A mother (Fala Chen) tells her son (Jayden Zhang) a story about an immortal crime lord Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) who gained his powers from ten rings he found. [Origin of the rings unknown] He raises an army and names it the Ten Rings. [Later to become his crime organization] We see him defeat his enemies and acquire power throughout the ages. One day he decides to go to Ta Lo, a mythical village. In the forest outside the village, he meets Ying Li a beautiful woman who is Ta Lo’s Protector, she is tasked with defending the village. The crime lord arrogantly believes he’ll go right through her, but he discovers she is powerful in her own right. Their fight is an eloquent sensual dance. Even though she defeats him, he’s entranced. Soon they fall in love, the mother is telling her son how she met his father.
We switch to present day San Francisco, where the grown Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is working as a parking valet at a fancy hotel with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). One day on their way to work they are attacked by his father’s henchmen. To Katy’s surprise, her friend ‘Shaun’ is a martial artist who handily defeats the Ten Ring members. One man with a machete blade attached to his arm (Florian Munteanu) takes the pendant Shang-Chi’s mother gave to him. Razor Fist mentions Shang-Chi’s sister, he decides to go to Macau and warn her. Katy goes with him. On the flight there he tells Katy how his father trained him to be an assassin.
Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) runs an underground fight club. She isn’t happy to see her brother which leads to a fight. Even though he’s holding back, she isn’t, and she knocks him out. Their father’s men arrive in force, and another fight breaks out outside the building atop the scaffoldings. He fights his old teacher and tormentor Death Dealer (Andy Le). Before Shang-Chi can kill him, their father shows up, he’s there to bring his wayward children back home.
At their family dinner, Wenwu says he has heard from their mother, she is being held captive in Ta Lo and he is going to rescue her. His kids don’t believe him because she’s dead. He’s convinced he heard her. Using the pendants, he took from them; a mystical map to the village is revealed. Since his children and Katy won’t help him attack Ta Lo, he imprisons them. They discover Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley) locked up with his headless pal Morris, a mystical creature from Ying Li’s village. [If you remember from Iron Man 3, Trevor played the Mandarin, a caricature of Wenwu.] They let him live because he entertains them with his renditions of Shakespeare. Shang-Chi, Katy, Xialing, and Trevor escape in Razor Fist’s car and navigate through the forest with the help of Morris.
After crossing a waterfall, they are transported to another realm, where they see mythological Chinese creatures running around. They are greeted by their aunt Ying Nan (Michelle Yeoh). She explains that what their father is hearing isn’t their late mother, but a creature called the Dweller-In-Darkness who is trying to breakout of its prison. The people in the village ensure the creature and its soul eaters don’t escape the dark gate and invade our realm. It needs Wenwu to use his ten rings to break it free. Shang-Chi trains directly with his aunt to learn the fighting technique his mother used. She tells him he has both his mother and father in him, he must accept the good and bad within himself. Ying Nan encourages Xialing and tells her she’s been in the shadows too long. Katy learns archery and self-worth.
Wenwu arrives with the Ten Rings, Ying Nan tells her Li isn’t there and that the Dweller is trying to trick him. He doesn’t believe her and his gang and the villager’s fight. Wenwu and Shang-Chi fight, but his father beats him and tosses him in the river. He goes to the Dark Gate to ‘free his wife’. A Chinese dragon, the Great Protector revives Shang-Chi and allows him to ride it. Wenwu damages the Dark Gate, allowing some soul eaters to escape. Once that happens, the Ten Ring and the villagers fight together. He eventually frees the Dweller-In-Darkness. Chang-Chi arrives, and he fights Wenwu again, but this time he’s able to take the rings and defeat his father. Wenwu sacrifices his life to protect his son from the creature and bequeaths the ten rings to him. Everyone including the Great Protector work together to defeat the Dweller-In-Darkness and its soul eaters. They hold a beautiful ceremony for all who were lost in this battle including Wenwu. He’s reunited with Ying Li in death.
Katy and Shang-Chi make it back to San Francisco and tell their friends Soo (Stephanie Hsu) and John (Kunal Dudheker) about their adventures. The friends think they are making this up when Wong (Benedict Wong) appears in a portal to retrieve them. Mid-Credit Scene: They are in Kamar Taj in a meeting with Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) trying to figure out what the ten rings are. It has been sending signals and they don’t know to whom. Bruce welcomes them to the circus. Wong tells them they’ll have to get ready together. Afterwards the three sing and drink at a karaoke bar. Post-Credit Scene: Meanwhile instead of disbanding the Ten Rings, Xialing has become its new leader. The compound has colorful graffiti and now women train alongside the men. It’s the Ten Rings with a modern feminist twist.
When you go to see Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, you primarily go to see top notch martial arts action in the MCU. Which thankfully they deliver. What makes the movie special is that it’s also a family drama that centers on a family that falls apart because of grief. Before Ying Li dies, Wenwu was a happy man, content with being a family man, even putting aside the ten rings. Once Li is murdered by his old rivals, he reverts back to his villainous ways. The way he handles his grief affects his kids, Shang-Chi and Xialing. Where once he was a doting father, now he trains his son to become an assassin to kill the man responsible for Li’s death, while he ignores Xialing because she reminds him of Li. Both children eventually run away from home. Shang-Chi moves to San Francisco after he completes his mission and becomes Shaun, a slacker, while Xialing become the owner of an underground fight club. When Shang-Chi didn’t come home, Xialing felt abandoned because of her mother’s death, her father ignoring her, and her brother leaving her. She no longer feels connected to him, where once was love is replaced by anger.
They are all brought together because of a deception, with the Dweller-In-Darkness deceiving Wenwu into believing his late wife is calling him to free her from her imprisonment in Ta Lo. He already had a beef with Ta Lo since they wouldn’t allow him to live there with Li because of his unsavory past. He drags his children back into his life, allowing his kids to reconnect. They meet their Aunt Ying Nan, who gives them the type of love and support they haven’t had since their mother died. Ying Nan shows Shang-Chi he has to accept that he has both his mother and father in him and he has to make peace with that. She tells Xialing she can leave the shadow she has been living in. Both are able to let go of some of the trauma they have lived with and become whole. After his big fight with his father, when he could have killed him but didn’t, he’s able to see him as his father again. It helps that Wenwu finally sees where he’s gone wrong, and sacrifices his life to save his son. Shang-Chi and Xialing begin to heal.
When Shang-Chi left his biological family as a teen, he found a new family with Katy. He’s known her since he arrived in America, and they’ve been tight ever since. When he was preparing to leave for Macau, she was going with him whether he liked it or not. She didn’t let oversized characters like Wenwu or Xialing intimidate her. She provided the emotional stability that Shang-Chi needed. Wong recognized her importance when he brought her along to Kamar Taj. Both she and ‘Shaun’ were enjoying an extended adolescence, but they found purpose in their adventure.
The big question before this movie came out was, would the fight scenes measure up to the best fight scenes in martial arts movies. The answer is a resounding yes. The MCU has a lot of good fight scenes, with some martial arts moves in the fighting techniques, but they hadn’t gone full martial arts until now. Marvel TV had Iron Fist on Netflix, but the less said about it the better. Unlike Finn Jones playing Danny Rand in Iron Fist, Simu Liu knew some martial arts and with additional training, was able to be convincing as a martial arts master. The fight scenes in the movie were dynamic and exciting. Everyone including Tony Leung, Meng’er Zhang and Michelle Yeoh were excellent. I know that Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh have been in martial arts movies before, so it wasn’t surprising. The action scenes in general were well done. The fight scene on the bus was fun, and the action with the bus being out of control was equally exciting. The fight scene outside Xialing’s club was choreographed well. The fight scene between Wenwu and Li was choreographed like a dance, it showed these two warriors’ attraction towards each other. The group fight scene between the Ten Rings and the Ta Lo villagers was outstanding, they were able to have a large group of people fighting along with CGI mystical creatures thrown in without the fight looking muddled. I was able to follow the action that was going on. If I do have a complaint, it would be the fights between the Dweller-In-Darkness against the Great Protector, the CGI on that did become confusing, especially with Shang-Chi and Xialing interacting with them directly. The CGI in the final act fight scenes in most superhero movies don’t quite land for me.
This movie was an unqualified success for me. I enjoyed the family drama. The MCU introduced and exciting new superhero to their fold and discovered an excellent actor to portray him. Simu Liu was able to carry this movie, and that’s no small thing. The casting was excellent all around. It was a brilliant move to have Tony Leung play Wenwu. He brought gravitas to the role and made what could have been a one-dimensional villain into a tragic figure. Awkwafina was great comic relief, and she had good chemistry with Simu Liu. I don’t know if the characters have romantic chemistry, but if the MCU decides to go that route, I think they can pull it off. For now, they do have great friend chemistry. It was an inspired choice to have Ben Kingsley to reprise his role as Trevor Slattery. It was a nice callback to Iron Man 3 and the uproar of his character not actually being the Mandarin. The writers and producers smartly were able to sidestep all the racist caricatures and situations that the original Shang-Chi comics had. The MCU was also able to do that with Black Panther, so they’ve had some practice. Destin Daniel Cretton was the right man to helm this move. He and the other writers script did a great job of establishing these characters. I enjoyed the soundtrack; it blended the hip hop Katy and ‘Shaun’ would listen to along with Asian musical influences. The cinematography was beautiful, showing San Francisco and Macau and later the mystical realm in Ta Lo. The CGI mystical creatures in Ta Lo were beautiful and realistic looking. Here’s an article on the creatures if you’re interested.
Katy does most of the driving in the movie.
Katy turns out to be a good archer. She hits the Dweller-In- Darkness in the throat. Maybe she’ll team up with Hawkeye and Kate Bishop in the future.
Katy’s family along with their friends Soo and Jon, all criticize her and ‘Shaun’ for being aimless and not using their gifts. It was cool when Wong showed up in the last scene proving that Shang-Chi and Katy weren’t lying about their adventures and that they do have a purpose.
The guy who was recording the fight on the bus was Klev (Zach Cherry) who was the vendor in Spider-Man: Homecoming who asked Spiderman to do some flips.
The movie features kung-fu [bus fight scene, fight outside the fight club] along with wuxia [Wenwu and Ying Li’s fight, the final fight scene with all of the mystical creatures].
Abomination (Tim Roth) and Wong were fighting center stage. Xialing’s assistant at the fight club Jon Jon (Ronny Chieng) was by her side when she took over the Ten Rings.
Razor-Fist has a cool ride.
Teen Shang-Chi (Arnold Sun) stood out in his brief scenes in the flashbacks.
Wenwu blamed seven-year-old Shang-Chi for watching his mother die and not doing anything. That’s messed up. He also wouldn’t let Xialing train with the boys. In that case, not letting her train to be an assassin like her big brother was probably a good thing.
Loved the Wong, Shang-Chi, and Katy karaoke scene. Wong is a party animal.
You can see Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings on Disney +. This isn’t an advertisement for Disney, [though I wish it was]. We could use the cash.