Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings (2021)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 9/5/21
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Cast: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung (Chiu Wai), Meng'er Zhang, Fala Chen, Michelle Yeoh, Yuen Wah, Ben Kingsley, Andy Le, Benedict Wong

"You aim at nothing, you will hit nothing."

For one thousand years, Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) has used the ten rings for power, conquest, and immortality. His life changed when he met a young woman from the fabled land of Ta Lo (Fala Chen), who was not only beautiful, but could also best him in combat. Against all odds, the two enemies fell in love, gave up their respective powers, and raised a family. Unfortunately, his wife's untimely death led him to pick up the ten rings again and resume his life as a ruthless killer, while a voice from another dimension calls to him for help. Meanwhile, his son Shaun (Simu Liu) ran away from home and is living in San Francisco, working as a valet with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). A cryptic post card and a violent encounter on a bus bring him back to China, where he reconnects with his long lost sister Xialing (Meng-er Zhang) and his dear old dad. It turns out that the voices in Wenwu's head are telling him to destroy Ta Lo, and Shaun, Katy, and Xialing have to stop him.

"Shang-Chi" is one of the finest Hong Kong movies to not come out of Hong Kong. The fight scenes are superb and expertly filmed, with none of the invasive and rapid fire editing that's so prevalent in Hollywood. If nothing else, that's proof that Hollywood CAN produce good martial arts fight scenes, but most of the time they choose not to. On the same note, Simu Liu, Meng'er Zhang, Tony Leung, Fala Chen, Andy Le, and Michelle Yeoh exhibit the raw athleticism and physical grace required to effectively sell those scenes. It's simply beautiful to watch them in motion. Simu Liu is immensely charming and charismatic as Shaun, and you can't help liking him. Awkwafina is surprisingly endearing as Katy and gives her character a satisfying amount of emotional depth, which I'm thankful for because the trailers showed her as an annoying and potentially scene-ruining comic sidekick. Instead, that job goes to Ben Kingsley, who reprises his role as Trevor Slattery from "Iron Man 3." His character is unnecessary and derails the story whenever he shows up. Tony Leung is superb and plays Wenwu as a sensitive and sympathetic villain who has been corrupted by power and blinded by a broken heart. Seeing Michelle Yeoh is always a treat, and she provides the yin to Leung's yang. This is also the first time she and Leung have worked together in a film since "Butterfly And Sword" (1993). (Although I can't recall if they actually share any scenes)

I found "Shang-Chi" to be extremely enjoyable, but it's not perfect. The humor is often misplaced and doesn't work, and the connections to the MCU feel forced and unnecessary. Katy's story arc is predictable, but strains credibility as she somehow becomes Ta Lo's finest (or luckiest) archer after picking up a bow for the first time and only practicing for a few hours. Similar to "Black Widow" (2021), the film starts out incredibly strong, sags in the middle, and then ends with a protracted CGI-heavy climax that's too long and too outrageous for its own good. It's so much sensory overload that I emotionally checked out of the film about halfway through the final battle and just wanted it to be over. That said, I would still rank "Shang-Chi" in my top five favorite Marvel movies, and is definitely a contender for the best film of 2021.