Based on the Marvel Comics series by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the story of a man whose father is the leader of a mysterious organization as he is drawn back to the world as he copes with who his father is and his actions while wanting to do good in the world. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and screenplay by Cretton, Dale Callaham, and Andrew Laham from a story by Cretton and Callaham, the film is an exploration of a man trying to make his own life as he hides his secret from those close to him as they’re brought into a world that is dangerous as the titular character is played by Simu Liu. Also starring Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Yeoh, and Tony Leung Chiu-wai as Wenwu/the Mandarin. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is an exhilarating and evocative film from Destin Daniel Cretton.
The film revolves around a young man who carries a mysterious secret as he’s the son of an immortal criminal who asks for his help believing that his late mother is alive in another world. It is a film that explores a young man, who had left his father’s world years after their mother’s death, who had gone to America to live a life that normal and fun with a friend until a letter from his estranged younger sister came in as it would lead to him and his sister reuniting with their father. The film’s screenplay by Destin Daniel Cretton, Dale Callaham, and Andrew Laham does follow a simple structure yet it opens with the story of the Ten Rings that Shang-Chi’s father Wenwu had been carrying for thousands of years as it made him immortal and live for many years until his search for a mysterious land in China with great power is where he met Ying Li (Fala Chen) who was the guardian of this mysterious land as the two fall in love and raise two children until Li’s death.
The script also play into why Shang-Chi left his family to go to America where he and his friend Katy (Awkwafina) work as valets at a hotel and spend their nights doing karaoke and why his sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) is pissed off at him as it relates to the day he left. The first act establishes Shang-Chi’s life in San Francisco with Katy that is interrupted by assassins of the Ten Rings organization that included Razorfist (Florian Munteanu) who is trying to get a pendant that Shang-Chi had which was given to him by his mother as it is a clue to what Wenwu is looking for in this mysterious village known as Ta Lo. It’s not just the stakes that the screenplay establish as well as the worlds that Shang-Chi, Katy, and Xialing are entering into but also in the characters as Wenwu is an individual that is a man of power but his life with Li showed that he could change but his past would catch up with him that forced him to return to his dark ways. Shang-Chi isn’t sure if everything his father is saying is true as he is someone filled with conflict about his father’s teachings as well as guilt from his past as a boy. Xialing isn’t just someone who harbors resentment towards her brother for leaving her but also her father whom she felt neglected him following her mother’s death. Katy is this wisecracking outsider that is still trying to find herself as she also gets to know more about Shang-Chi and Xialing where she also learns more about herself.
Cretton’s direction is quite vast in not just the world that these characters are in but also in many of the ancient Chinese ideals and surroundings including the mysterious Ta Lo village as much of the film is shot on location in New South Wales in Australia and studios in Australia along with additional locations in San Francisco. Cretton doesn’t just play into China’s history as well as how Wenwu is involved but also in the creation of the Ten Rings organization as this force of power who controls everything. Through wide and medium shots, the presentation of the Ten Rings organization and the world it has established itself is vast including its fortress where Wenwu lives with his army. Cretton also maintains a sense of mystique and beauty into the world including the village of Ta Lo which feature these mystical creatures that are more than just animals. It is a place where Shang-Chi and Xialing meet their aunt Ying Nan (Michelle Yeoh) whom they had never met as it would add to the film’s stakes but also Shang-Chi’s own revelations about who he is and the conflict he is dealing with over his mother’s death.
Cretton also play into the style of fighting as much of the stunt work and fight choreography is assembled by Bradley James Allan (whom the film is dedicated to) as Cretton knows how to present it with close-ups and medium shots while also knowing to keep the camera going as well as get a sense of rhythm into the fights. Notably in the third act that is about this showdown between the Ten Rings and the forces of Ta Lo as there’s a lot that is happening yet is really about the acceptance of death and the need to let go. Even as both Shang-Chi and Wenwu have to deal with ancient forces that Nan is trying to keep at bay as it play into ancient ideas of life and death as well as what the former has learned from death and who he is. Overall, Cretton crafts a dazzling yet somber film about a young man coping with his identity, loss, and the shadow of his father’s troubled legacy.
Cinematographer William Pope does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with the usage of low-key lights for some of the interior/exterior scenes at night as well as the vibrant colors of the daytime exterior scenes at Ta Lo as it feels dream-like. Editors Nat Sanders, Elisabet Ronaldsdottir, and Harry Yoon do excellent work with the editing as its usage of stylish cuts add to the fight scenes where it does play into its intensity while being straightforward for the dramatic and comedic moments of the film. Production designers Sue Chan and Clint Wallace, along with supervising art director Richard Hobbs plus set decorators Rebecca Cohen, David A. Cook, and Leigh Welsh, do amazing work with the look of the Ten Rings fortress, Xialing’s own underground fighting circuit that she runs, and house and building at Ta Lo that all has its sense of beauty and wonders. Costume designer Kym Barrett does fantastic work with the costumes from the casual look of Katy and Shang-Chi as well as the uniforms that the Ten Rings wear as well as the clothes of the people at Ta Lo including what Nan wears.
Hair/makeup designer Rick Findlater do terrific work with the look of a few characters such as the hair design of Razorfist as well as the look of the people at the Ta Lo village. Special effect supervisor Dan Oliver and visual effects supervisor Christopher Townshend do incredible work with the action set pieces as well as the design of Ta Lo and some of the creatures including a creature named Morris. Sound designer Jeremy Bowker and sound editor Katy Wood do superb work with the sound in the way the sound effects are presented as well as the atmosphere of the locations as it help add to the action and suspense. The film’s music by Joel P. West is phenomenal as its mixture of orchestral bombast and traditional Chinese orchestral music as it help play into the world that Shang-Chi is in while music supervisors Dave Jordan and Nick Lok create a soundtrack that mixes elements of pop, hip-hop, and classic rock as it features music from Niki, Swae Lee, Jhene Aiko, Anderson.Paak, JJ Lin, Saweetie, Rick Ross, and many others including some karaoke songs performed by Shang-Chi and Katy including the Eagles.
The casting by Sarah Finn is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from Jade Xu as a Black Widow fighting an Extremis warrior in one of the rooms at Xialing’s building, Zach Cherry as a bus rider who records Shang-Chi’s fight in the bus, Stephanie Hsu and Kunal Dudhekar as a couple of friends of Shang-Chi and Katy respectively in Soo and John, Tim Roth in an un-credited voice performance as the gigantic villain Abomination as a fighter in Xialing’s building, Ronny Chieng as Xialing’s right-hand man Jon Jon at her underground building, Dallas Liu as Katy’s younger brother Ruihua, Jodi Long as Katy’s mother, Tsai Chin as Katy’s grandmother, Andy Le as the mysterious assassin known as the Death Dealer who was also the young Shang-Chi’s instructor, Yuen Wah as a Ta Lo leader in Guang Bo, Elodie Fong and Harmonie He in their respective roles as the adolescent and teenage Xialing, Jayden Zhang and Arnold Sun in their respective roles as the adolescent and teenage Shang-Chi, and Ben Kingsley in a hilarious performance as the actor Trevor Slattery whom had played a version of Wenwu many years ago and is imprisoned as he helps out Shang-chi, Xialing, and Katy in finding Ta Lo.
Benedict Wong is superb in his brief appearance as Wong as a master of the mystic arts who fights Abomination and later appears to chat with Shang-Chi and Katy while Florian Munteanu is terrific as the Ten Rings assassin Razorfist as a big man with machete/sword as a right hand as he is a formidable force that is intimidating but also with some personality. Michelle Yeoh is fantastic as Ying Nan as Shang-Chi and Xialing’s aunt who leads the people at the Ta Lo village as well as be a guide to her niece and nephew as well as be aware of Wenwu’s delusions. Fala Chen is excellent in her small role as Shang-Chi and Xialing’s mother Ying Li as a woman who was Ta Lo’s guardian when she met Wenwu as she is also this graceful fighter who gives her children something much more powerful than their father’s fighting style. Meng’er Zhang is incredible as Xu Xialing as Shang-Chi’s estranged sister whom he hadn’t seen in years as she runs an underground fight club in Macau as she also copes with the loss of her mother and her own issues with her father.
Awkwafina is marvelous as Katy as Shang-Chi’s best friend who doesn’t have much ambition while also realizes she doesn’t know Shang-Chi well at all but understands why he’s so guarded as she is a comic relief with a lot of heart but also someone who starts to embrace her Asian identity. Tony Leung Chiu-wai is phenomenal as Xu Wenwu as an immortal crime figure known primarily as the Mandarin as a man that craves power yet is ravaged by grief and the delusion that his wife is alive where Leung maintains a sense of gravitas and charisma to his performance as a man that is hoping to get his family back even if it means having to do horrific things. Finally, there’s Simu Liu in a sensational breakthrough performance as the titular character as a young man who is trying to not to be who he really is while carrying a lot of guilt over his mother’s death as where Liu maintains that sense of restraint while proving to be charismatic in the fight scenes as he is a major discovery in the film.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a sensational film from Destin Daniel Cretton that features a phenomenal ensemble cast led by Simu Liu and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. Along with its supporting cast, dazzling visuals, incredible visual effects, themes of loss and family identity, and a sumptuous music score and soundtrack. The film isn’t just this exhilarating action-adventure blockbuster that introduces audiences to a new superhero let alone an Asian superhero. It is a film that is about a man having to embrace his identity but also do what he can in that identity to bring good to the world. In the end, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a spectacular film from Destin Daniel Cretton.
Destin Daniel Cretton Films: (I Am Not a Hipster) – Short Term 12 - (The Glass Castle (2017 film)) – Just Mercy
Marvel Cinematic Universe: Infinity Saga: Phase One: Iron Man - The Incredible Hulk - Iron Man 2 - Thor - Captain America: The First Avenger - The Avengers
Phase Two: Iron Man 3 - Thor: The Dark World - Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Guardians of the Galaxy - The Avengers: Age of Ultron - Ant-Man
Phase Three: Captain America: Civil War - Doctor Strange - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 - Spider-Man: Homecoming - Thor: Ragnarok - Black Panther - Avengers: Infinity War - Ant-Man and the Wasp - Captain Marvel - Avengers: Endgame
Phase Four: Black Widow - Eternals – Spider-Man: No Way Home – Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – (Thor: Love and Thunder) – (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) - (Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania) - (The Marvels) – (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3) – (Fantastic Four)
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