Enter The Dragons
Tripwire’s senior editor Andrew Colman takes a look at Marvel/ Disney’s Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, in cinemas from this Friday. Warning: a few spoilers ahead…
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Stars: Shimu Liu, Awkafina, Tony Leung, Florian Munteau
MCU films have a crafty ability to be pretty much the same regardless of subject matter, or in this case cultural difference. Shang Chi (Simu Liu)’s journey from lost confused soul to saviour has all the usual Disney / Marvel hallmarks, in terms of tone and plot development, despite the all-Chinese (or Chinese-American) cast and setting.
In this latest blockbuster, there’s the usual box-ticking, ensuring that every reference to better or more celebrated Asian movies is visible (for an exhaustively detailed article about this, check the LA Times piece about this movie) before the film is allowed to get on with it. Martial artist Shang-Chi, is hiding out in San Francisco from his father, supervillain Wenwu (Tony Leung) who trained him to be an assassin, under the name of Shaun. His close friend and comic relief is the winsome Katy Bashir (Awkwafina) who has no clue who he is. He gets smoked out of his anonymity by his equally skilled sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) and a bunch of thuggish chaps on a bus before being captured and returned to his dad, who, aided by the unassailable power of his ten rings, is hell bent on finding his late wife and wants his son to aid him in his quest.
There’s the odd flashback in this movie that beguiles, such as when Wenwu woos his future wife Jiang Li (Fala Chen) – the scene is lyrical, gaudy and exudes a dated, fairy tale innocence, despite Wenwu (The Mandarin)’s undertow of ruthlessness, while the movie’s characters as a whole (including the flawed but human Wenwu) are very likeable, if a little too childlike at times. The key issues for me would be that it is aimed at undemanding pre-teens while (despite the usual impeccably high production values) coming across as a dubbed Saturday morning serial from the 1970s blended with widescreen anime. The visual language is impressive, with some excellent set-pieces, graceful martial arts and wire-fu, but there’s no depth, and little drama, to speak of. It’s all on the screen, and what we learn about Shang-Chi barely registers compared to the arc experienced by his father.
Ultimately, the film is too focused on being a springboard for a new franchise, keen as it is to avoid any stereotypical pitfalls while paying tribute to cinematic touchstones that aren’t familiar to western audiences. Yet despite these marketing necessities, it doesn’t aspire beyond cliché, with Shang Chi’s desire to avoid following in his father’s path as cookie-cutter as it gets. With so many flashbacks, there’s barely any plot to speak of in the film’s two hour plus length, the narrative stuttering repetitively until we arrive at the denouement, which is a wanton mess of CGI dragons and half-baked computerised demons. It might’ve worked better if the producers had gone for knowingly pulpy, but with everything so earnest and wholesome, the grand finale just degenerates into silliness.
As always with Marvel and its remit to please everyone with broad brushstrokes and formula, there’s the nagging feeling that this is cinema by proxy, the producers desperate to anthologise every component and historical tic of martial arts cinema. It’s been done better and more authentically elsewhere, while trying to please the diehards means that there’s no room for challenging mainstream audiences. It also, for the most part, dispenses with the source material, which was one of Marvel’s best titles of the 70s. Nevertheless I still warmed a little to this expertly drafted hokum, its game cast, especially Simu Liu and Awkwafina, the sort of characters who thankfully aren’t too serious and deserve a sequel. Hopefully it’ll be pared down a bit and they’ll have more to do.
Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings is out in cinemas from tomorrow 3 September
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Enter The Dragons Tripwire’s senior editor Andrew Colman takes a look at Marvel/ Disney’s Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, in cinemas from this Friday. Warning: a few spoilers ahead… Director: Destin Daniel Cretton Stars: Shimu Liu, Awkafina, Tony Leung, Florian Munteau MCU films have a crafty ability to be pretty much the
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