Shang-Chi, the new era of Marvel
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was a film I was very hyped about. But at the same time, I tried to contain the hype. I’ve been disappointed so many times before, even with Marvel movies. But the story of Shaun, Shang-Chi, was far from a disappointment. Hell, it made my top 3 MCU films!!!
Throughout my life, the Ten Rings gave our family power. If you want them to be yours one day, you have to show me you’re strong enough to carry them.
As always, let’s start with much needed basics. I am a big time comic book reader, but Shang-Chi never crossed my hands. I heard that there is such story, but never actually tried to look it up. That is, of course, until the movie. And long story short – I think I like the film origin story better, than the one from the source material.
Shang-Chi made its comic debut in 1973, in the issue called Special Marvel Edition #15. Created by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin, had a lot of aliases: Master of Kung Fu or Brother Hand. In the comic books, he was also raised to be an assassin, but once he became fully aware of his father’s (comic name: Fu Manchu) evil nature, he defected after the first assignment. He even started attacking bits and pieces of Fu’s operation; became an ally of his father’s arch nemesis.
Film version was better for me – we met Shaun, not Shang-Chi, who was alongside his best friend Katy (played by amazing Awkwafina) in his mid-twenties. They are happy with how they lives look like, being wild and young and free. Of course, the movie is set firmly in Asian origin, Chinese mythology and customs. Their lifestyle is not approved by Katy’s family, but they don’t care. As long as they are together, they enjoy life.
I thought I could change my name, start a new life, but I could never escape his shadow.
We finally meet Shang-Chi in a challenging situation, when thugs sent by his father, tried to steal a pendant he got from his mother. The entire bus scene was pure perfection! Suddenly, Shaun the calm guy transforms into a real Kung Fu Master. His best friend was in danger, and so were the other people in the bus. Something had to be done. Much to Katy’s surprise, Shaun turned out to be… Pretty freaking awesome.
And that’s how the backdoor to the notorious past opens. Okay, maybe not that notorious, but definitely sad and scary. So, let’s back up to the moment when Shang-Chi’s father met his mother. A “House of Dragons” warrior.
First of all, I couldn’t help but think about Spirited Away. The first scene is when we see Xu Wenwu (played by Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) meet and fall in love with Li (Fala Chen). That fighting scene was one of the most beautifully choreographed sequences in cinema. And most certainly, the best in the MCU. The way they used CGI, so subtly, to show the powerful magic… Wow, just wow.
America was terrified — of an orange.
MCU made a great decision to combine two separate stories in this film: Shang-Chi and the Mandarin. As I already mentioned, the comic book father of Shang-Chi also trained him to be a killer, but he wasn’t the Mandarin… The Ten Rings didn’t “exist” in Shang-Chi history.
In the source material, the Mandarin was a direct descendant of Genghis Khan. He came into possession of the rings, found on an crashed alien ship. And these were legit rings-rings, the ones you wear on your hands. So, let’s talk about the rings:
- Matter-Rearranger Ring (Remaker), worn in the right thumb: This Ring allowed the Mandarin to manipulate the molecular and atomic structures of any matter.
- Impact Beam Ring (Influence), worn in the right index finger: This Ring had a power to generate and project various beams of ground-shaking force.
- Vortex Beam Ring (Spin), worn in the right middle finger: That Ring caused the air to move about at high speed in a vortex.
- Disintegration Beam Ring (Spectral), worn in the right ring finger: This Ring allowed to project a beam of energy that was capable of destroying the bonds between the atoms and molecules. Which caused objects to disintegrate.
- Black Light Ring (Nightbringer), worn in the right little finger: This Ring helped to create an area of darkness, allegedly using Darkforce energy to do so.
- White Light Ring (Daimonic), worn in the left thumb: That Ring allowed to generate and manipulate various forms of electromagnetic energy.
- Flame-Blast Ring (Incandescence), worn in the left index finger: This Ring allowed the Mandarin to project blasts of infrared to produce flame or ignite some materials.
- Mento-Intensifier Ring (The Liar). worn in the left ring finger: That Ring magnified the Mandarin’s psionic energies. That allowed him to mentally manipulate the thoughts and actions of others.
- Electro-Blast Ring (Lightning), worn in the left middle finger: This Ring allowed the Mandarin to project blasts of electrical energy.
- Ice Blast Ring (Zero), worn in the left little finger: This Ring helped the Mandarin to project waves of intense cold and ice.
Combining both stories gave the audience a jaw-dropping, beautiful experience; with colorful explosions of wonders from Chinese mythology. I don’t say that often, but this is a rare case of when a movie is much better than the comic books.
From sun up to sun down, I was taught every possible way to kill a man.
From a writing point of view, we have two flawed characters, but in different ways. And my inner writer was over the moon. The father was driven by love, revenge and greed for power. For a moment, he decided to take off the ten rings, to be a father and a husband. And then, one tragic event drove him to the edge, on a never-ending vendetta.
Shang-Chi was broken. We meet him as a carefree “barely” millennial guy, only to learn about the sad past. After his mother died, he was forced to become a trained killer; the most lethal assassin. He decided to run away, leaving his little sister behind. But did he ever forget?
They both had one thing in common – pain. Generally, people react differently when they experience pain. Both of them had no regard for physical pain. But the mental one… It drove Wenwu to the edge of the madness. For Shang-Chi… He suppressed the powers he got from his mother. For both of them, the final fight bought a different kind of closure. And it was so satisfying to watch!
When you have the heart of the dragon, you can do amazing things.
The cast was on point. Awkwafina represented all of the audiences, all over the world. The surprise, so genuine. And the comedy, the effortless humor she brings everywhere she goes! Ah, what a brilliant performance. She was a great partner in crimes for Shaun and a little afraid warrior by Shang-Chi’s side. Without her, he would never succeed as a Dragon-Heart Warrior, and I think he knew that.
Speaking of Simu Liu, oh my God. I cannot just walk past the insane physique! Wow, what a hard work and dedication for all that eye candy we got. And of course, by “eye candy” I mean the fight scenes. On his Instagram, he just posted a video from rehearsal of a fight with his on-screen sister, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang).
In 2018 Simu Liu tweeted to Marvel, asking for this role. Later in 2019, he retweeted that message and thanked the studio for making it happen. Talk about wishful thinking!
But that’s not it – the supporting acts delivered by Tony Chiu-Wai Leung and Michelle Yeoh contributed greatly to the overall awe. It was Leung’s first role in an American movie and first ever in English. One thing I loved, and feel a bit restless about was the Death Dealer. Great character in the comic books, but a bit unexplored in the film. But who knows what the future holds.
SPOILER ALERT NOW, SKIP REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON’T WANT TO RUIN THIS FILM FOR YOU. The guest appearance by Iron Man 3 alumni Ben Kingsley was such a pleasant and totally unexpected surprise! Almost as much seeing Benedict Wong in his hilarious role again.
It’s the art of confusion. It always works on stupid people.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was a technical beauty as well. The use of CGI was very subtle, given it came from the MCU. Didn’t feel forced or too much, which was refreshing after all those Avengers’ blasts. Remember when I told you that my mind wandered to Spirited Away? The Great Protector, the dragon who watched over the Ta Lo village looked to me exactly like a live-action version of Haku!
And the music, oh my! I love that they decided to go for two albums – one with songs used in the film and the other one with score. That’s what they did with Black Panther as well. And it works, it works a treat. Such a great origin story. I think the MCU is very strong with telling those folklore stories, and I am here to tell you: I WANT MORE. But yes, the soundtrack was spot on. And I am waiting for it to be available as a CD. Yes, I am that kind of person, sue me.
I gotta admit, that even though I think mixing two comic book stories was a good idea, it was a risky one as well. It could’ve backfire pretty easily but in Destin Daniel Cretton we trust! I am so glad Shang-Chi will return, and the post-credit scenes open a lot of doors for the comeback. But this is something that you should experience yourself. On a big IMAX screen preferably.
A lot of people had zero or none expectations for Shang-Chi. I had mine through the roof and guess what? MCU stepped up and delivered amazing mythology, wrapped in a mystical origin story of hero and his enemy, topped with a fresh and crisp sense of humor. I can’t wait to watch it again!