"I'll just get my gear."

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Believe it or not, I kinda consider myself kind of a Shang-Chi guy. As in, I dig that comic book character, before there was a movie. That’s definitely overstating it, because I don’t know that much more about his history than the next guy, but I’m attached to him because of my fascination with the period that created him, just a couple years before I was born, when American pop culture was catching on to the existence of kung fu and kung fu movies, and trying to cash in.

Shortly after Luke Cage debuted in June 1972 as a super hero response to SHAFT (both SUPER FLY and the coinage of the term “Blaxploitation” happened a few months later), Shang-Chi was conceived as the Marvel Comics version of the hit TV show Kung Fu, and he debuted in the midst of ENTER THE DRAGON mania. He showed up one month in Special Marvel Edition, and two issues later it was retitled The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu. I can’t resist titles like that – that’s why I also know about the DC character Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter (as seen in BATMAN: SOUL OF THE DRAGON) and why I was introduced to Shang-Chi by buying back issues of The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu.

That’s a ‘70s Marvel Magazine, the type you know is gonna include a full page ad for a “complete audiovisual home study course in dynamic KUNG FU & KARATE” for less than 16¢ a lesson with a 10 day no risk money back guarantee. But it’s mainly black-and-white comics about martial arts characters including Shang-Chi, Iron Fist and The Sons of the Tiger interspersed with crude martial arts-related articles. In issue #1, writer J. David Warner visits the Fred Hamilton All-Dojo Martial Arts Tournament, reviews THE CHINESE MECHANIC starring Barry Chan, and has a news column previewing upcoming Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest releases, as well as western movies with co-stars from Asian cinema, like YAKUZA, STONER and PAPER TIGER. It also mentions WHEN TAEKWONDO STRIKES, GOYOKIN, and Ken Russell “preparing for production” of a martial arts movie called KARATE IS A THING OF THE SPIRIT. (If that had gotten off the ground I’d probly obsess over it the way people do THE DEVILS.)

My favorite issue is #11 (above), only because the cover is a Neal Adams painting of Billy Jack kicking a dude. Look at that beauty! Billy Jack does not appear in comics form, and he for sure would’ve called bullshit on the both-sides moralizing and insulting depiction of left wing activists in the story where Shang-Chi gets in the middle of a Kent State style shooting while attending UC Berkeley. But this magazine got me thinking Shang-Chi was cool enough that I once bought myself a Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu drinking glass at the Emerald City Comics Con. While I waited in line surrounded by walls of Spider-man, Batgirl and Punisher tumblers, two guys in front of me noticed one of the Shang-Chis and joked about it.

Who would buy that!?” one of them laughed.

I didn’t say anything, but the answer was me! I would! And I did! But if that doesn’t earn me “I liked them before they were on a major label” status, may I submit to you that I designed the logo of this very websight as an homage to The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu?

Of course, that’s all a relic of a different time, my fondness for mass-marketed cultural appropriation surely makes me suspect to some people, and the new movie SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS is a totally different take on the character that attempts to rectify some of that history. It’s set in the modern world, with any cinematic nods more to modern Chinese fantasy cinema and ’90s Jackie Chan than to anything from the ‘70s. (I’m okay with all that, but my fingers are crossed for him to grow his hair long and wear a headband in part 2. It’s a style that people don’t really do anymore and I just think that would give him some don’t-give-a-fuck-what-you-think swagger.)

I want to take a moment to compare Shang-Chi (Simu Liu, recurring role, season 1 of Taken) to other Marvel heroes. Iron Man is a spoiled rich playboy who turns himself around and makes something of himself. Thor and Black Panther are sons of kings who struggle to prove themselves and live up to expectations. Captain America and Spider-man are working class New Yorkers who make something of themselves, but only after gaining super powers. Shang-Chi is interestingly in the middle – he does not have super powers, but he is the son of a thousand-year-old magic warlord, who had him trained from childhood to be an elite assassin. But when we meet Shang-Chi he has run away from that, immigrated to the United States, works as a valet at a hotel in San Francisco, lives in a garage, takes the bus to work, hangs out with friends, and seems satisfied with that. He seems close to the mom, grandma and little brother of his best friend and co-worker Marvel’s Katy* (Awkwafina, OCEAN’S 8), but they have no idea about his own familial issues. They only know him as Shaun.

*the package for her action figure calls her “Marvel’s Katy” and I love that so that is what I will call her

Things change one day when Shaun is commuting to work with Marvel’s Katy and some menacing thugs demand the pendant his late mother gave him. It’s clearly not a normal mugging because it’s five guys who know kung fu and one of them (Florian Munteanu, Viktor Drago from CREED II) has a giant blade for an arm. And Marvel’s Katy realizes she doesn’t really know her friend because he starts doing moves like he’s some kind of, you know… Master of Kung Fu. I don’t think she even knows he does push ups.

People who don’t like SHANG-CHI might hold this fight sequence against it, because it’s hard for the rest of the movie to live up to. But for me, a person who enjoys Marvel movies but thinks they tend to fuck up the work of their talented action units in post, this scene is a breakthrough. The great fight choreography (deeply rooted in late lamented supervising stunt coordinator/second unit director Brad Allan’s history as a member of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team) works well with a sophisticated combination of stunt work and FX depicting the bus careening and crashing, with some really cool action and camera moves on the outside of the vehicle – for example when it pans along the outside of the windows following Shang-Chi as he works his way to the back of the bus fighting each of the guys. This kind of hybrid stunts/FX vehicle mayhem has been done really well recently in THE VILLAINESS and WIRA, and I wouldn’t say this tops them, but it’s finally an area where Marvel’s vast financial resources and FX experience can give their action a boost (and not just look like animation).

It’s also a fun character moment – Shang-Chi’s anonymity and fake ordinariness are exploded in the middle of his commute; Marvel’s Katy’s heroic act of commandeering the bus is possible because of the valet job her family gives her shit for. I do have to note that we already got an A+ bus brawl in NOBODY, but as a martial arts fan/public transit rider I’d be okay with more.

Shaun reveals that he’s really Shang-Chi and must go find his estranged sister Xialing (newcomer Meng’er Zhang) before his father gets her pendant too. Marvel’s Katy insists on accompanying him to Macau, where they find Xialing’s massive underground fighting facility crammed into a skyscraper. As long as we’re in the Marvel Cinematastical Unicron it’s cool that one of the fights is between pre-existing MCU characters. Xialing is estranged from their father as well, but she takes after him in that she’s an underworld figure with goons and stuff, and she still resents Shang-Chi for leaving her behind and breaking his promise to come back for her. So they have at best a reluctant partnership when the dad’s henchmen rappel in.

I think there are a bunch of things that are special about this movie, but arguably the one that gives it the biggest leg up over most Marvel movies is the way it uses Shang-Chi’s father (who seems to be too legendary to even require a name, until he says that some call him Wenwu) as the antagonist. We’ve seen the backstory of how he got the Ten Rings (magical objects that act as bracelets, super-weapons and life extenders) a thousand years ago and used them to conquer lands and build an army instead of help people. But when he met his wife Ying Li (Fala Chen, TURNING POINT) upon trying to enter the hidden magical kingdom of Ta Lo, she must’ve seen something good in him. When her kingdom rejected him, she left with him, he put away the rings and they started a family. It seems like it was good for Shang-Chi and Xialing until their mom was killed, their dad went back to his old ways and started training Shang-Chi to avenge the murderers.

(By the way, as far as we see, this is not like LORD OF THE RINGS – the rings themselves don’t cause Wenwu to become what he becomes. He’s just an asshole. So the implication is that maybe power doesn’t always corrupt, maybe power just attracts assholes, and maybe if Shang-Chi’s not an asshole then he can use these things to better the world. And maybe if you got powerful and became an asshole you can’t blame the power, you just gotta face that you’re an asshole.)

What’s great is that when the family is forcibly reunited, the complications of their relationships are visible. We’ve heard about him as this tyrannical threat, and that’s all true, but when he greets Shang-Chi as his son, not his enemy, Shang-Chi embraces him. He calls him “Dad.” Dad talks to them in a friendly way and it isn’t the ol’ “talking in a friendly way to be even more intimidating.” It’s sincere. And what we will find is that his plan is more tragic than evil. He believes their mother is calling to him, that she is locked behind a magic gate in Ta Lo that they must open. But he would have to attack the people of Ta Lo to do that, and Shang-Chi also learns that opening the gate will not only not bring back his mother, but will unleash a world devouring demon called Dweller-in-Darkness.

There are probly plenty of actors who are good but would sink the movie because they couldn’t really sell that “charismatic guy with some evil qualities and some good ones and in this case sadly misguided” kinda character. But one guy who can knock it out of the park is Tony Leung. He’s of course a superstar in Hong Kong, but I feel like the release of this movie has inspired a real moment in the U.S. zeitgeist, with everyone wanting to honor and celebrate his status as a great actor, Hall of Fame sex symbol (CHUNGKING EXPRESS, IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, LUST CAUTION) and action legend (BULLET IN THE HEAD, HARD BOILED, THE GRANDMASTER, RED CLIFF). I don’t think you’d have to be aware of that history to feel the weight of his presence as this character who has put Shang-Chi and Xialing through so much but who they still love and really want to be able to forgive. Somehow likable even though he’s so arrogant that he walks away from Michelle Yeoh in battle and lets his underlings deal with her.

Yes, Michelle Yeoh plays Shang-Chi’s aunt, a nice mentor part with some great training scenes and other opportunities to show off her moves.

Shout out also to o.g. Yuen Wah (FIST OF FURY, HEROES SHED NO TEARS, THE MASTER, SUPERCOP) as another Ta Lo elder and up-and-comer Andy Le (THE PAPER TIGERS) as a masked henchman called Death Dealer.

The key lesson that Shang-Chi must learn (KEY LESSON SPOILER) is to take what he’s inherited from his mother and from his father, and to make it his own. I love this type of theme in martial arts movies, and I relate to it in life. I do see some of it in the martial arts styles of the climactic fight, when Shang-Chi combines his mother’s flowing, natural movements with his father’s blunt power – that reminded me of themes I love in TAI CHI MASTER and SHADOW. But to be honest I’m not totally clear how he’s supposed to have manifested this lesson at the end – particularly how he made it his own. I’m sure it’s there, but I didn’t pick up on it.

I do, however, see how the movie itself follows the lesson. It’s a hybrid of homages to two different genres of Hong Kong/Chinese cinema. His father’s side is the contemporary crime/action type – shadowy organized crime goons chasing a “regular guy” through a city, battling on moving vehicles, on the side of a skyscraper, etc. And his mother’s side is the wuxia, SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE type side of it with a timeless fantasy world, robes and staffs and magical creatures, twirling, tai-chi-based fighting styles in harmony with nature, causing mini-whirlwinds of leaves.

And how does Shang-Chi make it his own? Some might say by being in the MCU. SHANG-CHI is both of the aforementioned genres, but it’s also a modern American super hero movie, following Marvel’s continuity and popular recipe of wisecracks and earnest character development, plus post-credits set-ups for future crossovers and what not. But I would argue much more than that, SHANG-CHI’s distinction is in being Asian American. In his living space, along with a KUNG FU HUSTLE poster, Shang-Chi also has posters of THE WARRIORS and Stankonia. He collects Air Jordans. When he dons the traditional Ta Lo outfit left for him by his mother – his super hero uniform – he doesn’t put on boots. He keeps the Jordans. But the camera doesn’t make a big deal about it. It looks natural. The movie speaks not just to reclaiming one’s Chinese heritage, but to living as an American, both for those who were born here like, if I’m not mistaken, Marvel’s Katy, or came here by choice, like Shang-Chi. Both feel torn between the expectations of their parents vs. what they want (or don’t want) to do with their lives. Shang-Chi struggles with whether to or how much to assimilate, and with a shyness and embarrassment about where he comes from, but he’s not just the kid who grew up in a temple punching dents in a wooden pole. His experiences as an American are equally a part of him.

I suspect some of that was personal to director Destin Daniel Cretton (SHORT TERM 12) and screenwriter David Callaham (THE EXPENDABLES, GODZILLA, MORTAL KOMBAT), American filmmakers with Japanese and Chinese heritage, respectively. (Cretton’s frequent writing partner Andrew Lanham is also credited.) Although I’m sure I would’ve eaten up previously planned SHANG-CHI adaptations from Stephen (BLADE) Norrington or Yuen Woo Ping, I think it’s a blessing to have it ultimately come from this point-of-view, largely shut out from Hollywood films. I’m rarely gonna love Hong Kong inspired American movies quite as much as the real ones, but SHANG-CHI’s Asian American perspective is why it would be missing the point to dismiss it as just Hong Kong-lite. (If that’s not important to you, you just want to see an awesome martial arts fantasy spectacle based in Chinese culture, then yes, DETECTIVE DEE: THE FOUR HEAVENLY KINGS is the best one I know of.)

White boys are allowed to contribute, though; the aforementioned stunt coordinator/second unit director Allan was Australian, remembered by many as a gweilo opponent to Jackie in GORGEOUS (he also worked with him on MR. NICE GUY, WHO AM I?, SHANGHAI NOON and KNIGHTS, THE ACCIDENTAL SPY, RUSH HOUR 2 and 3, THE TUXEDO, THE MEDALLION and CHINESE ZODIAC). I have to admit some ignorance about Allan’s career, but once I realized he oversaw the action in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD and KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE I knew he was some kind of genius. Both have actors doing long, complex fights with such a cool style I wasn’t even sure what I was looking at – how much was “real” and how much was digitally stitched together.

SHANG-CHI (which is Allan’s next-to-last film, followed by THE KING’S MAN) stands as a great testament to his talents, working with some Jackie Chan veterans and collaborators from SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY and the KINGSMAN movies, including action designers Joseph Le, Vi-Dan Tran (BLEEDING STEEL), Christopher Clark Cowan and Yung Lee, plus fight coordinators Andy Cheng (6 UNDERGROUND) and Guillermo Grispo (THE LEGEND OF HERCULES). In addition to the bus fight, my favorites would be the night time chase down skyscraper scaffolding (it’s no CHOCOLATE, but the complexity of the camera moves makes it stand on its own) and the meet-cute sparring between Wenwu and Ying Lee, which establishes their conflicting fighting styles/philosophies and also their romance, as the fight almost literally becomes a dance.

I’ve heard people say that SHANG-CHI starts out cool but, like so many super hero movies, turns into a C.G. blur by the end. I’m more into the urban fights than the magic battle, but I was pretty invested in this climax, with its cool dragons, lions and demons and its combined action/emotional climax as Shang-Chi stands up to his father.

Consider this pop culture trajectory: Having made a splash as the sidekick in Green Hornet and guest star on Longstreet, Bruce Lee pitches Warner Brothers and Paramount an idea for a TV show called The Warrior, where he would play a martial artist in the Old West, but he finds no takers. Frustrated by Hollywood’s failure to give leading roles to Asian actors, he leaves for Hong Kong to star in movies. Stateside, Warner Brothers produces the suspiciously-similar-to-The-Warrior show Kung Fu starring not-at-all-Chinese David Carradine as its half-Chinese lead. The show is so popular Marvel wants to make it into a comic, but they can’t get the rights, so they make up their own kung fu hero. To make him more marketable they license pulp author Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu character to be the hero’s father and antagonist. Meanwhile, Warner Brothers finally gives Lee a starring vehicle, ENTER THE DRAGON, and it makes him a worldwide phenomenon… except he tragically dies before its release. Soon the artist of Shang-Chi starts drawing him to look more like Lee, while Deadly Hands of Kung Fu features the actual Lee on many a cover story and hocks Bruce t-shirts and tribute books in its ads. But he’s not around to star in any more movies and few are allowed to follow in his footsteps.

Four decades later, Asian American actors still struggle in Hollywood, but Lee’s TV idea has been turned into the cult-popular cable series Warrior, and now there’s a hit Shang-Chi movie. Fu Manchu was long ago renamed in the comic when the license ended, and has since become known as a racist stereotype. Even his Marvel counterpart The Mandarin had to be renamed and reinvented to make sense as Shang-Chi’s father in a modern movie. So a little-known Chinese-American Canadian TV actor is headlining the biggest movie franchise in the world, and one of the highlights of his movie is an intimate emotional scene with one of the greats of Hong Kong cinema playing his complicated father. I would’ve liked the movie regardless of any historical importance, but that seems worth celebrating.

Further reading:

I liked this three-part series on inverse.com about the history of the Shang-Chi character and Asian American representation in pop culture. It has some good quotes from Callaham especially about where he was coming from and how he tried to avoid stereotypes in updating the story.

 

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 9th, 2021 at 12:22 pm and is filed under Action, Comic strips/Super heroes, Fantasy/Swords, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

39 Responses to “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”

  1. SPOILERS

    “People who don’t like SHANG-CHI might hold this fight sequence against it, because it’s hard for the rest of the movie to live up to.”
    I really, really, like the film overall, but yeah, the fact the movie has a sequence this good so early that marries practical martial arts choreography and some CGI stuff (which I described as being like an old Jackie Chan movie type sequence updated for the present, which is explained by the second unit director), then fails to live up to it afterwards, for me marks the movie as having a lot of missed opportunities because it’s too much of an MCU movie to commit more to being a kung fu one, down to a climax that emphasises fighting CGI monsters and energy blast powers over more grounded (or at least practically achieved) technical wuxia artistry.
    Or things like how Death Dealer, who is set up as a symbol of WenWu’s toxic influence over his children, is abruptly killed off (over Razor Fist of all people) by a mini demon rather than being someone one of the siblings (preferably Xialing) has to beat during the final battle.

  2. I loved this one a lot. One thing that I really loved was the casting of Awkwafina. I love that she’s pretty much just a normal woman in sneakers and not a hottie in a tight cat suit and ridiculous high heels. And she’s so good! Of course she’s great at the comedy bits, but in that scene where she finds Shaun sitting by the water and he tells her **SPOILER** that he went through with killing the man his father sent him after, the man responsible for killing his mother, and that he feels he has to prepare to kill his own father, she’s so good and all she does is sit there and react with subtle facial expressions. I don’t actually enjoy mega acting very much. It can be fun, but it’s not impressive to me. When someone can do that incredible subtle acting with facial expressions always blows me away, though. Now that I’m thinking about it Simu is so good in that scene, too. Really, all of the acting talent in this one is tip top.

  3. Wait. I’m not ready for a theater, so who’s the spoileriffc fight between?

    My head is saying Wolverine and Blade.

    Or at least Squirrel Girl and Punisher.

  4. Oh no, Hurtado, it’s not anything that cool, and it’s shown in the trailer. (SPOILER: It’s Wong from DR. STRANGE and Abomination from THE INCREDIBLE HULK. They seem to be buddies, I’m not sure if that will be explained elsewhere.)

  5. Going into this I had very little faith that Marvel would be able to deliver on this premise, but from the opening prologue, where a beautiful wu-xia fight between Wenwu and Li turns from a battle into a courtship, I breathed a sigh of relief. Ok, they actually get it. Legible choreography. storytelling and character through action. I really hope this sets a benchmark for MCU hand-to-hand fight scenes going forward. And yes, I would have preferred a more grounded fight at the end instead of a swirling hurricane of CGI, but I liked the Chinese-mythology-inspired design of the monsters. Obviously Tony Leung sells the drama of it all one hundred percent.

    I really appreciate how this movie is such a smart re-imagining of Shang-Chi’s backstory. It’s not just an anemic, superficial copy of a Chinese movie, like the MULAN remake, it’s a movie about Chinese-Americans, and it deals with Chinese-American diaspora in an intelligent way. The re-design of the ten rings into magical (alien?) Hung Gar style iron rings is cool as hell.

    Also, I expected maybe a cameo from a certain character, but I didn’t expect him to stick around for the rest of the movie. Between him and Marvel’s Katy it’s maybe one comic relief character too many, but his story about seeing PLANET OF THE APES was an absolute delight.

    Ok, Goose, Frog Thor, Alligator Loki and Morris. When Lucky the Pizza Dog drops we’ll have enough for Pet Avengers.

  6. *Chinese-Canadian

    Check him out on “Kim’s Convenience” from CBC TV, on Netflix… solid recommendation (light hearted, Seinfeldesque).

  7. BR – You’re right about Simu Liu, but his character lives in San Francisco.

  8. I remember being blown away by Awkwafina in THE FAREWELL (2019) and thinking “who the fuck IS this?!” I hope she gets more dramatic roles because a) she’s great and b) I feel like we’re one or two wacky comic relief roles away from a public backlash.

  9. I appreciate that people here are still pretty positive about the MCU. In recent months, “Marvel movies are lowest common denominator bullshit for kids and idiots” seemed to have become more of a mainstream opinion, instead of a contrarian one. It is really impressive that it took them 13 years to get there though, but I guess that just shows how much care they put into their universe, when the public only now starts to get sick of it.

  10. I look forward to this.

    But the MCU appeal is diminishing in my eyes. Thy have invented the perfect recipe, and they are going to use it to the end. Or maybe Feigi is smarter than that.

    This has opened huge despite Corona, so expect Eternals to be a major hit as well.

    What I would love to see would be director-driven films. I’m sure some A-listers wouldn’t mind a big commercial success once in a while. Now the films seem almost as if directed by the same guy, again and again.

  11. CJ- I don’t think the movies are bullshit per se, but the parameters they set for the purposes of having the most mass appeal and every movie being able to “fit” alongside the others have created for some a bunch of largely good, entertaining blockbuster flicks but not enough truly unique films with a noticeable individual vision. Something which is weird considering how diverse the comics are in terms of tone, genre, voice and visuals. Not to mention the PG-13ness holding some stuff back.
    The TV shows are doing a lot of work though in adding much needed depth and development though (despite the fact that you don’t need 6+ hours to do that with a movie if you really WANTED to), and the trailers for ETERNALS are giving me hope that movie is actually going to strive to be a little something different.

  12. MCU is mostly fine, but my personal interest has waned. There is really only so much time I want to devote to one specific film world, and the basic critique is right: The MCU is ultimately a very safe, templated, and predictable film world. The ways MCU films get to their destinations may have some suspense, but basic structure and idea is pretty boilerplate (pageantry, super-powers, good guys win, special effects set pieces, witty banter). Even with killing off or sending off of characters in ENDGAME, even this feels pretty safe and calculated. Whatever critique I would have is less about the MCU films themselves — I generally think they are competent and diverting — and has more to do with general MCU fatigue.

    In contrast, if you think of a film like EMPTY MAN, LITTLE THINGS, or KNIVES OUT, each of those films exists in its own world that does not feel inherently constrained and templated in the ways an MCU film feels. The last two of those films are themselves very templated from a genre perspective, and therein lies the rub: It’s not that following a solid genre template is a bad thing, it’s just that there are only so many ways I can get excited about the same template being exercised in the same 14 years-and-counting world-building saga, where 3 movies and 3 TV shows are being dropped every year, and where each of them seems to be the closest thing to an event / shared American storytelling moment at whatever moment it is released. As Bane said, victory has defeated them. If we were getting a new Daniel Craig KNIVES OUT-guy film every quarter (like COLUMBO or some shit), and if you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing some shit about the KNIVES OUT-verse of spin-off shows, and lunch boxes, and THE YOUNG DANIEL CRAIG KNIVES OUT GUY CHRONICLES, it’d get old pretty quick.

  13. My movie theater cut their hours because the unvaccinated hate me specifically and want me to suffer, so no more matinees means no more movies for Majestyk. Which is why I’m trying to convince myself that I don’t actually give a shit about this movie.

    It’s sort of working. Chinese fantasy is very, very, extremely far from my favorite martial arts subgenre, and I personally never had a problem with Marvel action to begin with and have always questioned the wisdom that what we should really want from films about colorful, larger-than-life characters with gravity- and physic-defying superpowers was the same old blocking and kicking stuff we can get from any Scott Adkins movie. Add in basic post-ENDGAME Marvel malaise and the fact that their streaming shows, while enjoyable, have sort of retrained my brain to think of this material as TV stuff, and I have managed to kind of convince myself that I don’t really care about this movie.

    Except that’s a lie. There’s a Marvel kung fu movie out and I want to see it and I can’t.

    If anybody reading this is unvaccinated—on purpose, mind you—fuck you. Fuck your reasons. You’re a child and you’re dragging the rest of us down with you. I will never forgive any of you. I didn’t think it was possible for me to think less of humanity but you all have found a way. Congratulations on lowering a bar that was already buried two feet underground.

  14. Yeah, the theater I’ve mostly been going to (including for this one) just switched to starting with 3pm shows instead of 1pm, which is gonna be a problem. Luckily the other theater still has 1pm so I can go see THE CARD COUNTER today.

    Oh, and yes, thank you, I corrected it to Chinese Canadian now.

  15. Vern, do you usually go to Pacific Place? I’ve been going to Meridian exclusively since stuff reopened. No real reason other than they have the big, comfy recliner seats. This is the first movie that the theater was pretty full and it took some picking and choosing to find a showing that was least crowded. I thought I might not even be able to see this one because my friend was being super cautious, which I don’t hold against her. I suggested we try Pacific Place as maybe a less crowded alternative but we couldn’t remember how good the seats were. I know they aren’t the big reclining seats but are they still decent?

  16. I’ve posted this before, but I have played basketball with Simu Liu. I was excited when it was announced he was cast, because now I can say that I’ve gotten buckets on the hero of a Marvel movie.

    (I haven’t seen the movie yet, since I watch superhero movies with my sister and last weekend we just finally got around to The Suicide Squad. I’m in Toronto, and Simu Liu was in every other ad or featurette before the movie. I heard the story of him tweeting Marvel ‘we gonna talk or what’ four times.)

  17. Marvel movies are what they are. It’s like they’re their own genre now. If you don’t like them, that’s fine, but I don’t think anyone should get high hopes that they’ll be anything else. Like, people complain if an action movie doesn’t have X, Y, and Z. Or they think a horror movie must include X, Y, and Z. Then they turn around and complain because Marvel is all X, Y, and Z.

    And I’m not aiming this at anyone specific, just the general discussion of Marvel movies. And I’m not saying people can’t voice things they’re frustrated with or things they would like to see happen. I’m just saying, they are what they are.

  18. Luckily the other theater still has 1pm so I can go see THE CARD COUNTER today.

    Instead of risking life and limb at the theater to see BIG movies like Shang-Chi, I keep doing it to see things like Annette and The Card Counter.

    I don’t know what’s wrong with me. But I guess it’s… comforting(?) to know other people are doing the same thing (?)

  19. I saw The Card Counter at 7:00 last night. There was like 7 people there. I don’t think it matters what time you see that one if you’re worried about crowd size.

    Also: The Card Counter was sooooooo good.

  20. An underrated aspect of the Marvel movie/TV universe is that for once there has been something popular that most people liked, that provided some kind of cultural bonding.

    In other words, you could start a conversation with “Hey, did you see Loki last week?” or whatever, with minimal risk of either blank incomprehension or actually getting mocked or scolded for your unfashionable choice of entertainment.

    (Star Wars held that status for a while. But then the prequels came along, with the previously unthinkable result that Star Wars became the single most inflammatory and toxic subject imaginable. The fact that a generational shift has caused people to ease up on those movies doesn’t entirely help since the trolls now have the Disney sequels to complain about all day every day.)

    An aspect of 1980s nostalgia that isn’t always commented on is that there was so much pop culture that people actually liked instead of just providing a convenient target for people to demonstrate how much they hate the mainstream. I don’t remember many people shitting on E.T., GHOSTBUSTERS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE LITTLE MERMAID etc. to prove how superior they are, as they would later do with FORREST GUMP, TITANIC, AVATAR etc. Though that might be as much to do with a rise in public cynicism as it is the quality of the films.

    So while I’m not the world’s biggest Marvel fan, I think we should appreciate its status as friendly (or at least neutral) territory in the endless war of all against all that is life in the 21st century.

  21. Vern – I think BR is referring to your last paragraph where you call him a little known Chinese American actor.

  22. Majestyk, one question: Why not catch the evening shows?

    Malaysia is about to open up cinemas so keeping my fingers crossed I get to catch this. And with THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS around the corner and maybe capping it off with NO TIME TO DIE will help me convince myself maybe 2021 wasn’t a complete shit-show. Although am still bummed we may have missed the theatrical window for RAGING FIRE.

  23. I should’ve also added that Marvel making SHANG-CHI and BLACK PANTHER, and the female-led BLACK WIDOW, demonstrates that they are using their lowest common denominator status for good.

    I also partially disagree with the idea that Marvel films all are interchangeable in their directorial voice. Taika Waititi sure put his own stamp on THOR: RAGNAROK. I don’t remember what Kenneth Branagh brought to the first THOR but he is at least a prestigious name director. Jon Favreau seems to have some kind of Midas touch. James Gunn made enough of a mainstream name for himself on the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY films to be able to transfer that cred to DC’s THE SUICIDE SQUAD. And now Sam Raimi is entering the ring – I’m optimistic that his Marvel movie will be something special.

    Again, it’s too easy to take these films’ popularity for granted because it seems like that’s the minimum that mainstream Hollywood is supposed to offer. But in today’s culture it’s kind of miraculous that they have been able to achieve such a widely beloved status at all, let alone sustain it as long as they have.

  24. Maggie – Yeah, I mostly go to Pacific Place, though they are now starting at 3 pm. The seats are normal, not super nice like Meridian. But most of the theaters are bigger so it’s easier to get distance from other people. When I saw SHANG-CHI there were a bunch of people but they all sat in the back section and I sat in the front, so I felt okay. But mostly I go to movies that don’t attract that many people. (Today I went to Meridian and yeah, those recliners are hard to beat.)

  25. KayKay: Because even before my fellow humans were sources of pestilence, they were obnoxious and selfish and entitled and loud, and I have long refused to try to watch a movie in a room with more than four or five of them, tops. Nobody goes to matinees and that was the way I liked it even before any random asshkle could give me a deadly disease. That whole communal experience thing film Twitter likes to go on about? You can miss me with that. All a crowd can do for me is shut the fuck up and watch the goddamn movie.

    Also matinees are half price. I spend $13 on a movie, I better come home with a copy of it.

  26. I agree with Curt about the cultural bonding aspect, and I agree with Maggie that MCU films/shows “are what they are.” Also, as I say above, they are mostly competent and entertaining. So, any critique I have is less about anything they are doing badly than it is just general vague despair about their hegemony in the space that Curt describes — some shared pop cultural touchpoint. STRANGER THINGS is another thing that maybe fits this bill, and I appreciate that STRANGER THINGS still registers as an actual event to look forward to, because it hasn’t been scorching an ever-greater portion of the earth for 10-14 years. I appreciate the MCU films in their own right, but their hegemony is a bit dystopian for me, as is much of what the internet has done to pop culture and culture at large (he typed into the internet).

  27. Since going back to movies post covid infection I’ve had nothing but great experiences. They also very rarely are listed as places with Covid outbreaks. Not liking crowds in general is one thing but if you’re vaxxed and you’re still worried about going to the movies you will be ok, I promise.

  28. Majestyk: Read you loud and clear

    Although, in a case of mixed blessings, Covid’s culled the Asshole Brigade somewhat in cinemas here. And with the current ruling that you need to be fully vaccinated to enter, I’m also hoping it deters the “Too Stupid To Breed” crowd that presumes any superhero flick is fit for kids of all ages, including bawling babies and twitchy toddlers, whose attention span lasts about as long as the 30 second Marvel logos flashing at the start.

  29. Okay, HAWKGUY trailer just dropped and looks like it’s a mix of Shane Black and the Fraction/Aja run, which is extremely my jam.

  30. It has so much Shane Black all over it that I looked it up to see if it was one of his. It’s not.

  31. So, I went to the cinema yesterday for the first time in almost two years. And I saw a cool kung fu fantasy flick with Michelle Yeoh, Tony Leung and Wah Yuen…so I guess nothing has really happened in my absence.

  32. I didn’t have a problem with the CGI 3rd act because (1) I would argue it looked nice, in contrast to the widely criticized ending of BLACK WIDOW and (2) because we clearly saw Liu early on do his own fighting, I don’t know I think it helped grant some extension of the ole suspension of disbelief to when we goes into CGI land. Dammit I wanted to believe he did ride that dragon at the end. Think of it like pro wrestling where you know its faked choreography but when it’s done well/realistic enough that you can better accept some of the more unrealistic stuff.

  33. Looking back at these comments, the complaints about MCU and its “cultural homogeny” are rubbish.

    You can find variations of the same argument made for eons about different things, like how STAR WARS* or Spielberg’s stuff were too popular (and Hollywood tried to ape them) which help kill that 1970s era of filmmaking. For many people, the MCU is like Fast & Furious or (we’ll see in about a month) James Bond: a brand of familiar comfort food. Sometimes people (not anybody in these comments mind you) seem to have the mentality that if say MCU wasn’t a thing or less dominating, more folks would buy tickets to see say THE GREEN KNIGHT (the latest well-reviewed/film twitter darling) and that’s of course nonsense. Many GK ticket buyers might go see SHANG-CHI but mot folks who go see SHANG-CHI aint sitting through GREEN KNIGHT. That’s just reality and I aint knocking GK.

    Now after sucking King Kevin Feige’s dick, I’ll concede this: MCU has the 007 problem of having a magic reliable formula they won’t abandon totally unless forced by necessity while changing out the cogs, trying to make it semi-fresh while giving the fans something similar. It’s a delicate dance and while I find it fascinating them trying to process multiple genres through that MCU formula filter to keep said formula semi-fresh (even Zack Snyder of all people recently praised them for that), like 007 this might’ve let them just make something simply just “good” enough and be fine with that. Let’s remember historically 007 didn’t seriously shake things up unless a LICENSE TO KILL or DIE ANOTHER DAY underperformed and they had to reshuffle the deck to keep the franchise going.

    Then there is a broader problem. Blaming MCU for overall box-office is blaming symptoms for the disease. Certainly Hollywood has conditioned people over decades/generations to view certain films as worth seeing in theaters and others to wait for video/TV (think of how chick flick rom coms used to be a regular steady programmer genre for theaters and which it was for generations, yet now that’s primarily the domain of streamers like Netflix.) The pandemic probably hastened many people’s unwillingness to leave home unless it’s a movie that’s gotta be seen** right now (and with 45 day theatrical windows now becoming the industry norm instead of 90) this problem will get worse. It’s an industry long term wounding itself, and MCU just came at the right time and place to capitalize on it.

    Of course long term don’t be shocked if MCU films eventually go to Disney Plus instead, like WB is doing with some of their DC comics movies like Batgirl. Or a BLACK WIDOW 2 or whatever just becomes a series (upcoming HAWKEYE originally was a planned movie before being retooled for streaming.)

    *=Somebody mentioned how toxic SW has become, I fear that’ll happen inevitably sooner than later for the MCU. I mean it’s now what 13 years old? You have young adults who grew up with it, those people (mostly dudes) will be possessive over it and whine about how woke/SJW-y the brand has become or whatever. Hell I’ve even seen people be nostalgic about friggin Phase 1, which yeah had some cool shit but it also gave us IRON MAN 2.

    **=I mean the only successful things in theaters this year besides a few blockbusters (most which have their caveats because overseas is still a friggin mess which curb grosses) have been horror films and only because they don’t cost a fortune. The beautiful ugly must-see bastard that is MALIGNANT though cost 40 million, that one bombed this past weekend. Cool on Wan for using his WB clout to get that thing produced.

  34. Well, ain’t that HAWK GUY trailer something! If I thought there was gonna be more Rogers The Musical in it, I could almost convince myself to shell out for Disney+.

    I sort of agree with Curt that it was nice when the MCU was something we could all agree on and it made us all the same. So I regret how the MCU is becoming paywalled. You might argue that we always had to pay to see the movies anyway, but I swear I didn’t; I just absorbed them by some bizarre cultural osmosis. About the time of INFINITY WAR, when everyone had a listicle ranking the 21 movies so far, I realised I’d seen, like, 15 of them while really only making any effort to see the first two CAPTAIN AMERICAs and BLACK PANTHER. All the others had just turned up for me to see by passing down a cultural concentration gradient. I don’t regret watching any of them, but I haven’t felt the need to rush out to see any of the newer stuff either, as I’ve felt they would eventually find me anyway. Maybe I’m really the problem; it’s hard for Disney to monetise people like me.

  35. Count me in as one of the folks who loved the first 45-60ish minutes of this, but whose interest waned after that. The bus fight and scaffolding fight were just incredible– the MCU’s best action sequences to date. Lots of moving parts and complications. But when a certain character and their pet Pokemon showed up and then led the rest of the cast into a sequence which felt inspired by John Hurt’s bits in Indiana Jones 4– that really dealt a blow to my excitement. It picked up a bit after that, though like a lot of Marvel movies, it turned into one CGI cartoon smashing into another by the end.

    What’s interesting is that this is maybe the biggest MCU departure from the original source material. I’m definitely not a Shang-Chi expert, but my understanding is that the early stuff was more like “what if Bruce Lee was James Bond?” and had kung fu spy adventures. The secret cities with magic dragons are Iron Fist’s thing. The writers and director talk of veering away from the Chinese stereotypes, but I think they veered into them in a few places.

    That said: good action. Simu Liu deserves to be a star after this. Meng’er Zhang was cool. Awkwafina was fun. Tony Leung was a good choice and a big get. Let’s get Daniel Craig as Black Jack Tarr in the sequel.

  36. Also, my whole life I pronounced Shang-Chi as “Shaang Chai” and I’m a dope.

    As for theaters in the time of corona: My theater closed permanently at the start of the pandemic but was taken over by new ownership and re-opened this year. They have a $5 Tuesday night, which is why I went. But it was a ghost town. Three of us in this Shang-Chi showing, and I’m not sure anybody else was in any of the other 7 theaters. Admittedly, it’s a weekday evening and school’s back in session. Hopefully it’s busier on the weekends, or this place won’t stick around long. I have three drive-ins closer to me than another actual movie theater.

  37. Thanks for this review. It’s the best one I’ve read and really has changed my mind on the movie to give it a second chance. I love the support it’s getting and proud to have people talking about. I’m also asian American born having grown up reading marvel comics, loving Tony Leung movies since hard boiled and get excited every time I see Michelle Yeoh or even Ming Na Wen being in some role for a movie. But even with all that I feel like I didn’t like the movie itself as much as others have or to my own expectations. It has a lot of what I wanted to see but I just wasn’t feeling it as much as I thought I would. But I also love this review in that it gives the backstory on of the look of your site. I’ve been a fan of yours since AICN so that was news to me. I don’t even go there anymore but I still drop by here for the reviews every once in awhile. I also appreciate that you gave some focus on to Brad Allan in that I was wondering when you were going to do a write up on him since his death. I hope you also get to see his work in Malignant because it’s some of the wildest shit I’ve ever seen on screen and convinced me I could not hate that movie no matter how hard I tried. I remember seeing his name listed on the credits too and was wondering why he was even attached to that movie but it made sense.
    Anyway, I know this comment is all over the place but just want to thank you for this review. And keep doing what you do

  38. Wait – he did something on MALIGNANT? It’s not on IMDb. He did do stunts on INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 3 though, so there’s a connection.

  39. Something I love about the MCU is that they seem determined to make at least one hero for anybody’s particular area of interest. You’ve got America Hero (Cap), Armor Hero (Iron Man), Strong Hero (Hulk), Manly Hero (Thor), Magic Hero (Strange), and as the base of characters widen out they start to get a little less broadly defined. Spy Hero (Black Widow), Thief Hero (Ant-Man), Goth/Grunge Hero (Winter Soldier) etc. And now there’s Martial Arts Hero. I like this approach because given enough time, Marvel will make a movie about enough heroes that everyone will be a fan of at least one of them. Anyway, I enjoyed this movie — it clearly had the best fight sequences for a Marvel movie yet, and it was real nice change of pace in that regard.

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