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Review: Family bites back in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”

While not a traditional Marvel Studios film, “Shang-Chi” is sure to inspire audiences old and anew.

By Matthew Royer, Political News Editor

(From left to right) Meng'er Zhang, Simu Liu and Awkwafina star in 2021's "Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings." (Photo Courtesy of Marvel Studios)

In the second theatrical release of four this year for Disney’s Marvel Studios, director Destin Daniel Cretton’s visually stunning film sets the stage for what can come next in “stage four” of this ever-growing universe.

Led by actor Simu Liu, who portrays the titular character, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” follows the son of Wenwu (Tony Leung), the anguish-stricken leader of the chiliadal ten rings, a gang of assassins whose goal is to control as much power as possible under a veil of secrecy. Upon being found by the ten rings after years of hiding, Shang-Chi (Liu) must return home to his father, but not without the accompaniment of his high school best friend Katy (Awkwafina) and his estranged sister Xu Xialing (Meng'er Zhang).

Within the 132 minute runtime comes a chasmic plot that extends itself into the themes of grief, moving on and the importance of family, whether blood or chosen. Although the film still leaves room for the traditional origin story that turns ordinary people into heroes overnight, still providing the long-established Marvel Studios storytelling style audiences have grown to love.

Cretton’s film also made history, becoming the first Asian-led film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Under the writer-director’s helm the film avoided the typical stereotypes one could see in previously made Asian-themed cinema; “Shang Chi” stresses the importance of culture and tradition laying the groundwork for the future while still calling out and mending the issues previous films have caused, such as the character The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley) last seen in 2013’s Iron Man 3, which controversially whitewashed the comic-book origins of the villain for the big-screen.

While Liu and Leung’s characters are at odds with one another for a majority of the runtime, what makes the movie such a joy to watch is the masterclass of artistry you receive from the leading men. Liu, who is best known for his roles in Canadian sitcoms such as “Kim’s Convenience,” shows off his acting chops and with the help of sharp writing, becomes a name meant to be spotlit on a marquee for years to come. On the supporting side, Leong steals the show, presenting an Oscar-worthy performance for the audience. By showing the struggles one can go through by losing a loved one, Leong masters the role of the villain one can sympathize with, as the character believes he has the best intentions within his headspace.

In supporting roles, Awkwafina’s comedic skills balance the film greatly, as the actress also gets a chance to play the hero throughout the film, while actress Michelle Yeoh, portraying Ying Nan, the aunt of Shang-Chi, delivers a performance full of soul and wisdom as a guiding light for the hero.

While the aforementioned direction, writing and acting stand out, visuals come first in “Shang-Chi.” Choreographed brilliantly, at times the movie feels like a martial-arts film before a superhero film. The late stunt coordinator Brad Allan puts together fight sequences that feel more like a dance performance that moviegoers can not keep their eyes off of, creating a beautiful swan song that should not be forgotten. CGI-wise, the film is dazzling and full of breathtaking sequences the viewer is sure to be impressed with, seen best when adventuring to Ta Lo, the mystical village of Shang-Chi’s maternal origins.

Meant for the big-screen, do yourself a favor and run instead of walk to see “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” then wait for the film to reach Disney+ and watch it again for good measure.

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