Movie Review: Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

I’m so burned out on Marvel movies, and nothing about the look of this made me want to see it. I was hoping it would be good for two reasons. One, that would mean I spent two hours enjoying myself. Two, the director...Destin Daniel Cretton, is a former San Diegan, who went to Point Loma Nazarene. I met him at a number of events around town, and...while I was only mildly impressed with his films Short Term 12 (which made Brie Larson a star), and Just Mercy (with Jamie Foxx who was already a star), he’s a humble and talented young man. It’s nice to see him succeed in this business.

So the movie started, and I almost jumped out of my seat with excitement. The lead actor was a guy whose name I didn’t know, but was very familiar with. My buddy Chris, who is fighting a tough battle with cancer right now, once invited me over to smoke cigars at his place. I showed up and he wouldn’t leave the living room, because he had to finish watching an episode of Kim’sConvenience. It’s a sitcom out of Canada, about a Korean family that runs a convenience store. I was pleasantly surprised, and started watching it on Netflix. It’s low-key, but the characters were so funny and endearing. And actor Simu Liu brought that to the main character in this film. And as I glanced on a movie website (which I won’t even name anymore, because they’re such a dumpster fire), about five critics talked about him not having the charisma a superhero needs. Uh...they’re completely wrong on how they interpret this character. This is a guy that was a sweet, soft-spoken boy, who lost his mom. He took care of his sister, and suffered abuse from his dad. He went to the United States to start a new life. And watching him enjoy the free food he gets from his BFF (the always wonderful Awkwafina) totally works for that character. The dude is parking cars wearing a red vest, not a red cape. He’s not supposed to exude charisma. That was for the guy in the bespoke suit who pulled up in the red sports car that makes millions, and tosses the keys in his face. And when we watch Awkwafina go all Ferris Bueller with the realize you’re in for a fun ride (pun intended). 

Since I never remember any of these characters from the previous Marvel films, and I don’t watch the shows with Marvel characters, I always fear I’ll be lost on who these various people are, or their origin stories. Luckily for any of you out there in the same boat, you don’t have to worry. The film works even if you’ve never seen a previous Marvel picture (although you may not enjoy some of the cameos). 

I’m a critic that isn’t a fan of exposition, but what they did worked here. I’m not a fan of martial arts fights. After the age of 13, I just found them goofy (but boy did I love Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris when I was 10). And in my 30s I laughed hard while reading one of Roger Ebert’s books, about one of the rules of a martial arts movie fight -- not everyone can attack at once, or the hero will lose. They’ll surround him, but each will take him on one at a time.

So while watching these fight scenes, I was on the edge of my seat, with a huge smile on my face. It was a blast.

When some thugs attack Shaun (Liu) and Katy (Awkwafina) on a bus, he shows that he has a special set of skills that doesn’t just involve parking stick shift. And while we’re watching an amazing fight, we’re laughing at a media influencer (Zach Cherry) filming and narrating the exploits.

Legendary Hong Kong actor and singer Tony Leung Chiu-wai has a great presence on screen, as the evil guy wielding the 10 rings, which give him magical powers. Yes, he uses them for evil. Chiu-wai plays this character in multidimensional ways that make him so much more interesting than the typical evil madman.

We know the son ran off to America to park cars, but who knows what happened to his sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang)? Shaun gets a postcard from her, and goes to pay a visit. Do you think they sit and catch up over some dim sum, or that hijinks will ensue? 

I’m not sure if I can even attempt to explain about the magical realm of Ta Lo (but there’s some beautiful cinematography and cute creatures), or the demonic dragon creatures that are behind a wall and could destroy the planet, as they fly around sucking the souls out of humans. I was just glad that I didn’t find any of that corny (even if the third act was my least favorite, and a bit formulaic). Oh, I also could have done with a few less flashbacks. 

Aunt Jiang Nan is played by the always beautiful Michelle Yeoh. After seeing her again in Crazy, Rich, Asians it made me think -- let’s start seeing her in films that don’t just have Asian casts.

I loved seeing a Daily Show correspondent who’s hysterical -- Ronny Chieng -- play a character who reminds me of the zany Chris Tucker in The Fifth Element

I just saw Benedict Wong in Nine Days last month. The fan boys love him for Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and other sci-fi flicks. He brought some fun to this picture. Much of the humor worked throughout the film. 

The stunts were from Bud Allen, the supervising coordinator who worked on another comic book-esque movie I loved -- Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. It was Guillermo Grisp (WonderWoman, 300) and Andy Cheng (Rush Hour) that gave us the fight scenes.

Many people are going to praise this for having an Asian cast and director. Just as they did with Black Panther giving us a black superhero and cast. And while that’s admirable, all I really care about at the end of the day, is if they’re good films (both were, although I like this one even more than Black Panther).

When it comes to the characters, you get emotionally connected to them. When it comes to the CGI, it was done nicely.

Best use of Hotel California in movie history. I think even The Dude would abide.

4 stars out of 5.

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