Shang-Chi which aims to introduce in the MCU one of the main new entries of Phase 4 also presented to the world the first Marvel superhero of Asian origins and thus continuing that path of opening and representation started already in 2017 with the emblazoned Black Panther by Ryan Coogler.
Here, too, there are hidden kingdoms and fascinating cultures to discover, but it is a diametrically opposed title to the fine comic with the late Chadwick Boseman, more compact in its entertaining and derivative will from the scenographic and script point of view. Certainly valid and focused but not to the point of making these elements his strong point, which instead are action, exaggeration, and fun. And we honestly couldn't have expected better.
Shang-Chi and the Mandarin
As is well known, Shang-Chi tells a story of origins, that of the titular hero. After a sensational and elegant prologue dedicated to the story of Wenwu (Tony Leung), we intelligently move into media's res, working on several flashbacks to tell the growth and formation of Shang-Chi, who we find thirty years old in San Francisco together with the exuberant friend Katy (Awkwafina), both undecided about what to do with their future but free, happy in their own way.
This is until the fearsome and millennial Wenwu, father of Shang-Chi decides that the time has come for him to rejoin him for a task of absolute importance and take over the reins of the Ten Rings, the criminal organization founded and led by the parent, known and feared also with the name of Mandarin.
The story, to tighten, is extremely "formulaic" in the Marvel sense and does not give who knows what surprises in terms of twists or the writing of the dialogues, yet it works and still manages to excite as regards the development of the figure of Wenwu and in relationship to the relationship with the child. The Mandarin played by Tony Leung on the big screen is unlike any other version seen so far, from the amused version of Ben Kingsley to the "producer" played by Guy Pearce.
Here the enemy is very human, inserted within the family perspective and a path that led him to choose love instead of power, to the point of reversing his destiny again after a tragic event, still choosing the path of the Ten Rings.
Tony Leung offers an interpretation as physical as it is profound, managing to channel many different emotions in a few glances, as in a splendid and poetic sequence in the prologue, a refined neo-wuxia fight that takes on the features of a delicate mating dance. The softness of the characterization of Mandarin is thought of as silk, able to remain smooth and precise to the eye but full of small and continuous ripples of the surface that make it a fabric - in this case, narrative - more complex and articulated than it appears.
And in fact, Wenwu is conqueror, leader, husband, father, revenge: a very fascinating and three-dimensional character who perhaps lacks - to be perfect - the appearance of the nemesis in the round, being as we said so many things together, multifaceted yes but difficult to read as an enemy tout court.
He also convinces and surprises Simu Liu in the main role, having all the credentials to become the Jackie Chan of the new decade, from the accentuated expressiveness to genuinely impressive agility and muscularity, at ease in every sequence.
The one left to Awkwafina is instead the classic and obvious comic relief, which however the actress manages to make her own and invest with great personality, making Katy almost a right-hand man of Shang-Chi, a courageous and combative mascot.
Between The Raid and the Forest of Flying Daggers
Going beyond the purely narrative aspect of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which lives its apex in the central body of the story, what really leaves you amazed and happy about the film in the direction of the action sequences, which are many and rich in originality, often quotation, built and directed with considerable competence.
Destin Daniel Cretton demonstrates that militancy in the independent and then almost purely dramatic landscape must not irreversibly undermine the hunger for action creativity as seen in the recent Black Widow or Captain Marvel, rather it must feed it. And this is in fact what the author does, putting together four macro sequences entirely dedicated to hand-to-hand combat and martial arts in an urban environment such as The Raid or John Wick, virtuous and sensational, between a violent bus fight and a head-turning vertical clash in Macau and applause.
The first act of Shang-Chi seems to have come out straight from the mind of the Zhang Yimou of Hero and The Forest of Flying Daggers, only adapted to the American market by an Asian-born author who knows his stuff. Then he suddenly becomes the Gareth Evans of Gangs of London, free from the excessive violence of the aforementioned The Raid but equally ingenious in the amazing choreography often mixed with good use of CGI.
To make the whole system suffer are several drops in rhythm, especially once you arrive at the beginning of the third and last act that is somewhat reminiscent of the final one of Black Panther, although not sharing in any way with the same visual poverty. It is indeed in conclusion that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings turn into something still different, in a glorious oriental sideshow that plays with Chinese culture and also borrows some anime elements, exploding in a madness full of clashes, magic, and something that will make comic fans really happy.
In short, Shang-Chi turns out to be an exciting, functional, and successful film, net of some reservations relating to the narrative content and the management of the rhythm, which however do not absolutely undermine the spectacularity of the product and the message it wants to convey. We are very happy with the arrival of this new superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and we can't wait to see what role he will play in the great Avengers circus in the future of the franchise.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings by Destin Daniel Cretton is yet another confirmation of the right direction taken by Marvel Studios to combine representation and culture with the mainstream inherent in the fine comic genre.
A film about family and complicated relationships, beautifully played by Tony Leung in the role of the Mandarin and by a convincing Simu Liu in the role of the titular hero, the Jackie Chan of the new generations.
But what works most of all are the action sequences: brilliant, virtuous, and sensational, directed with remarkable skill by Cretton and with great choreographic and effectual ingenuity, so much so that it moves in a particular dimension between The Raid and The forest of flying daggers...
Exciting in the first act, narrative in the second, exaggerated, unrestrained oriental circus, in the last, but always able to entertain, entertain, and at times excite in a reasoned and punctual way. A great new entry in the MCU.