By Jana Monji, AsAmNews Arts & Culture Writer
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings finally brings 20 percent of the world population (the Chinese) into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, something that should have been done by Phase Two instead of Phase Four.
With a Chinese-born star, Simu Liu, and a Hawaiian-born Japanese hapa director, Destin Daniel Cretton, and a screenplay written by ABC David Elias Calaham (The Expendables and Godzilla), Cretton (Just Mercy) and Andrew Landham (Just Mercy), the film has a good solid diversity foundation to build on and a good defense against cultural appropriation claims.
Will this film please everyone? Probably not. This film features the ubiquitous Awkwafina as Shang-Chi’s gal pal, Katy, and that alone has already ruffled some feathers regarding past accusations of cultural appropriation (Blaccent).
Moreover, traditionalist Marvel fans might be displeased that Shang-Chi gets a new father. Marvel no longer has the comic book rights to Fu Manchu. The Sax Rohmer estate continues to make money out of that Yellow Peril figure with further adventures written by a White guy from Ohio named William Patrick Maynard (e.g. The Destiny of Fu Manchu, 2013), but the MCU has created a different father for Shang-Chi, Wenwu (文武 WénWǔ). In addition, the ten rings are bracelets instead of rings. The Ten Rings continues to be a terrorist organization that has previously figured in the MCU.
In Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Wenwu (Tony Leung) seems nearly immortal, a war lord who has lived for centuries and has been able to change the course of history with the destructive powers of the ten rings.
Believing that he can become even more powerful, he searches for a mystical village only to meet one of its lovely inhabitants who is more than a match for his martial arts skills, even with the ten rings. The woman, Jian Li (Fala Chen), never takes him to the village, but they fall in love and she decides to live in his world while he decides to give up the world domination biz. They are happy and have a son (Jayden Tianyi Zhang as the young Shang-Chi) and a daughter (Harmonie He plays the young Xialing). Jian Li gives her children matching jade pendants and that’s all they have to remember her by because while Wenwu is away, people from his past murder his wife.
Wenwu takes up the ten rings again and trains his son to become an assassin while Xialing (夏玲) teaches herself. When Wenwu sends the young Shang-Chi on his first assassination mission, Shang-Chi promises his sister he’ll be back in three days. And yet over a decade later, Shang-Chi is running from adulthood with gal pal Katy.
They’re over-educated car valets, who aren’t above a joy ride in a client’s expensive car. When they go to work, they ride the bus which can be dull and somewhat dangerous, particularly if a guy named Razor Fist (Florian Munteanu) and his assassins come looking for you.
After a wild ride where Katy drives the bus into and over cars as Shang-Chi achieves viral fame as “Bus Boy” battling men in and out of the bus, Katy realizes Shang-Chi isn’t just an unambitious dude searching for direction.
Shang-Chi realizes the dangerous dudes got what they came for: his pendant. Wondering if his sister sent him that mysterious postcard with an origami dragon on it and an Macau address as some kind of warning message, he decides to leave his job and reconnect with his younger sister Xialing (now played by Meng-er Zhang). That ends up in a nasty family feud the details of which Disney prefers I let you discover by yourself.
Like Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is about family. Black Widow is like the MCU worst family vacation scenario for superheroes, while Shang-Chi is a family reunion and a long-lost relative revelation.
Unlike Black Widow, Shang-Chi chooses not to make any of the humans involved truly villainous. The true evil here is animal although they have some fluffy and silly, graceful and awesome magical creatures as well. It’s all a matter of balance.
Liu and Awkwafina have great chemistry as friends who’d rather find the fun in life than deal with the daily pressures of the rat race. The fake Mandarin, Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley) from Iron Man 3, also appears and provides a lot of the lighthearted humor.
For planning the fight scenes, the film included people of Asian descent: Alan Tang, fight instructor; Andy Cheng, fight coordinator; and Lu Junchang, fight coordinator. As director, Cretton keeps the action scenes tight and uncluttered with a dash of comedy and the timing is spot on.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a film about family told with a lot of humor and a lot of Asian faces to fill out the diversity in the MCU.
Still, the missteps of Phase Three haven’t quite been forgotten. “Shang-Chi” is a step in the right direction, but we’ll have to see how Phase Four plays out to determine if the MCU is really embracing diversity in a way that includes people of Asian descent. As with all films of the MCU there is a mid-credits scene and a post credits scene. Be sure to stay for both.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was originally scheduled to open for the Chinese New Year in February, but opens on Sept. 3, 2021.
AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our new Instagram account. Go to our Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff, or submitting a story or making a contribution.