Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Release: Friday, September 3, 2021

👀 Theater

Written by: Dave Callaham; Andrew Lanham; Destin Daniel Cretton

Directed by: Destin Daniel Cretton

Starring: Simu Liu; Awkwafina; Tony Chiu-Wai Leung; Meng’er Zhang; Fala Chen; Michelle Yeoh

 

 

****/*****

Marvel Studios’ most recognizable batch of comic book origins stories are behind us, but given Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings‘ strong box office haul it isn’t going to be falling on hard times any time soon. And the numbers are justified. This movie is as entertaining as it is absorbing.

Following somewhat in the footsteps of Black Panther (2018), Shang-Chi immerses the viewer in a culture largely relegated to the muddy riverbanks along the Hollywood mainstream. The 25th overall film in the MCU is one of the most visually delicious, featuring spectacular sets where the mise en scène is often its own character and where — finally! — flashy CGI actually supports rather than hinders. The production design is a lavish platter sampling everything from the urban to the rural to the mythical and where the exquisite, violent dance of Kung Fu is ensconced in the sophisticated and occasionally literal scaffolding around it.

Underneath the obviously heavy budget however lies a hero’s journey that’s just as rich with human emotion and soul, qualities that Short Term 12 director Destin Daniel Cretton is no stranger to and that are most welcomed in a movie of this scale. The story tells of a deeply personal conflict between an immortal, power-obsessed patriarch Wenwu (Tony Leung — Infernal Affairs; The Grandmaster) and his children, son Shang-Chi (Simu Liu — Women is Losers; Kim’s Convenience — TV) and daughter Xialing (Meng’er Zhang). Given the film’s title, the focus narrows to the father-son dynamic as Shang-Chi is forced to confront the trauma of his past and the man responsible for much of it.

As an origins story largely divorced from the Avengers era Shang-Chi feels like a breath of fresh air in a staling superhero environment, even as it honors the tradition of Marvel’s prescribed narrative formula. While Cretton and his writing team are granted the proper space to explore their own world that’s not to say they don’t have some fun tricks up their sleeve, bringing into the fold former foes from past movies who end up mercifully repurposed into something more useful. This story is only beginning but the first chapter lays a lot of emotional brickwork, almost to the point of being burdened by it. The pacing is not always ideal but the trips down nightmare lane are intriguing and rarely feel purely extraneous.

The exhaustive (maybe a little exhausting) narrative structure is most compelling when building up the villain, extensive flashbacks offering a rare opportunity to understand the man behind the monster. When Wenwu met his wife he vowed to give up his never-ending quest for power, the very quest that brought him to the clandestine village of Ta Lo where he first encountered her. Shunned by the residents the pair fled to start a family, a halcyon period that tragically wouldn’t last. As a heartbroken, tormented father Leung authors one of the best villains the MCU has yet seen, oscillating between sympathetic and menacing, coldly composed and dangerously delirious, yet passing on the histrionics a lesser actor might have pursued.

In response to loss Wenwu relapsed back into his old ways, resolving to toughen up his son to be an assassin worthy of joining the powerful Ten Rings organization, so named after the physical rings he discovered that gave him immortality. However, following in his father’s blood-stained shoes is a destiny Shang-Chi grew uncomfortable with and so he fled for sunny San Francisco, changing his name and starting up a new life parking cars for wealthy elites alongside best friend Katy (Awkwafina — The Farewell; Crazy Rich Asians), a proud underachiever whose mother lovingly prods her to jump-start her life. When the pair are attacked on a bus one afternoon, Shaun has some explaining (and traveling) to do, while Katy recognizes an opportunity to help a friend in need.

The star of the film is obviously Simu Liu, who handles the duality of his character’s emotional and physical sides with grace and finesse. He’s likable and convincing in the action scenes, particularly for playing a character famous for being proficient in multiple martial arts styles, but the film excels because of the tag-team effort. Awkwafina is the yang to Liu’s yin, her terrific camaraderie making it easy to get over the goofy stage name (real name Nora Lum) and embrace the 30-something actor/rapper as more than comic relief; she’s a genuine friend whose expressiveness also makes for a perfect audience surrogate, especially as the narrative takes leaps and bounds away from the pedestrian and into the fantastical.

Thematically the movie isn’t a radical departure, certainly when in view of this summer’s Black Widow whose central thrust was also about the futility of running from one’s past. These movies share assassins and miserable childhoods in common. But where Black Widow was cold and absolute in eliminating the architect of pain and suffering — and justifiably so — Shang-Chi is more interesting in the way it confronts those committed to similarly transgressive behavior. It knows, perhaps on the level of a Captain America: Civil War or Winter Soldier, that good guys and bad in reality come with their shades of gray. We’re told it’s always personal, but here’s a case where mourning feels more appropriate than celebration; the anguish over what must be done makes the obligatory climactic battle that much more grounded despite the high-flying theatrics.

As it turns out, Cretton’s first run with the Marvel big dogs is a beautiful movie in more ways than one, and a really exciting way to kick off a new, less familiar chapter. Ta Lo is the pinnacle at which all things conceptual come together, invariably violently. This fascinating bubble within the multiverse is where everything goes down, and yet almost every scene along the way overflows with meaning and symbolism. It’s a movie with a spectacular finishing move, but also one of measurable personal growth. The friendship dynamic refreshingly remains undisturbed by studio heads undoubtedly desirous of something more expected. At once crowd-pleasing and nuanced, Shang-Chi is a superior Marvel offering.

No one’s up in arms . . . yet

Moral of the Story: The fun factor is through the roof with Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings. It’s also got a nice message to send, it looks fantastic and, though far be it from me to say this is true for all, seems a legitimately diverse, passionate and truthful representation of Chinese culture and traditions. Me to you: I freaking loved this movie and would see it again in theaters in a heartbeat. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 132 mins.

Quoted: “Welcome to the circus.”

Feast your eyes on the Official Trailer from Marvel Studios here! 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; www.indiewire.com

TBT: Kung Pow! Enter the Fist (2002)

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Ladies and gentlemen, I again force your eyes and mice/fingerpads/iPad cursor-things towards this page for the second edition of DSB TBT. Hopefully that abbreviation is relatively self-explanatory. I’m too lazy to type it all out.

Due to a request I received (nice call, Josh!!!), the Throwback of today is probably what I would describe as one of the most contentious kung-fu spoof movies; known to some others as one of the most ridiculously hilarious 80 minutes ever created for film. This movie literally caused me so much pain when I first saw it while I guffawed like a hyena — I think I remember it more for that, than for any real story it may have had.

Today’s food for thought: Kung Pow! Enter the Fist.

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Release: January 25, 2002

[DVD]

Steve Oedekerk pours all of himself — including his ass-kicking gophers — into this outrageous film that makes light of practically everything you can imagine about kung fu movies — from the awfully out-of-sync voiceovers, to the art form itself, to the characters and how they survive/die. Splicing footage from 1970s obscure martial arts films while dubbing in the main character for major fight scenes borrowed from these films and adding in other random bits and pieces, Kung Pow! is not exactly wholly original — and we get it, it’s the entire point! It’s insanely goofy (and to some, unbearably so…it’s the recipient of an 11% squashed rating on Rotten Tomatoes); to those who were/are fans, this short film is likely to withstand the test of time in the face of hundreds of other spoofs of a genre that is inherently parodic.

Even though Oedekerk wrote and directed the picture he’s at his best as an actor, playing “The Chosen One,” a kung fu prodigy at birth. He embarks immediately on a vengeful quest to find the ones who had murdered his parents in their home years ago, right before he gets tossed from the crib in the most hilarious of ways.

When he discovers that the one responsible for his orphanage is none other than the ugly-as-hell “Master Pain,” also referred to as “Betty,” yep — The Chosen One goes crazy; think Neo on five hits of bath salts but with a penchant for mischief at the same time. Along the way he encounters some strange characters and places, including a future friend in their fist-fighting frenzies, Master Tang, and the one-boobed babe named Whoa.

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There are lines galore that one could walk away with stuck in their brains permanently — I still have a few. Some of my favorites include:

  • “Let your anger be as a monkey in a piñata.”
  • “Chicken go ‘cluck-cluck,’ cow go ‘moo.’ Piggie go ‘oink-oink,’ how ’bout you?”
  • “You must take your place in the Great Circle of. . . . stuff.”
  • [narrator] “At that moment, The Chosen One learned a valuable lesson about iron claws — THEY HURT LIKE CRAP, MAN!”
  • “But that would just look stupid and leave my small, sensitive balls completely exposed. . . “
  • “We’re children, we’re children!!!”
  • “Killing is wrong. And bad. There should be a new, stronger word for killing. Like, ‘badwrong,’ or ‘badong.’ Yes, killing is badong. From this moment, I will stand for the opposite of killing: ‘gnodab.'”
  • [Master Betty] “First, a joke. What do you get when you cross an owl with a bungee cord?” [pause…] “…My ass.”
  • “Our! Sexual! Preferences! Are! Our! Own! Business!”
  • “Thank you, squirrel friend. Your soft, cushy body helped absorb the force of his blow.”

In realizing this is not everyone’s cup of tea — in general, spoofs are really a type of acquired taste for those who don’t mind letting the source material become fodder for ridiculous jokes — I have to say this is one of the better spoofs since it literally takes no prisoners in making fun of everything. There’s no escaping the silliness of it all.

So try not to fight back when watching Kung Pow!, or else you might hurt something. Especially the logical side of your brain. This is a good demonstration of what a movie needs as a bare minimum: creativity. If it’s not creative at all, then it’s a documentary. And even documentaries are creative in how they deliver their information. If you’re not in agreement that this movie is at the VERY LEAST creative in its botching of any piece of information, I might just have to have a word with you, privately. . . .

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3-5Recommendation: This isn’t likely to move people who oppose outlandish farce, but for those who enjoy shutting their brain off and laughing until it hurts, this does just fine.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 81 mins.

What’s the goofiest movie you’ve ever seen? 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.consequenceofsound.net