In the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) 13 years of existence, there has never been an Asian superhero nor an Asian-centered narrative. Most often, they are relegated as side characters, popping in and out of the film for comedic relief. While the likes of Wong in Dr. Strange, Jimmy Woo in WandaVision, and Ned in the Spiderman series provide much needed laughs, their stories are—unfortunately—rather one dimensional. Shang-Chi: The Legend of the Ten Rings changes that.
The film takes us on a mystical journey to Shang-Chi’s dark past—a vital aspect in dictating his future. Aside from the typical MCU antics, the film beautifully integrates Chinese culture and mythology in its timeless storytelling. With an Asian-majority cast, the film is another catalyst for the MCU to expand its superhero roster and introduce characters everyone can relate and look up to.
Not your typical origin story
The MCU’s fourth phase continues to unravel amid the opening of the multiverse at the end of Loki. Thus, more characters and stories are bound to be introduced. Shang-Chi: The Legend of the Ten Rings, however, isn’t your typical MCU origin story. Playing a hero who is very much anti-power, Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) runs away from his home and travels across the world to escape the grasp of his father who taught him “every possible way to kill a man.”
As Shang-Chi battles his own flesh and blood, we are taken on an adventure across a fantastical world. Yet, with every MCU film, we are also taken to discovering the casts’ personal journeys. The film’s plot delves into characters that are so sure of themselves, yet continue to deal with internal struggles. They are human after all, a part of them that we tend to forget once we see their strength and powers.
Expanding the roster
Shang-Chi has experienced more pain than any person should. As he runs off and lives a new life under the name Shaun, he discovers a world outside his daily training and sheltered life. Liu’s quirky personality perfectly reflects the character’s gentle, soft-hearted side who is willing to protect his friends and family at all costs. By his side is Katy, played by Awkwafina, with all the sarcastic yet funny quips that we expect from her. Although Katy is a jokester, she is also brave—facing a myriad of challenges in her journey with Shang-Chi. She opts to be by the hero’s side, an iconic dynamic duo of sorts, rather than be in the safety of her own home in San Francisco.
Liu and Awkwafina’s on-screen, platonic chemistry was more than relatable. The MCU finally opted out of forcing a relationship between two characters for this film, and it was the best move they could have made. In the end, their friendship was worth all the bad things they had to experience, likely because they experienced it as best friends rather than lovers.
Meanwhile, Xialing—effortlessly played by Meng’er Zhang—is Shang-Chi’s younger sister. Unlike Katy, she is able to stand on her own ground. Her characterization provides enough context of how their father’s wrath influenced his family and the Ten Rings. She is hurt; her soft and loving demeanour had faded away. As a result, she becomes a ruthless fighter with little vulnerability left. In some ways, she can be likened to Sharon Carter’s character arc in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
From its introduction in Iron Man, audiences were wondering when the Ten Rings would return. Ben Kingsley’s Trevor Slattery was seen as a gag in Iron Man 3, but now the real deal himself is finally revealed. Wenwu, portrayed by Tony Leung, is the power-hungry father of Shang-Chi and Xialing. As the master of the Ten Rings, he will do whatever it takes to gain control of the world and whatever else is beyond it, even if it means sacrificing his own children. Leung’s performance was so believable, it almost made audiences want to punch his face through the screen.
In contrast, the MCU’s ethereal parent character is none other than Crazy Rich Asians’ Michelle Yeoh in the role of Ying Nan, the sister of Ying Lin who is Wenwu’s beloved. Her benevolent yet stern demeanour brightens her interactions with the main cast—a breath of fresh air from Wenwu’s tyrannical parenting. That being said, Yeoh’s time in the film was too miniscule; opportunities to introduce Ying Nan earlier would have strengthened the characters’ motivations to race to the mystical land of Ta Lo.
An unraveling world
As mentioned, this film is notable for embracing the elements of Chinese culture and mythology. This is most blatantly seen when the characters arrive in Ta Lo. Various creatures from Chinese mythology appear, such as the nine-tailed fox húli jīng, the guardian lions shíshī, and the faceless hùndùn.
Even the film’s climax introduces us to two dragon-like entities: the Great Protector and the Dweller-in-Darkness. The former’s elegant and swift fighting style contrasts the latter’s aggressive and brash fighting, making for a balanced representation of the yin and yang—the ancient Chinese concept of dualism. This is further represented in the film’s portrayal of both a frightening and idealistic world: the Ten Rings is in control of the majority of the globe, while Ta Lo is the perfect sanctuary, hidden from the world’s impurities.
From sunny San Francisco to the dark and antagonistic Ten Rings compound, and finally the bright and perfect Ta Lo, the cinematography and editing of this film is truly out of this world. Accompanying it all is a soundtrack with head-bop-worthy tracks by NIKI, Rich Brian, 88rising, and many more. This movie takes you on a journey to a world unknown not only visually, but sonically as well.
The film is a beautiful mix of stunning visuals, mythical creatures, badass moves, and an amazing soundtrack. But the release of Shang-Chi: The Legend of the Ten Rings opens so many doors for not only the MCU, but other Asian characters of Marvel Comics as well. It explores a world outside of the Avengers, giving more attention to those with so much power yet so little spotlight.
As more representation is given and characters are introduced, there is no telling what’s next for the MCU. Shang-Chi’s story is only the beginning, and there’s a whole world of Marvel characters yet to unravel. Among it all, however, we know one thing for sure—the Ten Rings will return.