feige and has created this multi-billion dollar movie franchise, is well aware of how to avoid controversy and create storylines that are smart and can work into the overall plan.  In this case, they have taken a character that is known as the best martial artist in the world and powered him up to be a force in the universe.  They expand upon a plotline that was originally introduced in Iron Man which of course brings everything together quite conveniently. 

This brings us to the one problem of the movie.  After the release of Iron Man 2 which introduced us to Trevor Slattery, the actor who pretended to be The Mandarin at the request of Aldrich Killian, there was a sequel short called “All Hail the King” in which Trevor was broken out of prison by the real Mandarin.  The story ended by stating that Slattery had to pay for the crime of pretending to be the leader of the Ten Rings.  Slattery re-appears in this movie having cleverly escaped the death that was promised in the short.  While it is easy to accept his inclusion in the film as comic relief, it speaks to the inability of Marvel to allow these stories of people of color without injecting a “token” white person.  (Think Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross in Black Panther.)  The character provides very little to the film as could easily be omitted. ‘Nuff said!

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a very good entry into the MCU.  Many people thought that the taking of the almost unknown Guardians of the Galaxy franchise and turning it into a credible and fun part of the Marvel Universe was the crowning triumph for Feige’s team.  Hand the crown over.  Shang-Chi is smart and action-packed and has the potential of taking an unknown character and turning him into a cosmic force that even the most powerful Avenger has to check on; it is a masterwork.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and language, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is full of martial arts action, mystical creatures, powerful weapons, and the pre-requisite Marvel humor.  Simu Liu  Awkwafina are excellent additions to the Marvel lexicon creating a powerfully positive piece of Asian representation for a universe that previously had very little. 

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is playing only in theaters. 

Grade:  B