It’s been a long time since Marvel made a movie about little-known characters that wound up being a big hit.
It has scored again with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The winning combination of Simu Liu, Tony Leung and Awkwafina has produced an Asian-flavored comic-book story that has the potential for a another successful franchise. Over its first weekend, it has scored more than 90 million dollars, not too bad considering how the movie business has been hurt by Covid-19.
SOME SPOILERS BELOW…
The story centers on the Ten Rings, a set of items with mysterious powers held by Wenwu aka the The Real Mandarin (Tony Leung). He dominates a terrorist group that has changed the world in the shadows. Soon he looks for a magical place called Ta Lo. He’s taken by the land, and a lovely young woman who guards the place. She eventually bears his two children, Shang-Chi and Xialing.
Once she dies, Wenwu wants to be reunited with her, claiming Ta Lo is keeping her prisoner.
Shang-Chi (who goes by Shawn) lives in San Francisco, parking cars with his pal Katy (Awkwfina). A ride on a bus changes everything, as some goons force Shawn to show his true self. He tells Katy he was trained by his dad to be an assassin, and ran away instead. He has to go to Macao to find Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) after she sent him a letter. Katy is going, too, because she is Shang-Chi’s BFF or else. She winds up being an important part of the story. In a way, she represents the audience trying to decipher this new part of the MCU, and becomes even more.
They make it to a fight club in Macao, and Shang-Chi finds himself being booked into a match. Thankfully, it’s not against a really big creature who’s defeated by Wong (Benedict Wong) from Dr. Strange…really.
Shang-Chi finds his sister, quite suddenly, along with Wenwu. He is determined to get to Ta Lo, because he thinks his wife is calling to him.
Shang-Chi and Xialing get some unexpected help from Trevor (Ben Kingsley), the fake Mandarin from Iron Man 3, who’s now a court jester. He’s addled but helpful, thanks to something called Morris. It’s kind of life a fat Tribble with wings, but Trevor can communicate with it.
They get to Tan Lo and meet Nan (Michelle Yeoh), who explains how the Ten Rings stopped an evil monster that’s been locked away. It’s hoping to fool someone into releasing it….someone with ten rings.
Simu Liu may be an unknown, but does a fine job as the main hero. His fight scenes are the best since the Daredevil TV series. He’s a regular guy who’s trying to leave his past behind. Being trained as an assassin is one thing, but also admitting to two dark secrets is another.
As for Leung, he’s the most sympathetic antagonist in MCU history. He’s an immortal who’s caused a lot of damage over the centuries, but gave it up for the love of his life. Unfortunately, his past kept him away from his wife’s land and caused further tragedy. He wanted her back, and wound up as villain and victim.
Xialing, wants respect after her dad kept her away from training and her brother left. That’s why she made a fighting empire in Macao by herself (and might widen her horizons). Zhang does a fine job in the fighting scnes, while her chracter shows gradual change from being angry to showing empathy. This is also one of a handful of roles she’s had in her career.
As for the post credits, they do reveal three familiar faces, and someone making a decision about the future.
Shang-Chi is an excellent end to the somewhat-dented summer movie season. It’s safe to say we’ll see more of him soon.
Next up in November will be Eternals, and how that’s connected to Infinity War and Endgame.