Friday, September 3, 2021

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings


Life changes for Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) when he gets his hands on ten magical bracelets granting him immeasurable amounts of power and an incredibly long life. After centuries of eternal pursuit for more, his limitless craving leads him to the mystical village of Ta Lo, a place protected by a mysterious bamboo forest harboring numerous mythical creatures. There he meets his match in the person of Ying Li (Fala Chen), one of the village’s guardians, who gives him a change of heart. He abandons his weapons and his old ways and starts a happy family life with her and their two children, but his criminal past won’t leave them in peace. Two decades later, Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) tries to escape his lineage by living a simple life as a valet with his friend Katy (Awkwafina) in San Francisco. Unbeknownst to him, his past is about to catch up with his present as he is ambushed by his father’s Ten Rings organization, paving the way for an awkward family reunion that is just about to get even weirder.

Hands down, the best fight choreography in the MCU to date. While Black Widow’s combat scenes were more of the brutal John Wick type that made you feel second-hand pain because those stunts ought to hurt, Shang-Chi’s is that of martial arts grounded on the eastern tradition. The hand-to-hand combat here are not just fight scenes, many of them resemble a graceful dance between two people. That particular segment between Wenwu and Ying Li at the bamboo forest is so beautifully shot with just the right dash of magical realism, I wanted to give it a standing ovation.

Marvel is no alien to the concept of world-building. We’ve had the likes of Asgard, Wakanda, Madripoor, and Sokovia, each leaning more towards a unique quirk that makes each place special. Ta-Lo is a little bit overwhelmed by the mystical, making it very clear that the MCU is really pivoting more towards the magical for Phase 4. The final act is a bit of a letdown because the awesome fight choreography and tantalizing visual feast of weapons galore are all sidetracked to give way to gigantic creatures trying to knock each other out. It’s not chaotic but might come across as too otherworldly for some people.

As for a more positive aspect, we all know how after 25 films released in the franchise and with more to follow, Marvel has had its fair share of misfires for some characters: the Taskmaster in Black Widow and the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, to name a few. In this regard, it’s amusing how the company is proving to be receptive to feedback from the fanbase by creatively retconning some of these character mishaps in succeeding films. It is one of the MCU’s strengths, knowing how to admit its mistakes, eventually correcting them, and even making fun of them. Having said that, watch out for Trevor Slattery’s (Ben Kingsley) story arc coming full circle here.

I was about to get disappointed because the title of the film is Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings after all but the movie ends without any details regarding the bracelets’ origins aside from a short narrated prologue insinuating that Wenwu stole it somewhere. Apparently, the writers deliberately withhold this subplot to use as a bridge for a possible sequel in the mid-credits scene, which features two cameo appearances directly linking the storyline to the Avengers and hinting on another impending big bad who is not named but I could only guess to be Fin Fang Foom.

The post credits scene, on the other hand, tackles the future of the Ten Rings organization. As to what Marvel decides to do with this group and its new leader is left open-ended. At this point we just don’t know if they will end up as villains or anti-heroes. Nevertheless, the prospect leaves the door wide open for the group as well as other characters who survived to return at some capacity, perhaps not in a Shang-Chi sequel but in other future MCU projects that might require their presence. Their storyline definitely does not end here.

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