Saturday, September 18, 2021

MOVIE: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (c) Disney

MOVIE: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings 
In Cinemas 

Premise: Shaun (“Kim’s Convenience” star Simu Liu) and his pal Katy (Awkwafina) are valets at a fancy hotel in San Francisco. They lead a carefree life until a group of thugs attack them on a city bus and Shaun has to confess that he is Shang-Chi, the son of Wenwei (Tony Leung) who’s the head of a gangster syndicate in China known as the Ten Rings. Shang-Chi ran away from his father after being groomed to be a kung-fu assassin. Now he has to confront his father, who possesses ten rings that not only makes him immortal but also super-powerful. This leads Shang-Chi and his sister Xu-Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) to their dead mother’s mystical homeland of Ta Lo, to stop Wenwei from unleashing evil into the world. 

My Take: Except for some cameos from characters in past movies, I almost forgot this was an MCU movie. Shang-Chi is an ordinary hero, very skilled but not possessing of any superpowers (for most of the movie), à la Hawkeye and Black Widow of the Avengers. So, I was more invested in the family dynamics than the action scenes. Still, the movie has a bad habit of having too many flashbacks to Shang-Chi’s childhood: it’s jarring and gives the movie a stop-and-start feel to it instead of a steady momentum towards the finale (which unfortunately does feel like every superhero movie CGI finale.) Liu is a funny actor, so it’s disappointing that he mostly plays the straight man to Awkwafina’s comic relief), but he gives Shang-Chi a nobility at the end that makes up for the standard superhero’s journey. This movie most resembles “Black Panther” in that heritage and family are the motivating factors. As Marvel’s first Asian superhero-led movie, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (who is half Japanese), I was happy it turned out to be fun ride, however bumpy it was. 

VIP: Tony Leung is a veteran actor who has worked with many of the major directors of Chinese cinema from the likes of John Woo to Hou Hsiao-hsien to Zhang Yimou to Ang Lee. But he is most recognized as the muse for director Wong Kar-Wai in such movies as “In the Mood for Love,” “Happy Together” and “Chungking Express,” all three made more thrilling by Leung’s acting. Usually, Michelle Yeoh is the VIP in any movie she’s in, but her part as Shang-Chi’s aunt is rather small compared to the Shakespearean tragedy that is the arc of Leung’s Wenwei. However, I did get a chill during Yeoh and Leung’s short scene together, as they haven’t shared the screen since 1993’s “Butterfly and Sword.” 

(NOTE: As an Asian American working in the entertainment biz, it’s sort of predictable that I would know people involved in this production. And I do.)