The newest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Shang-Chi) introduces viewers to a brand new hero, mythology and cast of characters. Shang-Chi follows the titular character as a Chinese American whose secret past catches up with him as he’s thrown into an adventure to stop his corrupt father who is empowered by ten rings which he uses for destruction. Joined by his best friend (or maybe more), Katy and his estranged warrior sister, Xialing, Shang-Chi must confront his heritage and journey to the mystical realm of Ta-Lo to defeat his father and save the world.
Is it worth seeing in Theaters? The Conservative Critic will ask: Is it entertaining? Does it have intellectual/artistic value? And finally: Is it liberal propaganda?
The Conservative Critic Meter Check: Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Overall Rating: The coolest
Shang-Chi is extremely cool. Within the first ten minutes, viewers know how special the movie is going to be. Shang-chi perfectly balances traditional martial arts style choreography and cinematography with the highly American superhero format the MCU is known for and viewers love.
Action packed from start to finish, Shang-Chi’s characters are constantly fighting which is much in the tradition of a martial-arts genre film. However, the locations and pace of the fights are familiar to the MCU and American action films making the movie approachable to the mainstream American viewer.
The grace of the choreography is close to the level of success of Star Wars: Phantom Menace (Look it up – the lightsaber battle choreo is renowned) and the emotionally charged, high stakes storyline is gripping. Combined with the absolutely stunning artistic direction from costumes to visual effects and the fact that China hates it, Shang-Chi is the coolest movie of the summer and a huge hit.
Definitely go see it on the big screen.
Is it entertaining?
Rating: All fun all the time
The movie starts off with a battle and doesn’t stop battling until about mid-way through. Fighting alone doesn’t make a movie fun but in this case, Shang-Chi brings in very cool martial arts style brawls mixed with high tech weapons and high stakes locations. Whether the characters are dangling off Macau skyscrapers or speeding through San Francisco on a public bus, the outcome of the fight is almost always more impactful than just on those throwing punches.
The movie is also so full of life its bursting at the seams. Shang-Chi establishes early the perfect tone of taking itself seriously but keeping a sense of humor (a balance not found in other MCU films such as Thor: Ragnorak and no I will not take that back). Katy payed by Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians, The Farewell) is the comic relief as well as the bedrock of the characters keeping everyone’s feet firmly on the planet earth which exists in the MCU (so not quite earth earth but an earth full of magical and extraterrestrial potential).
The viewers are delighted by location after location including a beautifully composed magical realm, Ta-Lo, complete with loveable and mighty magic creatures based on Chinese lore.
The slowest moment in the film is a brief training/history sequence between Shang-Chi and his mentor in Ta-Lo and even then the viewer is treated to beautiful martial arts which read as equal parts dancing and fighting.
The film is nothing but fun from top to bottom and the 2 hour and 12 minute run time absolutely flies by.
Does it have artistic/intellectual value?
Rating: Beautiful and balanced
Shang-Chi is extremely well done and one of the upper echelon of the MCU in terms of production quality and storytelling. The current top ranked MCU film for quality is Black Panther and Shang-Chi does not quite rise to the occasion of outdoing it but places itself firmly in second place skating past Winter Soldier and Black Widow by a narrow margin.
To start, much like Black Panther, the performances in Shang-Chi matter because the material is emotionally charged. The cast does not disappoint. Soon to be America’s new leading man de jour, Simu Liu (Kim’s Convenience) as Shang-Chi absolutely explodes with charisma. Honestly, where has Simu Liu been my whole life? The MCU will never be the same with the on-boarding of Liu who provides incredible nuance, swoon worthy good looks and charm, and absolute kick-butt skills. There is a sense of power with Liu even when his character is being dragged into uncharted waters. It’s a star worthy performance especially for the superhero genre.
Supporting Liu is veteran talent from Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) who provides her trademark serenity and leadership to a colorfully chaotic film. Additionally strong, emotional performances are given from Tony Chiu-Wai Leung as Shang-Chi’s father Xu Wenwu and Fala Chen (The Undoing) as Shang-Chi’s mother Li.
Newcomer Meng’er Zhang as Xialing may not give the strongest acting performance in her first try on the screen but she makes up for it by successfully carrying the MCU torch of “extremely cool younger sister” for Black Panther’s Shuri played by Leticia Wright.
But one of the most important characters in the story and most inspirational performances comes from Awkwafina as Katy. Katy is a quintessential “girl Friday” character to Shang-Chi and Awkwafina plays her as the familiarly brash, funny, loyal and messy woman that Awkwafina so often brings to the screen. Anyone who reads my reviews knows how much credit I give to something new in a film and this was something new. My hat is so far off it’s in the next county to director Destin Daniel Cretton for introducing a new kind of romantic interest. As a bit of a weirdo myself who has a big personality and who has more than once flirted with boys by telling them I’m a ghost, it was like a splash of cold water in my face to see a street-style appreciating, drink loving, chaotic, loud, fun woman be depicted as a potential romantic counterpart to a hunky superhero. When Katy tries to fight off the bad guys by singing Hotel California to throw them off, I felt truly seen. Maybe not everyone will love this choice which is why I’m not speaking for all viewers here, but for me and I think a lot of other women who enjoy movies as much as I do re: nerds, it was very nice to see a woman neither have to be a delicate career woman in need of emotional salvation nor a fearless warrior hero to be considered worthy of partnership with a leading male.
Beyond performances and creative character development, the visuals were stunning. The magic was light with soft lines and even when powerful had a comforting sort of grace to it. The creation of Ta-Lo brought viewers to a storybook version of ancient China where the creatures we’ve all seen in Chinese artwork and lore come to life in beautiful animation and CGI. Traditional Chinese clothing is reimagined for modern/magical warfare, all colored in bright red.
The choreography was breathtaking, perfectly balancing power and American adrenaline with grace and Chinese focus. The fight scenes played like aggressive dancing in the best possible way.
The storyline is simple which keeps the viewer from getting lost in all the chaos of color and magic and harnesses the scope of the MCU much like in Black Panther who achieved similar levels of success. While other players and stories of the MCU are brought into Shang-Chi, they are restrained and limited so the viewer doesn’t feel pulled into too many directions.
Overall the quality is sensational and if not for a few moments where viewers might question the motivation of the characters, it would be quite nearly perfect.
Is it liberal propaganda?
Rating: China hates it
One of my favorite things about Shang-Chi is that for the first time in Marvel history, China is refusing to release it.
The Chinese government is a corrupt and brutal regime who oppresses its people, steals American property, and arms terrorists. They are currently rounding up and imprisoning (or worse) Chinese muslims known as Uighurs and other racial and religious minorities in internment camps. Capitulation to the Chinese government on anything is morally questionable and something liberals are constantly excusing or actively promoting.
When Disney released Mulan during the pandemic to much fanfare it was received with generally positive reviews but a lot of disappointment from fans. All of the beauty, fun, and hope that was present in the original animated film was completely lost in the live-action which had only a shred of the original film’s spirit. Why? Because the Chinese government essentially wrote the script ensuring that Chinese communist values were imposed upon the story. That means no emotional men or women, no fun, certainly no celebration of America or American values. Just stoic business and traditional villains like a witch instead of corrupt men and governments.
While Marvel technically is its own studio, obviously it is owned by Disney so Shang-Chi is a directly comparable film whose mission was to celebrate Chinese culture for broad audiences.
Unlike Mulan, Shang-Chi perfectly balances Chinese heritage, lore and customs with American values squarely defending concepts like agency, humor, and independence. China cannot abide a brash American girl who goes by Katy instead of her Chinese name. China cannot abide that the villain is the patriarch of the family who also is powerful in corrupt China and that the hero is firmly an American by choice.
While the film refuses to have a clear-cut villain who does bad for the sake of bad and instead has a villain with a complicated set of forgivable motivations (its get so old) – the fact that it so willfully flies in the face of the Chinese government even though it will cost the studio millions, gives it a high conservative approval rating.
Shang-Chi is the coolest movie of the summer so far and it is definitely worth seeing in Theaters for the amazing choreography, strong leads and brand new MCU story.