‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ spotlights a needed representation of the Asian community to the Marvel Cinematic Universe


Kaila Babyar

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is a new powerful film that brings Asian representation and builds on the foundation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Aidan Renteria, Photographer

With movie theaters beginning to reopen and more films being released, I was looking forward to returning for the first time in over a year and a half. The movie that brought me back was Marvel Studios’ newest film “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” by director Destin Daniel Cretton. With Marvel now in production with multiple projects, I was a little hesitant on how this film would work out, but this movie was bold and brought a new aspect of origin storytelling to the already well-established Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). 

In Marvel’s newest origin film, the plot follows the character Shang-Chi, portrayed by Simu Liu, a martial art master whose past has caught up with him. His life in America was due to his escape from the abuse and trauma he once had in China. Along on his journey in America, Shang-Chi gained a quirky friend by the name of Katy, portrayed by Awkwafina, who has been there for him since he first moved to America. She is the supportive character, who helps motivate and reinforce the values he is fighting for, such as his independence and his duty to protect others. At the beginning of this story, the audience learns the origin of Shang-Chi’s father, the Mandarin, portrayed by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. With this beginning sequence, the movie portrays how the Mandarin became the powerful warrior he is known for, as well as an idea of how powerful the legend of the Ten Rings are. One day, Shang-Chi wakes up and gets ready for his hotel valet job in San Francisco, but is attacked on the bus ride to work by a group of mysterious men. From this point on, Shang-Chi’s life was forever changed and was no longer the peaceful generic lifestyle he once had. Shang-Chi learns that his father was after the attack in an attempt to lead him back home. Shang-Chi leaves San Francisco to go on a self-finding journey, which leads to a painful past and regret that he has to learn to overcome.

At the beginning of this film, Shang-Chi seems like a normal genuine caring person, but throughout the story, we learn the person he once was. Growing up he was not the person that the audience initially sees in the beginning, but a broken and emotionless warrior who was forced into becoming a warrior by the will of his father. Yet soon learned that he had to change. Shang-Chi was one of the greatest martial artist mercenaries under his father’s organization, the Ten Rings. But, Shang-Chi could not be the person his father wanted and so after his first solo mission he fled to America to begin a new life. 

However, his past still haunts him, which is something I wish the film explored even further. We get those flashbacks and dialogue of the pain he went through in his childhood, but I wish we received more of it, so that personal empathy and connection towards Shang-Chi would be stronger and more intriguing to the audience. I wanted to see more of a character that was broken, one who had to fight to improve and become the person he is today, and it feels like the film did not give us that aspect of his life. 

However, Simu Liu’s performance as Marvel’s newest hero, Shang-Chi, is compelling and fun because of the enthusiasm and effort he has in every scene. When watching the film, you notice that Liu enjoyed every minute of being the first Asian hero in the MCU. Even before the film was in production, Simu Liu was fighting to get the role of Shang-Chi by messaging Marvel on Twitter all the time, and it worked out. He knew the Asian representation needed to be seen, so he gave it his all when he finally got the opportunity to portray Shang-Chi. 

For Awkwafina’s character, Katy, she did a good job playing the comedic friend. Seeing the relationship between Shang-Chi and Katy was powerful. Katy also brings in a lot of the comedic moments to the film bringing awkward, yet obnoxious moments that personally hurt the effectiveness of some scenes in this movie. However, the chemistry on screen shows that can tell they cared for each other a lot. Seeing them interact felt natural as a viewer. The friendship between them in real life was effectively portrayed and you could tell they enjoyed working with each other. The scenes between them were very stong and build a lot of emotion and empathy toward their relationship, which I believe was one of the strongest aspects of this movie.

Tony Leung does a fantastic job in bringing the Mandarin to real life. He brings a terrifyingly convincing presence on the screen, especially in scenes when he is angry or frustrated. Every character was played very well, including Shang-Chi’s mother and sister. I just wish some characters, such as the Mandarin and Shang-Chi’s sister Xu Xialing, portrayed by Meng’er Zhang, had more depth or personality to them, so the audience could have a better connection with the cast of characters.

Master of Kung Fu has had Shang-Chi fly off the pages in the Marvel Universe since 1974. Marvel originally published Master of Kung Fu for 9 years making Shang-Chi an important character with Asian descent into the comic media, which was something literature was not representing as well at the time. (Aidan Renteria)

With the ever-growing amount of Marvel movies coming out, this approach to an origin story was unique and had a different style to it that was enjoyable. The cinematography in this film has got to be one of the best in the MCU catalog, further differentiating it compared to other origin stories, such as “Ant-Man” and “Captain Marvel.” The fighting in this Marvel story is also very different from the rest of the movies. The director, Destin Daniel Cretton, had a great inspiration from kung fu cinema and it is reflected in the way the characters fight to the messages demonstrated. A highlight of filming that I enjoyed was the underground fight club scene which I thought had great use of coloring and computer-generated imagery (CGI) that enhanced the feeling of being there with Shang-Chi. The use of coloring was fantastic and gave it a very cinematic feel especially at the underground fight club with the neon lights from other buildings reflecting or shining on characters to the bright and warm entrance to Ta Lo where the Mandarin first met Shang-Chi’s mother. The way the director filmed everything and put everything was done very well and was probably one of the better looking Marvel projects since “Avengers Endgame.” 

The score/soundtrack for this film probably has one of the better usages of music in a movie in the last couple of years. Original songs such as In the Dark by Swae Lee and Jhené Aiko, Act Up by Rich Brian and EARTHGANG, and Fire in the Sky by Anderson .Paak, my personal favorite. All songs have an Asian aesthetic to them, which just hits even harder when watching the film. Although “Black Panther” is still the top original movie soundtrack for me, this is a close second and truly enhances the immersion as a viewer. The music perfectly matches with the story it is telling and making the story they are presenting more engaging.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is a great and exciting addition to the MCU. Although it does not add much to the overall universe, it establishes a new hero that is different from any other character. This Marvel character is very unique compared to the rest, due to its good representation for the Asian community. They respected that culture by including the usage of the language Mandarin, and by having some Asian cultural traditions be shown. This film was such an impactful experience that will stay with me because it was the first film I have seen in theaters since the pandemic. This film to me was an eight out of ten. I personally would recommend watching this film to anyone who just wants to see something enjoyable with great action that has great representation for the Asian community. “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” learns from the themes from previous marvel films and builds on them to make the Marvel Universe feel more connected. I can not wait to see where they lead our new hero next and how he will impact the future of the Marvel Universe.