“Shang-Chi” Movie Review


Photo courtesy Disney Australia

Devin Hung, Contributing Writer

I’m going to be frank, I wasn’t too excited to watch Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The trailers didn’t particularly sell me on the story or the characters, and even though it was the first Asian-led superhero movie to ever be made (a true accomplishment and a huge step forward in regards to representation), it seemed like it was going to be another average Marvel movie. Thank goodness I was proven wrong.


I had an absolute blast of a time watching this in theaters! There is a lively atmosphere enveloping this entire movie, making this the most fun Marvel film in years. It’s also undeniably fresh, and not just because of the Asian cast and director. Simu Liu, who plays the eponymous Shang-Chi/Shaun, is dynamite in this leading role. He hasn’t been afraid of displaying his passion and dedication to this character, and it really shines through on the screen. He emanates the kind of charm that made classic action heroes such as John McClane so much fun to watch, as well as a relatability that almost anyone can find endearing. Shang-Chi isn’t rich, in love, or comfortable with his family. But he loves going out to karaoke bars with his best friend (a delightful Awkwafina), which brings him right down to Earth. 


Speaking of Awkwafina, the chemistry between her and Simu Liu is magnificent; they really feel like best friends who understand each other. It was such a joy watching these two on screen together, and I can not wait to see more from them. The rest of the cast should not be overlooked though, because legendary international actors Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh add a dramatic weight to this cast, and Meng’er Zhang is endlessly cool as Shang-Chi’s complicated sister.


Tony Leung in particular is a real highlight as Shang-Chi’s father, Wenwu. Though he’s technically the villain of the movie, so much nuance is given to his character that he doesn’t feel like one. The story spends a lot of time on Wenwu and why he is the way he is and, without getting into spoilers of course, I actually started to empathize with him and feel bad for his plight. He’s easily one of the best Marvel antagonists, and Tony Leung owns his role, in both the slower and faster-paced moments. Also, with In The Mood for Love being one of my absolute favorite movies, seeing Tony Leung in a Marvel movie makes me so so happy.


But the best part about this movie was the carefully choreographed and downright electrifying action scenes. All of the action in the first and second acts are phenomenally well-directed, bringing forth numerous styles of martial arts, from wuxia sword-fights to gnarly hand-to-hand showdowns. All of the actors, not just Simu Liu, bring their A-game and make them look entirely convincing. There’s a bus scene that’s shown in the trailers that legitimately blew my mind; it’s easily the best action scene in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. 


In fact, most of the action in this movie is better than any of the previous Marvel movies because so much of it is done by real people doing real movements, with no real big special effect obscuring the hard working actors and stunt team, putting the characters in a more believable danger. The fights are all so tense and invigorating, and 100 percent different from any Marvel movie action scene, making this film even more fresh than it already is. The fight choreographers deserve some serious recognition.


However, I’m not going to act like this movie is the greatest movie of the year so far, because it isn’t; it’s far from it. As great as so much of the movie is, that third act really let me down. It falls into the same pitfalls that many of the recent Marvel movies have fallen into, namely the gigantic, larger-than-life CGI action sequences that are devoid of any real emotions. The movie is very much focused on family, grief, and responsibility, ideas that one doesn’t typically expect in a Marvel movie, and the film is all the better for it. But to see all of this story’s nuance be stripped away in favor of computer-generated animals and spiraling water, while impressive to look at, left me emotionally distant. 


It was almost as if the heads of Marvel Studios saw a “smaller-scale” story with smaller scale stakes, thought the story wouldn’t be enough to get people in theater seats, and shoe-horned in the mess of a final battle. But Shang-Chi ended up breaking a Labor day weekend box office record. And during a pandemic of all times.


Those box office numbers are a true testament to how enthused people are about this film, barring that final battle and some humor which didn’t work (the same problem a majority of Marvel movies run into). Not only were the trailers solid enough, but the glowing reviews and the fact that this is another step forward for big-budget representation on screen made people interested to check out the movie. It certainly piqued my interest, and while I wouldn’t say that this is another glowing, hyperbolic review, I’ll consider myself as another person fully sold on this movie, and a certified member of the Simu Liu fan-club. It’s my favorite Marvel solo movie since the revolutionary Black Panther, and I hope Shang-Chi will be written in the history books of cinema as well, imperfect though it may be.


Grade: 4/5