'Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings' Shines Thanks to Some of Marvel's Best-Ever Performances Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton
Starring Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Michelle Yeoh, Fala Chen, Meng'er Zhang, Florian Munteanu, Ronny Chieng
Published Sep 02, 2021If Cate Shortland was confused as to why Marvel came calling, indie director Destin Daniel Cretton must have been downright befuddled. Typically known for meditative character studies, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is Cretton's first foray into the world of action. But fans of Marvel and of the Short Term 12 director need not worry: Cretton's brand of emotional and affecting storytelling is incorporated nicely with Marvel's tried-and-tested origin story formula.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings begins with Shaun (Simu Liu) as a 20-something in San Francisco who is content working as a valet driver and partaking in midweek late-night karaoke sessions with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). When a group of assassins, led by Razor Fist (Florian Munteanu), attacks Shaun and Katy on a city bus, Shaun is forced to confront a past he had hoped he'd left behind.
Liu and Awkwafina have a comfortable chemistry with one another, owing in part to their previous work together on Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens. Liu carries the film well enough, particularly shining in the action set pieces. However, the stand-out performance by far is from Hong Kong's legendary screen actor Tony Leung.
Leung plays Shang-Chi's father, Wenwu, leader of the Ten Rings. Wenwu has been in possession of the rings for a thousand years and was seemingly destined to live a life of immortality. When Wenwu meets Jiang Li (Fala Chen), he falls deeply in love and puts the rings away as they begin a family together. Jiang Li, too, chooses love over duty and leaves her mystical village, Ta Lo, to be with Wenwu. Following the death of Jiang Li some years later, Wenwu is struck with a grief and desperation so immense, he is willing to wage war in her name.
That Leung is incredible in any role will not be a surprise to anyone familiar with his work. And while Marvel has been given some great performances from seasoned actors like Robert Redford, Leung has turned in, arguably, the best performance in any Marvel movie. Leung's performance is not loud or showy. Instead, he uses an internal stillness to convey the grief and anger he has over his wife's death. He creates a villain that is immediately sympathetic and complex, while also ruthless and nasty.
Cretton does a great job in injecting the film with a level of heart and emotion not typically seen in Marvel films. He raises difficult subjects like child soldiers and generational trauma that set Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings apart from a usual origin story. However, that origin story formula does rear its head often, particularly in the first half of the film.
And while the fight choreography is great (including a really beautiful wuxia sequence between Leung and Chen), there are moments the film is let down by some shoddy CGI. The film is also oddly lacking in colour. Particularly in the world of Ta Lo, which should be rich with vibrancy and texture, the scenes strangely look flat and one-dimensional.
Overall, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a fun film that fulfills the origin story requirements while paving its own way. While many will have been ready to sign off from Marvel films following the conclusion of The Infinity Saga, Shang-Chi should generate enough curiosity to continue on in the franchise with a new set of Avengers. (Marvel Studios)