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"SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS"
(2021) (Simu Liu, Awkwafina) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Superhero Action: A man must contend with his past, including his immortal and dangerous father whose actions might threaten everyone on Earth.
PLOT:

Shaun (SIMU LIU) and his best friend Katy (AWKWAFINA) work as parking valets in San Francisco, much to the chagrin of her mother who doesn't believe she's living up to her potential. But little do any of them know that Sean is actually Shang-Chi, the son of Xu Wenwu (TONY LEUNG), a.k.a. The Mandarin, who gained immortality long ago and conquered most of the world thanks to the ten supernatural rings he wears on his arms.

Having just survived an attack by several goons after the pendant he wears, Shang-Chi is thrust back into a world he was trying to forget and hide. Realizing his father sent those goons and that his younger sister, Xialing (MENG'ER ZHANG), is likely in danger, Shang-Chi gets Katy up to speed on what's what and both travel abroad to rescue her.

It turns out she's more than capable of defending herself and putting Shang-Chi in his place, but recognizes the threat their father poses, what with him being determined to enter the God Realm known as Ta Lo. It was there that he first met their mother, Jiang Li (FALA CHEN), and despite everyone knowing she was murdered long ago, he's positive she's being held behind a portal wall in that realm and needs rescuing.

Getting there before him and meeting their aunt, Jiang Nan (MICHELLE YEOH), Shang-Chi, and Xialing prepare for an encounter with their father that could determine the fate of everyone on Earth should he breach that portal wall.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

A decade ago, Yale Law School professor Amy Chua introduced the rest of the world to the "tiger mom" concept in her 2011 memoir "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." It was about Chinese parents -- specifically mothers -- who relentlessly push their kids to succeed no matter the psychological, physical, or emotional toll that might take on the children.

But those who inspired Chau to coin that phrase had nothing on Wenwu and his desire decades ago to have his young son, Shang-Chi, follow in his footsteps. For starters, he was likely around a thousand years old, what with gaining immortality thanks to ten magical rings that adorned his lower arms and gave him other supernatural powers. Using those, he had conquered most of the world, but gave up his quest to gain control of the God Realm known as Tao Lo, all due to falling head over heels for its protector, Jiang Li.

Both gave up their powers to lead a normal life and have children, one being Shang-Chi and the other, his kid sister, Xialing. But then Wenwu's past came back, Jiang Li was murdered, and Wenwu returned to his old ways, including training Shang-Chi to be a conqueror killer just like him. All of which meant hard physical and mental conditioning, without consideration of -- you guessed it -- the boy's safety or mental state.

Such is the backstory for "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," the latest offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When we first meet "Shaun" (Simu Liu) he works as a San Francisco area parking valet alongside his best bud, Katy (Awkwafina). Little does she know that he's actually Shang-Chi, all grown-up, estranged from his father, and wanting nothing to do with his past.

But that (and his past training) comes roaring back into the present when he must defend her and himself from several thugs on a bus who want the pendant he's wearing. With shocking physical prowess, he manages to defeat them, including one with a supernatural machete blade that emerges from the stump on one arm.

Needless to say, Katy is shocked, and she's soon drawn into his past as they set out to find and rescue Xialing (Meng'er Zhang) who he believes is in danger from their dad (Tony Leung) who sent those goons after him.

Like her big bro, though, she's more than capable of defending herself, which leads to one of the film's signature action sequences. Set on building scaffolding and involving lots of dexterity, it's obviously homage to the sort of stunts and choreographed fight scenes Jackie Chan used to engage in during his younger days.

In fact, the flick -- directed by Destin Daniel Cretton from a script he co-wrote with Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham -- feels like a mixture of Chan's old films, other Chinese martial arts films such as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and, of course, some of the usual Marvel story formula.

Giving Asian characters (and performers) their due much like "Black Panther" did for black characters and actors, the film should theoretically be another big hit for Marvel/Disney due to its inherent international appeal among Asian communities and superhero movie fans alike.

That said, and aside from the aforementioned supernatural powers and a few second-tier Marvel crossover characters (one of which gets a lot of screen time, as comic relief, but feels out of place and perhaps could be explained by footage left on the editing room floor or maybe an upcoming sequel), this offering might have the least traditional Marvel feel to it than any of the past films.

And that's a good thing as it focuses more on the human side of the story - namely the familial relationships (both strong and fractured) between Shang-Chi and his sister and father - as well as all the Chinese storytelling elements. All of which gives the film something of a fresh aura compared to the usual superhero genre trappings.

Granted, it has the obligatory big action set piece at the end of the third act, and the usual comic relief found in most Marvel films. The only real drawback is that the title character feels somewhat underwritten. While Liu is charismatic in the part - and make for a believable and likable action figure - there's not much arc to his character.

Even so, there's much to like in this offering, especially when it's pulling inspiration from and feeding off the vibe of Jackie Chan in his prime. "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed August 19, 2021 / Posted September 3, 2021


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