“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” strays from typical Marvel movies


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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was released on Sept. 3 and is the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It’s hard to remember you’re watching a Marvel movie when there are huge, snake-like dragons, graceful fight choreography and very few overlaps with other movies in that universe. “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” strays away from the traditional Marvel genre, but still retains ties to the much-beloved universe.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” focuses on a young man named Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), Marvel’s first Asian lead character, who is living in present-day San Francisco. He is the son of the all-powerful, thousand-year-old leader of the Ten Rings army Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung Chiu-wai).

Shang-Chi hasn’t seen or heard from his father in over a decade until he is one day attacked on a bus, where a hulking assassin (sent by Shang-Chi’s father) with a blade for an arm takes the pendant from around Shang-Chi’s neck that his now-deceased mother gave to him when he was a boy. This encounter marks the beginning of a journey where he and his best friend, Katy (Awkwafina), get tangled up in the Ten Rings army and reconnect with Shang-Chi’s and his mother’s past.

This movie, while very much a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), doesn’t entirely feel like a Marvel movie. The main difference between this movie and other MCU films is the inclusion of more mythological and fantasy-like creatures, rather than the futuristic and extraterrestrial creatures more common in the MCU. The most prominent example of this is the Great Protector, a huge dragon that gives Shang-Chi and his allies great power during the final battle of the movie. I really enjoy this expansion of Marvel characters, as it includes aspects of Chinese mythology, which I hope to see more of in future films.

Another subtle but notable aspect of this movie is in the details of the fight choreography. In previous Marvel installments, the more violent scenes usually included a haphazard mix of punches, kicks, grunts and violence. But “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” references the Chinese wuxia genre (a genre of film centering around martial artists) by creating beautifully choreographed martial arts-type fight scenes that are much more enjoyable to watch.

The very first fight scene between Xu Wenwu and Shang-Chi’s mother, Ying Li (Fala Chen), is absolutely beautiful; it is full of color and light, and the subjects dance across the screen. The rest of the scenes like this one tend to follow the same pattern, which I find much less stressful than most other MCU movies.

As for characters, the easiest to favor is Katy, Shang-Chi’s best friend. Comic reliefs are usually my favorite characters, for obvious reasons, but Awkwafina takes her character to the next level. Katy always delivers the best line or quip for whatever situation she and Shang-Chi are faced with.

For example, at the beginning of the movie, she tells friends about how she stands up to bullies, not by fighting back, but by distraction, so when she is confronted by one of the Ten Rings’ assassins, she stops for a moment, and starts singing “Hotel California” by Eagles; it’s hands-down one of the funniest moments of the movie. Awkwafina has such a talent for effortlessly delivering funny lines, and her character is executed perfectly.

This movie can nearly exist as a standalone movie, save a few characters from the “Iron Man” movies and “Doctor Strange.” One of my biggest complaints about MCU movies in general is that you always need to know background information from other MCU movies to understand what is going on in the one you’re watching, and that is almost not true for this movie. While you will easily be able to understand what is happening in the movie, there are a few references that only Marvel aficionados will understand.

That said, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” was a thoroughly enjoyable movie, and as Marvel’s first movie with an Asian lead, it was a hit. While this doesn’t feel like the most Marvel-like movie, I highly recommend seeing it, even if you don’t like the very action-y type action movies. This movie and its extremely talented cast will make you feel a whole range of emotions, from sadness to pride to joy, it is one you will want to watch over and over.