Sunday, November 07, 2021

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, on Disney+

Serious question: did Disney/Marvel accidentally hire the wrong Tony Leung? They were quite distressed when their first martial arts film was not granted a coveted release slot for Chinese theaters, despite their profuse, prostrating apologies for the original comic book licensing Sax Rohmer’s notoriously stereotyped villain Fu Manchu, way back in the 1970s. Yet, it is worth noting Tony Leung Chiu Wai had issued statements in support of Umbrella protestors, whereas Tony Leung Ka-fai publicly backed the abusive HK police. (Also, it was partly filmed in Australia, a nation the CCP has been particularly belligerent towards.) Regardless, it seems Hollywood has been hellbent on selling its soul to a devil it does not understand. There is still no Mainland release date for Destin Daniel Cretton’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, but it finally starts streaming on Disney+ this Friday.

Shaun is not merely a laid-back valet attendant. He is really the son of powerful crime-lord Xu Wenwu, a.k.a. “The Mandarin,” but absolutely, positively not Dr. Fu Manchu. He came to America to break ties with his father’s organization, but they inevitably come looking for him. Fortunately, he manages to fend of his father’s unnaturally enhanced henchmen, much to the surprise of his hard-drinking platonic bestie, Katy. Fearing Xiu will next come after his estranged sister Xu Xialing, they rush off to Macau to warn her.

Now the leader of a rival Triad, Xu is less than thrilled to reconnect with Shang-Chi, but their father’s assassins essentially force them into a truce. The reunion with Dad is even more awkward, but eventually they get a warmer reception from their Aunt Ying Nan, a mystical guardian of the legendary city Ta Lo. They will help her protect their late mother’s idyllic home from Xu’s army and the power of the titular ten rings that keep him looking so youthful.

From the CCP’s perspective (and maybe Marvel’s) Tony Leung Chiu Wai might have been the wrong Tony, but for anyone who believes in principles like freedom of expression, democratic governance, human rights, and free enterprise, he is the right Tony—and he is indeed terrific in
Ten Rings. Despite the plentiful CGI, his training for The Grandmaster clearly did not go to waste. More importantly, he truly humanizes the super-villain, while brooding like nobody’s business. Twenty years from now Ten Rings will probably be programmed alongside In the Mood for Love and 2046 during “Little Tony” Leung retrospectives.

Leung makes the movie, but Simu Liu holds up his end as the action lead. He also has winning chemistry with Awkwafina, providing non-cringy comic relief as Katy. You can sort of see her coaxing Liu out of his dramatic shell, just as her character draws his out socially. As Xialing, Meng’er Zhang matches Liu step-for-step in their fight scenes. Yet, nothing can match the thrill of seeing the great Michelle Yeoh continue to command the screen as Ying Nan. It is also fun to see Benedict Wong briefly turn up as Wong from
Dr. Strange. However, Sir Ben Kingsley inspires face-palms with his shticky sad clown routine as Trevor Slattery, the woeful actor set-up to be the Mandarin’s fall guy (and supply a link back to Iron Man 3).

The fight choreography is first-rate throughout
Ten Rings, but the melee sequences are more compelling during the first half, before the action gets overshadowed by swirling dragons and cosmic maelstroms. Still, this is a solid fusion of the martial arts and superhero genres—and it was a big hit here in America.

Just imagine how well it might have done if it concentrated on the U.S. box-office. The truth is if Marvel tried to pander to the Canadian market as much as they have courted China, we would have had to sit through pointless momentum-killing scenes of the Avengers eating poutine. Marvel and Disney, you’re better than this. Xi and the CCP do not love or even respect you. They treat you like dirt, so rather than keep crawling back, why don’t you break up for good? There is money to be made in the rest of the world without sacrificing your integrity. Clearly,
Ten Rings is a film they can build on, because it is legitimately entertaining. Recommended for fans of Marvel and martial arts, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings premieres on Disney+ this Friday (11/12).