Saturday 13 November 2021

Shang-Chi streaming on Disney+

Marvel Studios' Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is now available to stream on Disney+ as part of the first-ever Disney+ Day celebration, which included exciting new announcements from the Walt Disney Studios subsidiary. From Agatha: House of Harkness to Marvel Zombies.

After years of trying and failing (spectacularly), I've finally convinced Dyl Cook to write for the blog! He's a friend and fellow Masters of the Universe fan (more on that in the future).

Is Shang-Chi, IMAX Enhanced, worth watching on Disney+? Dyl has the answer, true believers!

Guest post by Dyl Cook

It’s been a few months since its release in cinemas, I’ve managed to watch it twice, so thought enough time had passed for me to review Marvel Studios' latest superhero, Shang-Chi.

I’m sure you‘ve already watched it, but this is a spoiler-filled review, as it’ll be easier to talk about things that way.

So, full disclosure, I am half Chinese and half Welsh, so there was always going to be some anticipation for some Asian representation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) (and to be fair most western films) where we were not a side character. I could go further into this, but you’re not here for that. You just want to know if the film is any good? Does it sit at the top of the heap of the MCU? Some bias aside, I can say that I would put this in my top 5 Marvel Studios movies.

If you’re interested, my top 5 MCU movies are:

Guardians of the Galaxy
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Avengers: Infinity War
Black Panther

Anyway, what works? First, the fight sequences are phenomenal, which is no surprise considering Jackie Chan’s protege, Brad Allan, was behind it. Sadly, he passed away this year, but his legacy does live on in some fantastic moments such as the bus fight and the skyscraper attack. There are moments that feel very Jackie Chan, like when Shang-Chi uses his jacket in the fight, or running across the top of the bus and trying to jump into the bus, but bouncing off the door. There is a level of fun, but the stakes are always high.

These fights are also part of a lot of the heart in the movie. Shang-Chi only reveals himself when he reacts to a Ten Rings assassin punching his best friend. His sister, Xialing, uses a cage match against her brother for cathartic release due to him abandoning her when she was a child. Even at the start, there is a fight flirting between Xu Wenwu (the MCU version of the Mandarin) and Li (the protector of the dimensional realm of Ta-Lo), which feels exceptionally like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Not just in Wuxia style, but also in terms of the palette used.

The fights are almost a secondary language in themselves with the styles representing the character types and how they feel. For example, Wenwu’s fighting with the Ten Rings (which I really liked being represented like the Chinese iron bangles) is very vicious in the way he uses them. It’s about power and quiet anger, especially when he enacts vengeance for his wife’s murder.

This leads me to Wenwu himself, who I feel is one of the best villains that the MCU has come up with. He starts off as the atypical villain, existing only to gain more power. He evolves to wanting to destroy anything in his path if it gets in the way of freeing his wife. It's an interesting take on the classic villain, and humanises him. It sets him at odds with his living family, especially when it’s revealed that the voice of his dead wife is none other than a soul sucking interdimensional beastie. Major spoiler: his soul gets sucked out and he dies. A common issue in Marvel movies, they always kill the decent villains.

Wenwu does acknowledge his origins as the Mandarin, but not in the way you’d expect. In a very condescending conversation with Awkwafina’s Katy, discussing the importance of her Chinese name, he explains that he has been known by many during his millennia, but it was an American terrorist that took his identity but renamed him after a “Chinese chicken dish”. The handling of what was once a problematic character works well, making light of it, but at the same time showing his disdain. The “original” MCU Mandarin, Trevor Slattery, does make an appearance, but after a while, I was kinda done with him. His purpose is to act as a link between this and the MCU universe, but also as a translator for the odd and designed to be an exceptionally cute character, Morris. A strange, no-faced winged creature based on the Hundun from Chinese mythology. There is no denying that Morris works. He’s cute and provides moments of humour, especially due to his odd appearance.

Morris is not alone. The creature designs for this film are fantastic. Hats off to Andy Park and his team (where is the obligatory art book, guys?). Not all of them are involved in the final fight, but the creatures that inhabit Ta-Lo make it feel very real and help with the world building. It was great to see Chinese Lion dogs enter the fray, but I was really impressed with the Great Protector. A huge Chinese water dragon that Shang-Chi and his sister ride into battle, a really awe-inspiring sequence and I loved that its horns were wooden that organically met with his reptilian skin. The end villain, the Dweller in darkness is cool from a creature design perspective, but lacks something. It's basically an end of level boss and for a film that's so centred around the heart of the fight, it's a shame that the final battle is a personality devoid lovecraftian dragon.

The final fight between Wenwu and Shang-Chi is much more interesting, fighting not just over the Ten Rings (which is so cool to see), but the love of family as well. It's a testimony to Simu Liu and Tony Leung that they created such interesting characters from the source material. Simu Liu brings a tortured but upbeat persona to Shang-Chi. Much like Bucky Barnes before him, Simu’s Shang-Chi has murdered people and is haunted by this. Unlike Bucky, this was more out of vengeance, it was personal, and there is a conflict between who is and who he shows to the outside world. This is reflected in the character of Katy, Shang-Chi’s best friend who starts to realise that he is more than he seems. She’s portrayed with a lot of humour by Awkwafina and is one of the characters I connected to the most.

She’s a first-generation immigrant, much like myself and there she has some of the hang-ups that some of us experience. We’re not as connected to our original culture, shown by her interactions with her Grandmother and Wenwu. We’re not as familiar with our language as we should be, shown by her trying to pronounce Shang to humorous effect, or conversing with Jon Jon (brilliantly portrayed by comedian Ronnie Chieng and I wish we saw more of him) and admitting her Chinese was not so good (it's ok, he can speak ABC). Those moments were handled with great sensitivity and highlighted another side to the ethnic community, which rarely gets shown in movies.

What I also enjoyed was that the writers and director did not go for the lazy route and made Shang-Chi and Katy fall in love. They are best friends who care for each other a lot, but that is as far as they go. It would have been easy, but not believable. Instead, they share a common bond of coasting through life, trying to find purpose and enjoying the odd night of karaoke. Especially when Wong is involved.

If I don’t mention Meng'er Zhang’s character Xialing, I would be doing her a disservice. She has such a quiet countenance but is a much more accomplished fighter than many of the males in the film. Self-taught and with a lot to prove to her father and brother, it’ll be interesting where they take her character next now that she is in charge of the Ten Rings (instead of disbanding them). Will this be the next movie or are we expecting a new Disney+ spin-off series? I’d be happy with either. Especially if it gives us a chance to see the other fun villain who needed more to do, the hulking presence of Florian Munteanu who plays the one the nose named, Razor Fist. Imposing, but also played for laughs, I have to hand it to him for making a silly D-list Marvel villain something to be feared.

The one disappointment is the waste of the character, Death Dealer. The trailers made it seem like he would be a force to reckon with, Wenwu’s hidden assassin and Shang-Chi’s teacher. However, he is nothing more than a silent henchman who is dispatched so poorly at the end. I just hope a new one is created by Xialing for her organisation, giving the character a second chance.

Something also has to be said for Joel P West’s beautiful score. It's not often you can say a Marvel movie has a memorable piece of music (unlike its DC Comics counterparts). Bar the Wakanda or Avengers theme, Marvel music is more background and incidental. West really leans into some of the Chinese instruments and conjures a great soundtrack that is at the forefront, especially heightened during the fights.

As an origin story and standalone movie, Shang-Chi excels with memorable characters, a hero you can get behind and root for and a villain with who you can empathise with. As usual, stick around for the two end credit scenes, they just ask more questions but they’ll be ones you’ll be pondering. At least until you've seen Eternals, at the very least.

Have you seen Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings in the cinema or on Disney+? Let me know in the comments below.

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