Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Posted by Mrs Giggles on November 21, 2021 in 3 Oogies, Film Reviews, Genre: Action & Adventure

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)Main cast: Simu Liu (Xu Shang-Chi/Shaun), Awkwafina (Katy), Meng’er Zhang (Xu Xialing), Fala Chen (Ying Li), Florian Munteanu (Razor Fist), Benedict Wong (Wong), Michelle Yeoh (Ying Nan), Ben Kingsley (Trevor Slattery), and Tony Leung (Xu Wenwu)
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Sorry I’m late, people, but after so long watching shows on the small box, going to the cinemas feels like a drag these days. There’s the cost of food and tickets, and then I have to also factor in the time taken to go back and forth to the cinema. Why go through all that when I can just wait until a show hits one of the many streaming services I’m already subscribed to, and watch it in the comfort of home?

So yes, I’m watching Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings only now. How bad of me, I know, because the lead actor Simu Liu, Kevin Feige, and everyone else involved in this thing told me that this is the first ever movie in history to have an Asian lead—to show that they care, Disney speed-dialed every cast member of Mulan and asked them if they could drop by quick to shoot an extra scene or two here for minimum wage. Therefore I should have watched this on the opening day itself, to join the chorus of shills felicitating these people for finally bringing enlightenment into human civilization. ‘

What’s that, you say? Bruce Lee, Chow Yun-Fat, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Samo Hung, Donnie Yen… who cares. If it isn’t Disney or MCU, so let’s just erase it from history, right? The fallacy here is that these people in their conceit believe that folks in Asian countries are dying to watch this movie, because people in China have never seen a martial arts movie featuring a Chinese lead before. Oh, right, China is like eff this movie, so there goes that narrative.

The arrogant, even racist virtue-signaling aside, this movie isn’t that bad. It also isn’t that good. It’s average, in many ways a typical MCU movie, and boy, am I glad I waited until it is available on streaming to catch it.

Okay, the plot. Shaun-Chi was trained hard to be some choo-choo kung-fu master by his tyrannical father, Xu Wenwu the leader of the Ten Rings mentioned in the title. He is apparently good at it, thanks to the power of quick cut edits and in spite of his physique and posture not resembling those of a typical martial arts expert. He succeeds in his first assassination attempt and is so aghast at his actions that he flees to… San Francisco, because surely no one will think to look for a Chinese bloke there. There, he cunningly calls himself Shaun, a name that will never connect people to his old name.

Shaun-Chi’s best friend is Katy, because it’s not like they can do what they usually do and cast a sassy black lady for this role, as this movie is all about telling everyone that Disney is now the Chinese’s number one brand. His past catches up with him, so he seeks out his sister Chun-Li… er, hold on, let me check the casting sheet, Xialing.

His sister has never been allowed by her father to train, because you know, someone has to find a way to insert a “WOMAN! POWER! WOO!” thing here as this is the current year. Xialing has made herself to be the best fighter ever, because we all know every living creature with XX chromosome can magically take up anything and be the best at it with just a snap of the fingers. Wait, can I say that XX chromosome bit, or is that considered transphobic now? Anyway, who cares. There are no trans characters here anyway, so this movie is already transphobic and I am therefore in good company.

Then they go meet this person, that person, to be exposition-ed to death on what is happening. There are fights too, all powered by CGI and quick edits, which I’m sure must have eaten into the budget meant for costumes because yikes, everyone looks like they are wearing leftovers from Hot Topic here. Shaun-Chi and Dad-Chi make up before the latter dies and gives Shaun-Chi the ten rings so that this bland milquetoast will live forever oh my god, and Chun-Li is like bitch I’m the boss now.

Oh, and Captain Marvel then shows up to shove Shaun-Chi into the MCU club because, now that all the white men are mostly gone now, they need a token Chinese Asian to fulfill their diversity quota.

Here’s one big problem with this movie, as I’ve mentioned earlier: it’s one exposition train after another, and this causes the main characters to be like visitors in a museum being shuffled from one display to another while being briefed by their guide. Oh, there is action between each stop, but still, I can only wonder why the script can’t find a better way to let the main characters, and hence the audience, catch up with the lore of the movie. The lore isn’t anything interesting anyway, to be worth putting the characters through scenes after scenes of them being at the receiving end of someone’s exposition.

Next, the action scenes. Much has been made about this movie being a martial arts film, but the fight scenes are a disappointment. Either they are slow motion with wires and all, with each person basically posing instead of fighting, or they have unimaginative choreography and location. As a result, Shaun-Chi’s so-called superpowers are a disappointment to behold, making him appear even more tokenized because he could easily be the punchy-punchy version of Hawkeye under any circumstances.

Also, I hate to say this, but I have to agree with those people on Chinese social media when they give a big side eye to the casting of Simu Liu. He doesn’t carry himself like someone supposedly trained all his life in martial arts, for one (same issue I have with Mini-Black Widow), and worse, he looks like… Well, you know how every office has that one dumpy uncle-type in accounting? He goes to the gym and gets a six pack, and now he goes all “Wooo! Let me take off my shirt at every opportunity!” and makes everyone around him cringe in second-hand embarrassment. Yeah, Mr Liu looks like that guy.

I know, it’s superficial to make fun of his face, but come on, the rest of cast is made up of beautiful people or funny people. Can’t they cast one of the charismatic young actors from China as Shaun-Chi? Maybe Mr Liu is willing to work for peanuts, I imagine.

At any rate, without any prettiness or charisma to distract me, I can’t help noticing that Shaun-Chi is so bland here. I don’t know whether it’s the script or direction or just Mr Liu’s underwhelming acting, but he is consistently upstaged by the more interesting personalities around him. In fact, while watching this thing, I find myself thinking more than a few times that I wish this movie had been about Xialing or Wenwu instead, especially the latter whose back story is far more interesting than his son’s. I would also love to see what this movie would be like if Katy had been the main character dragged into a crazy adventure because she learns that her good friend is actually an MCU dude, because her point of view would have been far interesting than Shaun-Chi’s.

Oh, and come on, a dragon? I know this is a movie made for Disney to get people in China to give them money, but there are more than dragons and phoenixes in Chinese mythology, you know.

Having said that, this movie isn’t a complete loss. Awkwafina is doing her thing as usual, but her humor makes this thing far more palatable than it would otherwise be. The rest of the cast is great, with Tony Leung putting on a solid performance here as the not-so-one-dimensional villain, and they put in far more work than the movie, with its weak script and all, deserves. There are also CGI and the usual MCU circus tricks to bring on the entertainment, so at the end of the day, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is like every other MCU fare these days—overproduced, made by committee, scripted by a bot that bases its algorithms on Twitter and Reddit, and follows the formula to a tee, right down to the male lead taking off his shirt to show off that action figure body.

All this used to be entertaining, and in some ways it still is, but after over 10 years of this formula, I can’t help feeling that it’s time to shake things up a bit. Painting the lead characters different shades of color or switching the genders of the archetypes are such superficial paint jobs with no real innovation behind them. Can I have something more?

Mrs Giggles
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