Correct me if I’m wrong, but it was the late-1970’s when Hollywood first made a big-budget superhero movie (Richard Donner’s Superman). At the close of the 1980s, we then had Tim Burton’s Batman, and in the 1990’s we had a few more comic book movies; some big hits and some major flops. We like to think of the present day as the most progressive time ever, but you have to acknowledge, that after a couple of decades of white super-heroics, Hollywood did produce a trio of black comic book heroes; Blade, Spawn, and Steel. After the millennium and specifically 9/11 however, entertainment really devolved. Society and popular culture was reset, everything started from scratch with worn-out ideas of patriotism and foreign baddies raising their ugly head (Iron Man and Captain America) plus everything turned really, really white. Whether it was Sam Raimi’s flag-clutching Spiderman, Christopher Nolan’s rich white Batman Begins, or Marvel’s original Phase One heroes, everything was distinctly Caucasian and American. It took until 2018 for Black Panther to be released, and because of this great culture reset, it felt like having a black superhero was new and powerful even though we had three in the previous century. Despite this sole example of post-millennial minority inclusion, what we haven’t ever had is an Asian superhero movie. It sounds fucking appalling to say it but starting from Superman in 1978, it took until 2021 for Hollywood to give us a filmic translation of an Asian comic book protagonist! Okay, we might have had Brandon Lee in The Crow back in 1993/1994 but he was literally in white-face playing a white character. What Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings does is give us a genuine Asian actor and a powerful Asian character front and centre, and just like people of colour did for decades, it’s time for white people to cheer-on someone of a different ethnicity for once.
There’s not much point in me getting really in-depth into The Legend Of The Ten Rings. Shang-Chi is a funny, action-packed adventure with some parental and sibling drama thrown in. There’s acknowledgement of immigration and being culturally Western as well as being ethnically from a different part of the world. I will say that the storyline of someone’s destiny being in their homeland rather than in America or the West, could potentially sound like “go back to where you came from” but it’s a minute issue in an otherwise modern comedy-action movie. I could also have done without the mid-credit scene featuring Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner) and Brie Larson (Carol Danvers). The condescension toward Shang-Chi and his bud Katy by Captain Marvel and Hulk reminded me of the scene in Avengers: Endgame where an old, wise, and white Captain America handed the baton down to the black Falcon/Samuel Wilson in a patronising and cringey-liberal kind of way. Oh thank you for including us!
Aside from that however, Shang-Chi is a highly entertaining and enjoyable watch. The direction keeps the action and fights exciting. Okay, so this isn’t a Jackie Chan movie or a Hong Kong martial arts film or Kung Fu Hustle (which Shang-Chi has a poster of in his apartment). This bracelet-wearing character doesn’t quite match the ballet-esque, poetic-ness of that Korean classic but then again, this is an American-made Marvel movie and it’s a decent one at that.
In terms of acting, everyone is great in their role. Awkwafina is hilarious as Katy, Simu Liu is very likeable in the title role, Tony Leung as Wenwu/The Mandarin is a decent villain as well as a crappy father, Meng’er Zhang as Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing gives a dramatic side-plot about being ignored and carving a path for herself, Michelle Yeoh is wonderful as auntie Jiang Nan, and Ben Kingsley as the nice-but-dim Trevor Slattery is always humourous to watch. I personally find Ronny Chieng irritating but his character Jon Jon isn’t in the film for long.
I have to say, Marvel’s Phase Four looks very much like B-movies compared to Phases One to Three. Maybe it’s because the company is trying to tie-in TV shows with cinema, and the aesthetic has to match (I don’t have Disney+ so I can’t really comment) but from watching Black Widow and Shang-Chi (and judging by The Eternals trailer) everything has a slightly cheap, televisual aesthetic.
Speaking of Phase Four, we’ve got Kumail Nanjiani and Brian Tyree Henry in The Eternals later this year followed by Iman Vellani and Teyonah Parris in the Captain Marvel sequel but they’re all kinda side-characters like Halle Berry in X-Men. I hope that this one outing for an Asian or ethnic minority superhero isn’t the last. I wish The Legend Of The Ten Rings is as big a success as Black Panther and spawns a sequel or two. I’m still waiting for a Latino, a native American, native Australian, and a Pacific islander superhero, and generally some more black and brown superheroes too (and whatever other ethnicities y’all been neglecting since the 1970’s). Remember: progress doesn’t just stop (unless of course, it’s the 1990’s and 2000’s).
A Legend In The Making.