Just Mercy director, Destin Daniel Cretton heads up this next Marvel Cinematic Universe film about Wu Shang-Chi.
I’m going, to be honest here: I don’t know much about Shang-Chi the comic book character but I do know that after the bad reception of The Mandarin in Iron Man 3 many people wondered if we would ever get a proper introduction of the real Mandarin and Shang-Chi as well.
So let’s start with the titular character Wu Shang-Chi, or Shaun. He is the son of Wu Wenwu, who trained him from a young age to not only be a skilled martial artist but a skilled assassin. When Simu Liu first got cast I was a bit surprised not because I did not think he was capable but because I had spent a while seeing him as merely a comedic actor in Kim’s Convenience, that was my own bias but Liu did impress me. The personality he gives to Shang-Chi is both comedic and brooding enough that it fits in with the main characters in the MCU but also a great athletic ability and I’m not just talking in the way he is built. Performing martial arts well is very difficult and when it is done poorly, the audience notices (see Iron Fist). When you do roles like this you have to commit, not just to the bit but the character’s backstory and I think that if Liu didn’t take it seriously enough it would have been a bit cringy. Unfortunately, that is how I felt with a lot of Katy’s (played Awkwafina) scenes and in contrast, Liu shines a bit more, in terms of acting ability. Then again, he is the lead.
Now let’s get to the real star and surprise of the film: Wu Wenwu aka the real Mandarin, played by Tony Leung. Most superhero films have clear heroes and villains and the way that the film is set up in the beginning, you start to get this idea of what Shang-Chi’s father, this criminal, the leader of the Ten Rings is going to be like and I was completely off. I think there is something to be said about the way most Asian villains are portrayed, in Hollywood, as cold, aggressive and emotionless but Wenwu is way more complex than that. My takeaway from this film made me think of Wenwu more as an antagonist because he merely is an obstacle for the hero, not a purely evil guy. I don’t think Wenwu thinks of himself as a bad guy and in a lot of ways most of the things he does in the film revolve around family:
- Avenging his family: After his wife was killed he wanted revenge against the criminals that entered his home and killed his wife in front of his son. I completely get that and feel his grief A LOT throughout this film.
- Protect his family: He put the ten rings back on and trained Shang-Chi because he never wanted his family to be vulnerable or for people to be too afraid to enter his home. Again this is something I understand. The argument can be made that if he was never a criminal in the first place he wouldn’t have needed to be afraid but he can’t change his past.
- Bring his family back together: Wenwu, in this film, is COMPLETELY motivated by the idea of bringing his wife and the mother of his kids back to life so that they can be a family again. He talks about how before she died he felt content and happy for the first time in his long long life. His kids are sceptical and I can understand that but as an audience member, I felt for him.
The thing about Wenwu, is that he is well written because unlike a lot of villains he didn’t get portrayed with contradictory words and motivations and maybe that’s the point. Let’s take Killmonger, for example, the words he was saying would make a lot of sense to young progressive Black people but his motivations were corrupt. He wanted revenge and hanging on to rhetoric that would get him some supporters meanwhile Wenwu is motivated by family and is just going about it the wrong way.
At the end of the day, Shang-Chi’s aunt, Ying Nan, informs us that the voices and Wenwu’s efforts to bring back his wife and their mother, her sister, are futile because it is an evil spirit that is messing with him so that is can be freed from behind a protected wall. Ying Nan and the rest of the village train Shang-Chi, Xialing and Katy so that they make sure the wall is protected. As much as it was amazing to have Nan there to train Shang-Chi to go up against his father, I wish we got to see two huge action stars (even though that is not what they are only known for) like Michelle Yeoh and Tony Leung go up against each other at least once.
At the end of the day, Shang-Chi has a brief reconciliation with his father and his father dies protecting him. Shang-Chi is also able to reconcile with his sister who has decided to take over being the leader of the Ten Rings so that should be interesting to see in the sequel or if she pops up in other MCU-related works. This film did leave me with some questions but I guess that these were things that were going to be saved for future films. My main questions revolve around the ten rings and their origin. I also wonder if it is a family thing and if Shang-Chi’s sister, Xialing, who is a criminal could vie for them herself.
A beautiful, fun and emotional film. I liked it a lot. I think the stars are definitely the Wu family as a whole and I liked that the Chinese spoken throughout the film is pretty fluid because if I could make a critique about a lot of films that cast American/British actors to play African, Asian or Russian characters, the language spoken is usually and noticeably off, then again I’m not Chinese so they may be people who disagree. Also, shout out to the two boys who played the younger versions of Shang-Chi they did an amazing job too (Jayden Zhang and Arnold Sun).