WARNING: Major Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings spoilers ahead.
Representation on the big screen matters. That was what subconsciously seeped into my mind when Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was first announced. However, after finally seeing it in theatres, as an Asian American I’m proud to say the movie ended up being about more than just representation. Marvel has made a truly beautiful film.
Firstly, I want to acknowledge that, yes, the movie has stereotypical Chinese symbols such as dragons, the prominence of the color red and the importance of martial arts. However, these symbols are used throughout the film as small brush-strokes rather than the width of the canvas itself. Shang-Chi is far from a film drenched in Chinese cultural references that fails to establish its own mojo. Far from it. Don’t get me wrong, the references are there, but I feel that they are painted with respect and blend perfectly with the narrative of the film.
A fine example of this is the transition between different environments. We jump around from place to place, most notably from ancient times when Wenwu was hungry for world power to modern day California where two drunk friends sing Old Town Road by Lil Nas X after a long day of recklessly valeting luxury cars. But that is not to say we don’t get a very heavy-mixed martial arts movie. Honestly, I haven’t seen many of Bruce Lee’s movies, but after watching Shang-Chi I can understand the generational appeal. I was on the edge of my seat for every fight scene. The bus scene particularly stood out to me. Not only is the vlogger hilarious, but the choreography is stupendous.
As a pivot point from the bus scene, I want to talk about the acting, namely Simu Liu (Shang-Chi). Liu plays two completely separate characters at times — one being the fun-loving valet driver that should be responsible but isn’t, and the warrior destined to bring balance to the two separate worlds his roots are from. It was so vital that Liu nailed the role of Shang-Chi, and he did so to the tee.
Other characters that especially stood out to me are Wenwu and Xialing. The former has one of the most interesting character arcs in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). By the end of the movie he eventually comes back to the light while he’s having his soul being ripped out by the soul-sucking demon; however, I think that moment is when Wenwu actually gets his soul back. He realizes the grave mistakes he’s made, and he passes on his legacy to his son. He does this with a cool, calm demeanor — and a small smile — as Wenwu knows his legacy will be in good hands.
On the flipside, there’s Xialing. Throughout the movie she was one of my favorite characters, for being both badass and loveable — until I reached the second post-credit scene. Instead of going back to her father’s compound to dismantle it, she goes back to revamp it. The scene sets up an interesting sequel that I cannot wait for.
Aside from the main characters, I love the cameos in the movie. My favorite has to be Wong, though that’s by complete bias as he and Doctor Strange have been some of my favorite characters in the entire MCU. I also love that the first post-credits scene features Bruce Banner and Captain Marvel. By showcasing these beloved characters, it gives the new superheroes legitimacy within the timeline. Two other smaller cameos are from the villain Abomination and our old pal the Mandarin. For those who don’t know, the comic relief, Trevor, whom we meet later in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is actually the Mandarin from Iron Man 3. While it could be that Marvel is trying to cover up the messy past of a controversial character, Trevor gives us a few good chuckles in Shang-Chi.
The only aspect I disliked is when Katy nails a once-in-a-lifetime shot to save the Great Protector from the soul-sucking demon, and evidently the whole world. The second she was encouraged to try and shoot a bow and arrow I knew that she was going to hit some ridiculous shot to save the world. It was pretty obvious. Aside from that, her character is well-written.
Despite that point, I still love this movie. It makes me proud knowing that more children around the world will now have a character that represents their culture and looks like them, someone that can become their favorite superhero to look up to. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will leave a distinct mark on one of the greatest cinematic franchises in history, for all the right reasons.