Fast forward to today, Liu is living the dream as the star of Marvel’s first Asian-led film. Credit is due, the Mississauga-bred actor got to work. Canada – and fans around the world – fell in love with him as handsome goofy Jung on Kim’s convenience where he flexed his comedic chops (and found ways to show off his athletic prowess).
Health @Marvel, great job with Cpt America and Thor. Now how about an Asian American hero?
With so much riding Shang-Chishoulders, it is difficult to separate the film from what it represents. Similar to 2018 Black Panther, it’s a long-awaited dose of diversity, adding more Asian characters to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a film inspired by Chinese folklore and cinematic styles. It’s also the first theatrical release of Marvel’s much-hyped Phase Four. Discounting of the ever-increasing number of Disney + programs, Shang-Chi gives fans a first look at the next decade of Marvel’s cinematic ambitions.
The result is a film with inspired moments, but far from the breathtaking daring of Black Panther. With this film, director Ryan Coogler drew on his own black childhood experience in Oakland, California to inform Killmonger, one of Marvel’s most important villains for a decade.
Again with Shang-Chi, the villain almost steals the show. Legendary Hong Kong movie star Tony Leung opens the film as Wenwu, the power-hungry general and guardian of the Ten Rings, mysterious and devastating weapons he has used in the shadows for centuries. Wenwu doesn’t have a sense of Killmonger’s visceral rage, but instead Leung gives us an antagonist that is more magnetic than monstrous. A crime lord driven by a tragic sense of love and loyalty.
Marvel channels classic Chinese film style
When Wenwu meets Ying Li, the protector of a mythical village, we are literally swept away in a wuxia movie, the burgeoning martial arts genre popularized by Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. What starts off as a battle of postures turns into something more akin to dancing as Wenwu and Ying Li trade blows, like thin branches bowing in the wind.
Soon we find ourselves in the United States, where we meet Shang-Chi, Wenwu’s adult son, hiding from his father while working as a valet. With her best friend Katy, played by Awkafina, by her side, it seems Shang-Chi’s life has stalled until Daddy’s thugs show up.
Perhaps you’ve seen the bus scene in the trailers as Simu Liu takes on the villains in melee as the vehicle races down the streets of San Francisco.
WATCH | Shang-Chi takes on opponents in a quick fight scene from the film:
While the stunning fight choreography (created with a member of Jackie Chan’s stunt team) may wow Marvel fans, it also shows what Liu brings to the big screen. Even in the midst of a flurry of kicks and punches, there is an inherent cuteness to him. Like Spider-Man or Captain America, he’s aware of passers-by, constantly sprinkling the fight scene with excuses. He’s the kind of earth-bound character that Liu channels effortlessly.
From there we are quickly pulled to Macau where Shang-Chi finds himself in what can only be described as Fight Club, Marvel style. Yes, there are some fun cameos that I’ll let you enjoy for yourself, but also an articulation of Chinese culture and lingo that’s a first for the MCU.
WATCH | Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings trailer:
Dark father-son struggles
As Shang-Chi reunites with his long-lost sister, the tone of the film returns to a darker mode when Wenwu reveals his plan to finally conquer the mythical kingdom of Ta Lo.
Beneath the dazzling rings and choreography of furious fights lies the story of a son grappling with what he was meant to be and struggling to leave his father’s shadow. These grander themes come at the cost of the lighter humor in which Liu and Awkafina excel.
In interviews, director Destin Daniel Cretton has spoken about Shang-Chi’s journey of self-discovery and the emphasis on Asian dedication to family. Cretton himself is not Chinese; his mother was Japanese-American, his father white, and he grew up in Hawaii. Shang-Chi co-writer Dave Callaham (best known for his work on The Expendables) is Chinese-American. Cretton’s frequent writing partner Andrew Landam is also credited.
Together, the writer trio sincerely strive to incorporate some elements of Chinese myth and storytelling into what’s known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But the action plays that the Marvel movies demand may overlook what makes Simu Liu such a refreshing addition to the MCU. When Cretton first appeared on Hollywood’s radar, it was for small but emotionally insightful films such as Court terme 12. By the time Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings is preparing for its climatic battle, all sense of sensitivity has been abandoned in favor of a spectacle on the big screen where a menagerie of computer-animated creatures merges into a chaotic blur.
While the film grapples with pacing issues and at times a laborious plot, what is indisputable is Shang-Chi’s potential – not just the character, but what Simu Liu brings to the next generation of heroes. from Marvel.