By Jason Delgado
I grew up during a time when the popularity of martial arts in pop culture exploded onto the scene in a big way: a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man being blown to pieces and covering everything in goo at the end of Ghostbusters type of way. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Karate Kid, Jean-Claude Van Damme flicks, Bruce Lee reruns, the American Ninja movies, The Last Dragon, random kung fu movies on TV famously imported with out-of-sync dubbed English dialogue, and the Powerman and Iron Fist comics (don’t get me started on how the Netflix series butchered my favorite character from K’un-Lun), were all huge in my world. So much so that the very first story that I can recall writing was in the 3rd grade, and it was all about combining the two coolest things in my stratosphere at the time: ninjas and laser beams. That passion for some exciting martial arts action still burns inside, so to say that I’ve been eager for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings to come out is an understatement.
The story centers on the Master of Kung Fu Shang-Chi (played by superstar-in-the-making Simu Liu), and his quest for meaning in life, while dealing with the mysterious Ten Rings organization. There are some similarities between Shang-Chi’s story and that of Luke Skywalker’s in the original Star Wars trilogy, in that they’re both aimlessly living an ordinary life at the beginning of the movie, but go on a grand quest with family members and strange creatures playing pivotal roles, while discovering the true power that they hold inside.
Shang-Chi, aka Shawn, and his best friend Katy (played hilariously by actress/comedian Awkwafina) are living their best life at the start of the film, which can be summed up by MXPX’s song Responsibility: “Responsibility? What’s that? I don’t want to think about it; we’d be better off without it.” They’re both valet attendants who aren’t looking for anything else in life, other than joy riding in sports cars on the job a la Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and then getting drunk after work and karaoking until the wee hours of the morning. That is, until an amazing martial arts fight sequence on a bus sets them both off on a grand adventure.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is at its best to me (besides the awesome fight scenes, and a hilarious MCU cameo) when Simu Liu and Awkwafina are comedically riffing off of one another, similar to the chemistry that Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan had in the Rush Hour movies.
Jackie Chan is my favorite action idol of all-time, for filming so many elaborate and innovative (with the use of props and other people in visually-stunning Buster Keaton-like ways, yet updated to modern times), death defying, and simultaneously comedic action sequences, for which he broke every bone in his body multiple times, simply for the audience’s cinematic enjoyment. Shang-Chi features some stunning Jackie-esque fights, with the use of computer graphics instead, of course, but they’re still cool nonetheless.
Another homage to Asian cinema is a sequence near the beginning of the movie that reminds me of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in its use of flying leaps and dance-like choreography, along with vibrant colors filling the screen. Maybe not so coincidentally, Michelle Yeoh starred in that blockbuster film, and also appears in Shang-Chi as well.
My main criticism of the film centers on a key emotional scene in the movie, in that it didn’t feel emotional enough to me. I wanted to feel something, but the way it was presented undercut any emotions that could have powered the film as a whole to greater heights.
Representation in media matters because it gives hope, while hopefully squashing negative racial stigmas and offering new perspectives (which is what film is all about in my opinion). I’m happy that racially diverse movies like Shang-Chi and the recently released Candyman are becoming so successful, because it shows the studios that we as an audience crave even more of it.
I give Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings three out of five hot sauce packets. It’s fiery enough to make your eyes water while enjoying the burn!