Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: Film Review

shang chi

Courtesy of Disney

Shang-Chi may be a lesser-known Marvel comic book character but don’t go thinking that means his origins movie is going to be weak, boring or not worth your time – the Legend of the Ten Rings is another solid instalment in the MCU.

When we first meet Shaun/Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), we think he’s just this regular guy who works as a parking valet with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina) at a San Francisco hotel. His past life is revealed when members of the Ten Rings show up to steal his late mother’s pendant. He realises his father Wenwu (Tony Leung) must be plotting something and tries to track down his estranged sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) so they can stop his plans together.

First things first, the action sequences are unlike anything we’ve seen in the MCU so far. The fights are so inventive, exciting and different to the usual combat scenes we see in Marvel films. They were like a breath of fresh air and I couldn’t get enough. I’ve always preferred hand-to-hand combat to gunfights so I adored seeing such spectacularly choreographed and cleanly executed martial arts in a Marvel film. They were edited in a clear and logical way so you could follow what was happening. The standout scenes included the extraordinary bus fight and a jaw-dropping scaffolding setpiece – these both look so freaking cool – and Wenwu and Shang-Chi’s mother Jiang Li (Fala Chen)’s first standoff; it was gorgeous and like a dance.

So it’s a shame that does what almost every other Marvel film does in the final showdown – becomes a huge CGI mess. It was so disappointing as it had been refreshingly different up until that point and I had hoped it wouldn’t fall into that trap. Once the gigantic CGI beasts were introduced, I lost faith in it a little and didn’t care about the outcome of the story as much.

Speaking of story, I liked how the film balanced heartfelt family drama with the superhero sequences; it offered more depth than some other MCU movies while still managing to deliver the goods on the action and comedy fronts, both Marvel pre-requisites. I was also impressed by how much is spoken in Chinese and I know this will mean a lot in terms of representation. However, I thought the pace dipped slightly in the middle and there were perhaps too many flashbacks, even though these were really interesting, informative and helped us gradually understand the family’s history. They just slowed down the main narrative.

This film, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, is designed to be the origins story for Shang-Chi and his introduction into the MCU but I didn’t think the story served him, as an individual, particularly well. I liked the family dynamics, their history and his platonic relationship with Katy but I didn’t get a great sense of who he was on his own. Perhaps further films will address this. This isn’t anything against Liu, who is physically impressive in the role. He is a surefire action star and I loved watching him fight. He has a background in martial arts and gymnastics and you could tell that he did a lot of his own stunts.

He has a great rapport with Awkwafina, who serves as the audience’s eyes into the world of the Ten Rings. She tags along for the ride and provides the comedy, although not as much of her motormouth shtick as usual. Leung grounds Wenwu and gives him humanity and a solid reasoning for his actions so he’s more than your average hammy superhero villain. Zhang is so damn cool and very kickass, while Michelle Yeoh is an action legend and I was delighted to see her onscreen. I didn’t enjoy Ben Kingsley‘s return as Iron Man 3’s Trevor Slattery as much as others seemed to. Besides one laugh-out-loud moment, I found him amusing but a bit too oddball to be truly funny.

With the exception of the disappointing showdown, Shang-Chi is a great Marvel movie with stunning visuals, locations and costumes, beautiful music and the best hand-to-hand combat the MCU has seen so far. Make sure you stay until the very very end.

In cinemas Friday 3rd September

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Raya and the Last Dragon: Disney+ Film Review

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON

Disney’s latest animated adventure Raya and the Last Dragon comes to Disney+ on Friday for a premium rental fee. Is it worth the extra money? I would say hell yes!

Kelly Marie Tran voices Raya, a courageous warrior who has been training to become a Guardian of the Dragon Gem alongside her father Chief Benja (Daniel Dae Kim). People in the other divided regions of the land, formerly known as Kumandra back in its united days, resent Heart for having the gem, as they believe it brings them prosperity. As a sign of goodwill, the Chief invites his enemies to Heart to help heal old wounds, but instead, they fight over the gem and smash it, unleashing the Druun, sinister monsters which turn people to stone. Raya must track down the last remaining dragon, Sisu (Awkwafina), and find and put the gem pieces back together to fight the Druun and reunite Kumandra once and for all.

Disney has set a high standard with its animated offerings in recent years and Raya and the Last Dragon is another worthy addition. My expectations were high and I still came away impressed. Sure, it doesn’t exactly break up the rulebook in terms of formula, but it works so why change it? Raya is a wonderful, charming adventure that children and adults alike should easily enjoy and, as always, it delivers a worthy message – this time, it focuses on the importance of trust and unity and how it’s better when you work together, which I thought was particularly relevant given the ever-growing divide in America these days.

It is also visually stunning and stylish, with gorgeous cinematography – some shots were so beautiful they literally made me gasp and say out loud “wow, what a shot!” – and beautiful landscapes, has some amazing fight sequences involving cool swords and wooden staffs, and an interesting-looking sidekick named Tuk Tuk (Alan Tudyk) who is a woodlouse/armadillo-type character who also serves as Raya’s mode of transportation.

Tran was perfectly cast as Raya, this fierce warrior with a heart of gold who could probably do with loosening up a little bit, which is where Sisu steps in. The dragon – which can shapeshift into a human with shaggy purple hair and oversized clothing – brings the fun and who could be better than Awkwafina and her goofy, awkward energy? She steals the show. More comedy characters join them on their journey – first, there’s Captain Boun (Izaac Wang), a 10-year-old boy from Tail who owns a boat restaurant, Little Noi (Thalia Tran), a baby con artist and her trio of animal sidekicks from Talon (they made me laugh the most), and gentle giant Tong (Benedict Wong) from Spine. I must also mention Gemma Chan as Raya’s nemesis Namaari (Gemma Chan) and her mother, Fang leader Virana (Sandra Oh), as the main human antagonists of the piece.

Disney continues to make strides with representation by setting the film in Southeast Asia and having all Asian characters voiced by a predominantly Asian-American cast. I laughed out loud often, I found the message quite touching, and generally had a great time with it.

Streaming on Disney+ with a premium rental fee from Friday 5th March. Subscribers will be able to watch for free from 4th June.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Jumanji: The Next Level – Film Review

As someone who loved the original 1995 Jumanji, I was not onboard for a remake but then Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle completely won me over. It was pleasantly surprising, entertaining and different and went on to do very well at the box office, so it was no surprise that a sequel was given the go-ahead. I thought the trailer for Jumanji: The Next Level was pants and assumed that it would be some rubbish money-grabbing exercise, but it’s actually very good.

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Top Films for September

It’s the start of September which means it’s time to look ahead at this month’s cinema releases. Here are the ones I’m looking forward to the most.

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Crazy Rich Asians: Film Review

Crazy Rich Asians has been killing it over in the US and the hype about it has been insane, so naturally I was very excited to check it out. The annoying gap between US and UK made my anticipation even higher and it truly didn’t disappoint.

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