Shaun (Simu Liu) and Katy (Awkwafina) are not only best friends, but they are passionate about working as valets. They get to drive unaffordable, expensive cars and end their night drinking and singing karaoke at a bar. One day when Shaun is attacked on the bus by a group led by “a guy with a freaking machete for an arm,” he reveals to Katy that his actual name is Shang-Chi and those attackers were part of the Ten Rings organization, which is controlled by his father, Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung).
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the 25th film in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It delivers what fans expect from a typical Marvel movie: Big villains, CGI battles, and funny one-liners. But beneath the shiny cover, Shang-Chi carries a dark desire. So dark that it breaks and makes a villain out of a loving father. After the death of his wife, Ying Li (Fala Chen), Wenwu is consumed by grief. This makes him vulnerable to exploitation by the film’s main evil entity, who lures Wenwu and his power of ten rings towards him for the sake of his freedom. He beguiles by mimicking Li, leading Wenwu to believe that she is alive and trapped by her own people behind a sealed gate in Ta Lo. Ta Lo is a magical place packed with fantastic beasts. Newt Scamander might enjoy living there.
The central theme of Shang-Chi involves letting go of the past. This idea is beautifully shown during a training session between Shang-Chi and his aunt, played by Michelle Yeoh, where she takes his fist and opens it. You see, she makes him let go of the technique that he learned in the past in the presence of his father. The past can also be a departed loved one. In that case, keep them in your memory and live life in the present, like Katy’s grandmother Waipo (Tsai Chin). She still offers a bottle of whiskey to her husband’s grave, but she has also accepted that he has left the mortal world. Wenwu, though, refuses to move on. He clings on to revenge and false hope. Due to this, he neglects his children, and instead of providing them with care and support, he trains his son to become an assassin. The daughter is distanced as she reminds him of the wife.
Since this is a Marvel movie, the drama is not allowed to get too heavy. A joke is always waiting around the corner to pop up and release the tension. That’s fine because the film is undeniably enjoyable, thanks largely to the performances. If Shang-Chi had a bad cast, the flimsy nature of the drama would have been exposed for all to see. The screenplay by Dave Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton, and Andrew Lanham merely touches the surface. It goes for all the old clichés like love at first sight (or fight in this case) and depicting a happy family through a scene in which they laugh and dance together. On this superficial platform, heavy emotions are placed. A collapse should have been inevitable, but the actors hold it together. Most of the credit goes to Leung. His face bears the pain of a grieving husband. You don’t doubt that this man would do anything to get back his love. Towards the end, when he is told by his son that they needed him after the death of their mother, the regret he displays is palpable.
Early in Shang-Chi, there comes a stunning fight scene between Wenwu and Li. They don’t just punch and kick but dance and fall into each other’s rhythm. In comparison, the subsequent action sequences look pale and uninteresting. The final boss battle involving a dragon, an army of soul suckers, and a mega soul sucker is downright bland and the worst thing in this film. Perhaps director Destin Daniel Cretton wants to convey that the fights appear so much better and convincing when rendered with minimum CGI, as is evident by the one between Wenwu and Li. So, Marvel shouldn’t overly depend on the green screen, as they make everything visually tiresome and unexciting.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.