SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Alexander Wallace joins the circus.
Marvel made its first big stride in the realm of diversity with Black Panther, a film that brought afrofuturism to the mainstream. It continued with Captain Marvel, its first female-helmed film, and now with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, its first film with a predominantly Asian cast. In some ways, I (full disclosure: I am Asian-American, particularly Filipino) think that it’s perhaps the boldest move, given the general paucity of decent roles for Asians in American film (although this is something that has started to change - I for one quite liked Searching, starring John Cho, released in 2018).

Shang-Chi is a film that had to deal with some unpleasant baggage in its source material. In the comics, Shang-Chi is the son of Fu Manchu, the archetypal ‘yellow peril’ villain of pulp fame (Marvel also does not happen to have the rights to the character anymore). Likewise, the character of the Mandarin has unpleasant undertones to the modern reader, and was given a controversial interpretation in Iron Man 3 (I, in the minority, thought it was quite clever).

Fortunately, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings takes great care to ensure that the Chinese elements of its story are treated well. The character that was once ‘the Mandarin’ is now Xu Wenwu, the leader of the Ten Rings, who finds the nicknames that the West gives him to be perplexing and amusing in equal measure. There are many things that I noticed, as an Asian-American, that feel true to that particular immigrant experience (the overbearing mothers being the one that leapt out at me). Some of the story is grounded in the very real city of Macau, which can feel rather cyberpunk at times.

Shang-Chi stands out, more than anywhere else, in its action scenes. It is in a sense Marvel’s first foray into the wuxia genre; the fighting feels like many martial arts movies I have watched, combined with a certain mysticism along the lines of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. This Asian sensibility towards action scenes is combined with unique places to have these fights. There is a positively spellbinding sequence on a bus in San Francisco that exploits the confined location as well as the hilly terrain of the city (which I appreciated, as someone from a different hilly part of the United States) which is perhaps my favorite scene in the film.

This film also serves as something of a display of the Asian talent in Hollywood. Simu Liu shines as the protagonist Shang-Chi, expertly showing the different strands of his life that lead him to the great acts of the film. Awkwafina plays Katie, Shang-Chi’s best friend and audience surrogate. She serves the same role that Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zeddemore did in Ghostbusters: the normal person who experiences the supernatural events of the film as a newcomer. Fittingly, she has a relatable everywoman sensibility that tends to steal any scene she’s in. Tony Leung, famous in Hong Kong, makes his Hollywood debut as Xu Wenwu, giving a foreboding charisma to the villain reminiscent of Josh Brolin’s iconic performance as Thanos. Meng’er Zhang gives an entertaining performance as Shang-Chi’ s sister, Xu Xialing, and a character from a previous Marvel film returns, played by an actor who is of Asian ancestry but not obviously so.

I quite enjoyed Shang-Chi. This film is another step forward for Marvel in terms of its representation, and doubly so for a group that has been somewhat neglected by modern racial justice advocates. It is also a fantastic superhero film, with all the things that make us love the genre, and a very good action film. It’s several things in once - and good things sometimes come in bundles.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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