Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is Marvel’s latest foray into the new cinematic cycle without powerhouse actors like Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans – and it is a masterpiece.
Shang Chi, a stalwart hero from Marvel Comics since his introduction in 1973, has been through many changes — including the cancellation of his own series – and thrived.
Comic lovers should be warned that Marvel has taken great liberties with Shang Chi’s history, particularly ignoring that he was the son of the infamous Sax Rohmer character Fu Manchu, and given him a whole new origin.
Comic sticklers may complain, as they often do, but the movie maintains the character and integrity of the hero and gives him a new purpose. The important thing about this film, and any other film based on a comic book, is that it creates a world that is internally consistent and meshes with the known Marvel Comics Universe. Director and co-writer, Destin Daniel Cretton, joined the ranks of creators who understand the Marvelverse.
The movie, which opens in theaters Sept. 3, is fast moving, funny at the right times, and weaves a fascinating story about trained martial artist Shang Chi (Simu Liu) who turns against his father, The Mandarin (Tony Leung) and his criminal organization The Ten Rings because he refuses to become an assassin.
Liu was born in China and emigrated to Canada at the age of five where he has a solid career in Canadian television and films. His background as a stuntman and actual martial arts enthusiasts serves him well in this film. He has a powerful screen presence and is instantly likeable, which will serve him well.
The standout actor in the film is Tony Leung, as the “villain” we all know is not such a bad guy. Leung, from Hong Kong, is one of the most successful and famous actors in Asia where he is a box office hero.
Perhaps the most surprising performance comes from the unusual choice of comedian/actor Awkwafina as Shang Chi’s Asian-American best friend, Katy. She provides the non-obtrusive witty banter we have come to expect from Marvel films.
Ben Kingsley reprises his role as the “fake Mandarin” from Iron Man 3. It is explained his earlier appearance was intended to be a stalking horse to frighten westerners while the real Mandarin (who despises the name) controlled the secret Ten Rings organization. Kingsley’s character is a washed-up actor that the real Mandarin keeps around for amusement.
Last but not least is Shang Chi’s long-lost sister, Jian Li (Fala Chen), who taught herself martial arts since women were forbidden to learn the craft. She also abandons her father to seek her own fortune.
And Shang Chi would not be a Marvel movie if it failed to include cameos by other Marvel characters, like The Abomination (an unrecognizable Tim Roth); Dr. Strange’s assistant, Wong (Benjamin Wong) and a couple other heroes seen in the after-credit scene.
Shang Chi is a great popcorn movie, rated PG-13 because of comic book violence. It’s 132 minutes of fun and fantasy.