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  Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Masters Of Kung Fu
Year: 2021
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Stars: Simu Liu, Tony Leung, Awkwafina, Ben Kingsley, Meng'er Zhang, Fala Chen, Michelle Yeoh, Yuen Wah, Florian Munteanu, Andy Le, Paul W. He, Jayden Zhang, Elodie Fong, Arnold Sun, Stephanie Hsu, Kunal Dudheker, Tsai Chin, Jodi Long, Benedict Wong
Genre: Action, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Around a thousand years ago, Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) was a Chinese warlord who was driven by his lust for power at any cost, and he gained it, too, with the help of ten magic rings of mysterious origin that rendered him practically invincible. However, he did have one weakness, and that would, in centuries to come, be his wife Li (Fala Chen) who he threatened to relinquish all that power for, simply to settle down and raise a family. Fast forward to the present day, when Xu's terrorist empire of the East nearly brought down the West, and continues to pose a serious problem, but there's this guy, Shaun (Simu Liu), in San Francisco who is a parking valet...

What could lowly Shaun have to do with international intrigue? You've probably guessed after seeing how ripped his torso is in his opening scene that there's more to him than meets the eye, or perhaps by catching the trailer, but this was Marvel's try at making the most of the Asian market and the one film more than any in 2021 that showed there was an audience willing to attend Covid-safe theatres to watch movies on the big screen - Bond and Dune dutifully followed to gather the benefits in its wake. In template, it adopted Black Panther and its resolutely non-white characters (er, never mind the very white execs greenlighting these) and proving there was a welcome for them internationally.

That said, this might have been tricky as far as the project's seventies comic book source went, for as many liked to point out, Asian superstar Leung was actually playing Fu Manchu, that much-criticised embodiment of Western paranoia about Chinese power grabs of around a hundred years before, a very dated concept from British writer Sax Rohmer designed to stoke anti-ethnic sentiment and blame a minority for the ills of the world. Somewhere along the line, Marvel picked up the character to battle their Bruce Lee knock-off Shang-Chi, who was his son but a good guy, yet while there was no way on Earth they were going to have Leung essay Fu Manchu now, it was perhaps alarming to see how well he was received given the stereotypes the original traded in were not exactly banished.

If Marvel were shamelessly pandering to China, you might have thought this was a funny way to go about it, with a villain who was proudly Chinese causing terrorist acts and generally evildoing, but apparently nobody was looking that closely and as long as they didn't mention Tibet or Taiwan they would go with it because Shang-Chi was so clearly a hero. As were selected other Chinese characters as our protagonist elects to visit China (actually, this was shot in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, oh well) accompanied by his best pal Katy (Awkwafina), here for the wisecracks, to meet with his estranged sister Xialing (Meng'er Zhang) and Michelle Yeoh and Yuen Wah, which is nice. As modern action Hollywood owed much to the structure and combat of East Asian martial arts flicks anyway, it seemed obvious to create something patterned after them for Marvel.

The trouble arrived when it came to slotting this stuff into the MCU, as there was an issue that every time the backstory had to be explained, the movie ground to a halt, and this happened far too many times for comfort, no matter who they gave the monologue to. Well, that's not entirely true, Ben Kingsley, a joke character from the Iron Man series as the not-Mandarin, lifted his scenes with a goofy sense of humour that created just the right tone, and made this a lot more fun, his CGI furry pet and all. Everyone else, however, found the relentless details deadly to deliver, especially when they were a run-through of groaning cliches, and you could imagine how much more energetic this could have been had they replaced them with more action. What action there was, was well-delivered (you imagine they would have the hang of this by now), though the would-be thrilling climax saw Shang-Chi riding Falkor the Dragon from The Neverending Story off of the eighties. A slightly too-drab colour palate took some of the pulp sparkle off it too, but mostly this was a mid-level Marvel entry that by dint of timing saved cinema for a while, so hats off to it for that. Music by Joel P West.

[Marvel Studios' Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings Levels Up to 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD on November 15th and Will Be Available To Stream On Disney+ and Purchase on Digital from November 12th 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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