A Legendary Movie

I can’t tell you how good it feels to be able to go to the movies again. Although I probably won’t go as regularly as I used to just yet. This past weekend, Mark and I met up with some fully vaccinated friends we haven’t seen in a while for a movie night. Of course, the movie that looked intriguing enough to drag us out of the house during the pandemic was another comic book movie: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

There are spoilers ahead. You have been warned.

In terms of the theatre experience, it could have been better. Although Mark and I were pleased (and comfortable) with the COVID safety measures implemented by Cineplex when we went to see The Suicide Squad, things have changed since then. Instead of leaving empty rows in the theatre, all rows are now filled. So even though there won’t be any strangers sitting beside you, there are still strangers sitting directly in front of and behind you. Luckily, we saw Shang-Chi in an AVX theatre, so the space between rows was wider than usual to accommodate for the reclining chairs. And although the AVX experience was good, Mark and I realized part way through one of the fight scenes that DBox would have been a much better choice for this type of movie.

And the fight scenes were such an amazing part of the film. Not only were they impeccably choreographed, but they added another layer to the story. Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) and the Ten Rings fight in a very hard, aggressive style with clenched fists and technologically enhanced weapons. And only the men are permitted to fight. Li (Fala Chen) and the people of Ta Lo, by comparison, fight completely differently. Their movements are softer and fluid, reminiscent of the fighting style in films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. These fighters are more in tune with nature, and use dragon scales to make their weapons. And because the dragon protecting them is female, not only are the women permitted to fight, but the female fighters are easily the strongest in the entire film. Only Li is able to best Xu Wenwu. Until, of course, Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) learns to embrace the duality within him and combine the fighting styles of his parents.

This aspect of duality is so important to the film that it’s present in the visual aesthetic. In the cold, dark, male dominated compound of the ten rings, the colours are predominantly black and blue. But in Ta Lo, surrounded by light, warmth, and creatures that look like they came right out of Fantastic Beasts, reds and yellows dominate the colour palette. And Shang-chi’s final costume certainly presents as a combination of the two worlds with the use of red and black.

The only issue here is that Shang-Chi’s costume was my least favourite in the entire film. The dragon scales on his shirt looked like plastic in certain lighting, and the difference in styles between his shirt and his pants was distracting. It looked like his costume was unfinished. Whereas Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) had a similarly styled outfit for the final battle, and yet her costume looked cohesive and well-put together. If her look came together so well, then I really don’t know what went wrong Shang-Chi’s costume.

Since watching the film, I’ve heard lots of people say they enjoy it. Mark even said it’s in his top 3 MCU films, and it’s certainly in my top 5. But the most polarizing comments I’ve come across are those pertaining to character development. Some people have said that the only downside to this film is that there is no character development. But I and the friends I saw this movie with all disagree, and so do others. This all comes back to the overarching theme of duality. Shang-Chi’s parents come from two completely different worlds, and although he is strong when he favours one of those worlds over the other, he is at his best when he combines the two. Shang-Chi spends most of the movie trying to reconcile both the light and the dark within him, but it is only when he accepts that he is the assassin his father made him and also has the heart of a dragon that his mother spoke of that he is able to reach his full potential and save the day.

And then there’s Katy (Awkwafina). She could have easily plateaued as a comedic sidekick and done nothing of value but drive the getaway car and provide cheap laughs. And sure, that’s what she was for the first half of the film. Until two things happened: the appearance of Trevor (Ben Kingsley) and the team’s arrival in Ta Lo. Once Trevor was introduced, even though Katy still had her funny moments Trevor became the comedic relief and the butt of the joke. And in Ta Lo, where women are encouraged to fight, Katy learns that she can achieve great things if she puts in the effort. Although she is still very much the sidekick by the end of the film, she is no longer the one who needs to be rescued or laughed at.

As this is the first time an Asian person has held the lead role in a superhero film, this is a momentous occasion in film history. But because of that, it’s hard not to compare Shang-Chi to another first in the MCU: Black Panther. Both feature a POC in the titular role, and POC in the rest of the cast as well. There is one white male character on the side of the good guys, and one on the side of the villains. And that’s it. Both films feature bad ass women who are easily the strongest strongest warriors of their respective films. There is thoughtful use of colour in the costume and set designs. And the main conflicts within the plots center around some form of family feud.

But despite all these similarities, is Shang-Chi actually as good as Black Panther?

Absolutely. If these are the kinds of movies we get when the MCU focuses on anyone other that cis het white males, then it is high time we get more minorities (visible or otherwise) on screen and behind the camera. We need more Black Panthers, Captain Marvels, and Shang-Chis in the MCU (maybe not Black Widows, but that’s a conversation for another day). I know it is hard for people to go out to the movies right now in the midst of the pandemic, but I really hope people support this film in any way they can. This is a film I really hope to see succeed.

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