Synopsis: A man fights against the odds to retrieve his stolen necklace pendant and to save the world. (Streaming on Disney+)
So, the Marvel Comic Universe movie titles are pretty straightforward: they always tell us who , like Thor or Black Widow, and sometimes they will tack on some bait, like Captain America: The Winter Soldier or Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania . The latest flick tells us that we will be focusing on Shang-Chi (who?) and a legend about ten rings (what?).
Who: Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is a guy in his thirties who lives in San Francisco and works as a parking valet with his good friend, Katy (Awkwafina) with whom he also karaokes. Shang lives in a garage, which is kinda sad, but since he lives in San Francisco we know that he is actually fortunate to be able to afford even that. Shang and Katy’s banter is all v Thor: Ragnarok. Friends of theirs insinuate that the two friends should do a better job at adulting. After all, Katy went to UC Berkeley. Perhaps her rejection of a career in Silicon Valley is a political protest like when she cajoles Shang into going for a joyride in a costumer’s luxe ride. And Shang does seem a little stuck in a normcore adolescence, but then…
He and Katy are riding a bus together when a mugger demands Shang’s pendant necklace. Shang declines, but the mugger and his gang won’t take no for an answer. A fight ensues and Katy is shocked to learn that Shang is a master fighter. Of course, a fight in the MCU can’t be just a typical street corner fight. The action gets v Spider-many as fellow passengers scramble away from the fighters while Shang has to non-stop fend off attackers. Then the brakes go — in San Francisco, people! Katy ends up having to drive the double-articulated bus. Uh-oh, she’s a parker, not a driver. Everybody survives , but what of the pendant? Instead of fighting, those guys could’ve ordered up an even prettier necklace on etsy and no bloodshed. Maybe this necklace will have something to do with ten rings…
What: The “Legend of the Ten Rings” is just the usual MCU jibber jabber that we are supposed to take very seriously. We went back to ancient times and learned of a greedy warrior, Xu Wenwu (an awesome as usual Tony Chiu-Wai Leung of In the Mood for Love and Infernal Affairs) who had ten rings that gave him a lot of power. He lives for like, a thousand years and basically conquers the world with his army that is also named Ten Rings. Btw, his ring-shaped jewelry are not rings per se, but bracelets. But maybe Marvel didn’t want viewers losing focus and thinking of Avengers: Infinity War and Thanos’ powerful ring with the infinity stones. So now the ten rings are stylishly masculine bracelets.
One thing has eluded Xu: entrance into the mystical land of Ta Lo with its legendary creatures who look like Pokemon animals. There is also a great dragon which is guarded here and/or guards Ta Lo. If Walt Disney World can find the acreage, they might create a Ta Lo Land.
Anyway, Shu Wenwu finally figures out the entrance to this place, but like an exclusive Miami club, he is denied entrance. Unlike a Miami club, it’s not a hulking male bouncer who turns him away, but a beautiful woman. They square off for a fight reminiscent of the bamboo forest fight scene in the great Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Hmm, maybe the one thing that has eluded him is… love?
No spoilers, so I will just say that the rest of the movie takes place in present day and Shang-Chi is connected to the megalomaniac of yore. How I wish that I could have told the characters the lesson of The Lord of the Rings: it is bad for any one person to have all of the rings.
Simu Liu charms as Shang and if you are a fan of Crazy Rich Asians you are in luck. The production has a couple of other alums from the movie, besides Awkwafina cracking jokes with the regularity of a windup toy. The legendary ten rings have some competition with the legendary Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Tomorrow Never Dies). When she is not busy pointedly asking people if they know who they are, she is busy fighting. Good that the movie lets elders show off their fighting, but I was concerned about the effects on their aging bones.
The story wisely avoids oohing and aahing over the mystical rings in favor of character development. Maybe somebody needs to face up to their destiny. It seems that Shang has refused to grow up because he had a harsh father who pushed him too far. Shang used to live in Asia and his dad started him with heavy duty martial arts training at the age of seven. He has to do all sorts of painful endurance fighting to make his dad proud. At one point his dad says that Shang must train his mind also. Oh, good, maybe now he will let the kid have a break from punching a wooden post until his knuckles bleed. Maybe a little hitting the books instead? (Pun intended.) NO! What he means is that you have to steel your mind (like a psycho) if you are ever going to… what, get into Harvard? NO! Become an assassin. The kid is like, thirteen! Understandably, he runs away. And he has been trying to outrun his past ever since.
Like another flick in the Disney vault, Lilo & Stitch, the screenplay lands a hit by focusing on family bonds. You see, Shang may have some family members out in the world that he needs to reconcile with and/or save. And if he has to fight Ten Ring soldiers on skyscraper scaffolding way, way up to do it, so be it. And if he makes the acquaintance of a dragon along the way, all the better.
At this point, I must confess, yet again, that I am so tired of the barrage of MCU and Super Hero Movies –unless it is The Iron Giant, which and who is a million times more worthwhile than Iron Man/Tony Stark. I mean, should we even be watching these dozens of movies? Because 1) they’ve gone beyond obnoxiously pushing aside other movies to infesting screens and 2) they may have something to say about studio money-making, but nothing genuine to say about cultures, like actual folk or fairy tales. That said, I’m reluctantly watching because 1) I heard that Shang-Chi was pretty good and 2) I have Disney+.