In this movie review, The Amsterdammer’s Magazine Editor Jang Kapgen takes a close look at the plot and the Asian-American representation of one of Marvel’s latest releases: Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
“What I pitched to [Marvel] was a family drama and a character-driven story that was wrapped in a Kung-Fu, martial arts and a superhero movie,” explains Destin Daniel Cretton, the director of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, in an interview with Vanity Fair – and that is what he delivered. However, beyond that, he also introduced many new Asian-American stories to the Marvel Cinematic Universe!
Over the span of a bit over two hours, Cretton tells the story of new Marvel heroes: Katy, the protagonist’s funny but heartfelt and loyal friend, played by Awkwafina; Xialing, the strategic, fist-first, assassin sister portrayed by Meng’er Zhang; and the movie’s main character Shang-Chi, portrayed by Simu Liu, as the relatable hero. Each of the cast members identifies as Asian or Asian-American – bringing Asian identities to the forefront of Marvel’s hero lineup.
“This specific movie will have a lasting impression on what it means to be an Asian-American today” highlighted Awkwafina in an interview. Having been part of recent movies with a majority Asian cast, such as The Farewell (Lulu Wang 2019) and Crazy Rich Asians (Jon M. Chu 2018), Awkwafina stresses the importance of representation within every genre – from romcom to superhero – by concluding that “representation is ever-evolving and within it, [representation] should be very diverse.”
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is not only worth a watch to support its majority Asian-American main cast, but also to discover its well thought-out plot and (in Marvel’s tradition!) its epic and fast-paced fighting scenes. I obviously do not want to spoil the plot to you, the reader, so I will rather comment on the action scenes. The director himself described the pitch for the first fight scene as follows: “When I initially pitched this to Marvel, it was just a lot of what-if scenarios: What if instead of a one-on-one fight, there were six to ten assassins fighting Shang-Chi; What if instead of them being in a parc, they were on a bus; And then, what if the brakes of that bus went out”. Referring to the director’s merging of “Kung-Fu, martial arts and a superhero movie”, the fighting is what you would expect, with action on action on action.
All in all, the movie blew me away. While recent Marvel productions have been marked by misplaced comedy, slow plots and a lack of character development, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was a blast to watch. A villain with a relatable motive, great CGI and post-production, an epic final confrontation and a spicy after-credit scene – as a Marvel fan, this represented all that I needed.
Let’s hope that Marvel keeps up the spirit of showing new faces of heroes and telling great stories; all so that, one day, everyone can see a superhero that looks like them on the big cinema screen.