8mm Film Review (Non-Spoiler): ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’

I’ve been a fan of Marvel comics as a kid, collecting comics including Spider-Man, The Avengers, the Fantastic Four, etc. and a fan of the film adaptations from the first Tobey Maguire Spider-Man to the first official Marvel Cinematic Universe (“MCU”) film, Iron Man – to more recently, Avengers: Endgame.

In all that time though, I don’t think I was ever familiar or had even heard of Marvel’s Shang-Chi comic book and only peripherally had learned about it when the announcement of the film adaptation was going to be made. After that, I had read that the comic has perpetuated some stereotypes and had some racist tropes, like the main villain character, Fu Manchu.

So when I heard that Marvel was coming out with Shang-Chi, starring Simi Liu (Kim’s Convenience – which I am a big fan of the show), I was pleasantly surprised. At the time, I thought it made perfect sense for Marvel to come out with its first Asian superhero film. Black Panther was a gigantic success, and Marvel super heroes have been were historically overrepresented by white men and women.

The film:

stars Simu Liu as Shang-Chi, who must confront the past he thought he left behind when he is drawn into the web of the mysterious Ten Rings organization. The film also stars Tony Leung as Wenwu, Awkwafina as Shang-Chi’s friend Katy and Michelle Yeoh as Jiang Nan, as well as Fala Chen, Meng’er Zhang, Florian Munteanu and Ronny Chieng.”

The hype surrounding Shang-Chi reminds me of the expectations surrounding Crazy Rich Asians. When that film came out in 2018, it was billed as the first Asian American rom-com or Hollywood blockbuster, with a cast and a budget to match. Prior to the premiere of Crazy Rich Asians coming out, I was excited yet also concerned. I had organized a “Gold Open” buyout of a screening for my alma mater and was hoping that it was going to be good. 

So when I was able to see an early screening of Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings in San Francisco (as part of a 25- city U.S. and Canadian IMAX promotion) two weeks in advance at a Marvel fan screening for free and in IMAX no less, I was happy as well as a little nervous.  I was hoping the film was good or at least didn’t suck.

I was not disappointed!

I was ecstatic that the film was action packed, entertaining with a developed storyline with Asian and Asian American characters that were not caricatures and that spoke with universal themes such as family and duty, and with an Asian bent that was cinematographically gorgeous with a lot of surprising imagery that I was not expecting. 

Some of the scenes and cinematographic color palette reminded me of the the film ‘House of Flying Daggers.’ Some of the action moves or sequences are inspired from The Matrix or Jackie Chan films, as veterans of those films were involved in them as well. I was also pleasantly surprised to see how much Mandarin Chinese was spoken in the film (with subtitles). 

Shang-Chi, or as he is better known at first as “Shaun,” is your average non-stereotypical underachieving Chinese American living and working in San Francisco enjoying life day-to-day with his co-worker/friend Katy, played by Awkwafina. Eventually, Shang-Chi has to confront, how shall I say, his overbearing father Wenwu (aka The Mandarin), portrayed by Hong Kong acting legend Tony Leung.

Simu does a great job as Shang-Chi, and Awkwafina as his funny sidekick, but everyone is impressed, including myself, with Tony Leung’s portrayal of Wenwu. To be honest, I have not seen a lot of his work, but I do know he’s had a storied career in Asia. It’s pretty amazing that Leung decided that Shang-Chi would be his Hollywood debut (but then again, the Marvel film franchise is a pretty global phenomenon). I thought Meng’er Zhang as Shang-Chi’s sister and Fala Chen as Shang-Chi’s mother were excellent as well. Michelle Yeoh is also very strong in the third and final act of the film.

After watching the film at the early screening, I watched a lot of YouTube reviews of the film, and I think the biggest complaint is some of the pacing of the film, along with flashbacks with exposition to give the backgrounds of all the characters – but I think that is to be expected given the nature of origin stories. I mean Shang-Chi is not a known super hero like Superman, Spider-man, Wonder Woman or Batman. Also, at the end, I thought the final act of the film, got a little too busy with the fight scenes … But upon second viewing, I definitely had less issues with the pacing and the final fight scenes.

Originally, Shang-Chi was supposed to premiere on February 12, 2021 (the first day of the Chinese New Year), then to May 7 and July 9th, with the final date scheduled for September 3. Shang-Chi will be the first Marvel Studios film to receive a 45-day theatrical window before premiering on Disney+. If it weren’t for Delta, I think Shang-Chi would have a blockbuster opening, but who knows now? I think part of the 25-city early screening promotion of the film was to get word of mouth and reviews out to help promote the film, as the reviews have been fantastic—92% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes with over 207 reviews at the time of this writing.

If you’re into the Marvel Cinematic Universe or just like action films, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with Shang-Chi and encourage you all to catch the film, ideally opening weekend to help support the film. This film is important, as media observer Jeff Yang writes in this opinion piece, ‘Asian Americans Are Finally Getting the Heroes We Deserve’:

Shang-Chi isn’t the first Asian protagonist we’ve seen on a screen. But as a big-budget, big-screen Marvel superhero, he’ll be ubiquitous. Superheroes today are on every screen, device and platform, visible to every demographic in our society. Shang-Chi will usher in the next cinematic phase of the most successful franchise in global history. In his wake will come more Asian heroes: Gemma Chan and Kumail Nanjiani as Sersi and Kingo in “Eternals,” Iman Villani as Ms. Marvel in “The Marvels.” Their casting ensures that a generation of young Asian Americans will, for the first time, see themselves front and center, larger than life, on the biggest of screens.

So will the rest of the world, which is arguably even more important — when people see us as heroes, they’re forced to see us as humans.

That can mean the difference between life and death. Throughout our history in this country, Asian Americans have seen the dire consequences of compliance and invisibility: exploitation, exclusion, internment. We’re seeing them again today in the time of Covid, as the pandemic has underscored our country’s xenophobic hostility, and unleashed a wave of violence against the most vulnerable in our communities.

A scene from “Shang-Chi” perfectly captures why this film is so important and timely. Ambushed by thugs on a San Francisco bus, Shang-Chi suddenly unleashes a flurry of eye-popping combat moves. His longtime friend Katy does a hard double take.

“Who are you?” she demands. For her, this is a brand-new Shaun. For the rest of the riders on the bus, cheering him on and snapping selfies, this is a brand-new hero. All of them are simply seeing him as who he really is. Don’t we all deserve as much?

The film officially opened today, and early signs are that the film will do well:

“According to a report from DeadlineShang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings earned $8.8 million in opening night previews. This is higher than the $7.1M opening night F9 had in May, which led to the film posting a $70M opening weekend. Shang-Chi was previously expected to open to $45M over the four-day Labor Day weekend, but it could outperform those expectations now. For reference, this still trails Black Widow‘s box office performance, as it opened to a pandemic-best $13.2M opening night and $80.3M opening weekend.”

I’m hoping the film and Shang-Chi’s continued involvement in the MCU will have a postive impact on the Asian and Asian American community.

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About John

I'm a Taiwanese-American and was born & raised in Western Massachusetts, went to college in upstate New York, worked in Connecticut, went to grad school in North Carolina and then moved out to the Bay Area in 1999 and have been living here ever since - love the weather and almost everything about the area (except the high cost of housing...)
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