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Film Review: Shiang-chi And The Legend of the Ten Rings

Rated PG-13

132 Minutes

Released September 3rd in Theatres

Shiang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a movie as complex as its name. The story is well known to comic book aficionados as a classic in the Marvel Universe. However for those of us who don’t have our Masters in Comic Lore, it’s a lot to absorb. Basically, Disney/Marvel Studios wanted to tell a Marvel story that features Asian players, lose the stereotypes and give them the heroic qualities they deserved. To do this, they would hire Asian and Asian-American filmmakers and actors to make the film, as they had done with Black Panther to set the bar for African American representation on screen. 

In December 2018 the studio hired David Callaham, whose mother is Chinese, to write the script for a movie about the Marvel character “Shiang-Chi.” Callaham was a good choice, having written the screenplays for Wonder Woman 1984 and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and a rewrite on Ant-Man, one of my favorite comic universe movies.

For director, they chose Destin Daniel Cretton, who had written and directed one of the best films of the past five years, Just Mercy (2019). Cretton is Japanese American on his mother’s side and was born and raised on Maui where he grew up in a 2-bedroom house with his 5 siblings. Cretton had not been personally interested in directing a superhero film. However the idea of creating a world in which Asian children could see themselves drew him in. He also worked on the screenplay. The cast that Cretton put together is superb and shows unexpected depth. These are not just your pretty faces with model silhouettes. 

Simu Liu plays “Shiang-Chi.” He emigrated from China to Canada at the age of 5. He became an accountant, and worked on the side as a model for stock photos due to his “everyman” look. He also trained extensively in martial arts. When he was laid off from his accounting job he decided to see if he could get work on Canadian TV shows. He never thought he would become a martial arts superhero in a major feature film.

The incredible Awkwafina, who never ceases to amaze, is the sidekick and comic relief as “Katy,” who works with our hero Shiang-Chi as a valet. In a shot aimed at another Asian stereotype, Katy happens to be a hotshot racecar driver, and that skill comes in very handy in this story. Even Ben Kingsley, who plays “Trevor Slattery,” a British actor who has been imprisoned in the village for impersonating Wenmu, qualifies as Asian, since his father is Gujuarati, from India.

There are three striking and strong women, Fala Chen as Shiang-Chi’s mother “Ying Li,” Michelle Yeoh as his aunt “Uing Nan,” and Meng’er Zhang as “Xialing,” his sister. All have mastered the choreography of the martial arts scenes so beautifully that it becomes an ethereal ballet. Yeoh actually never trained in martial arts and uses her extensive training in ballet to execute her moves.

This movie is a feast for the eyes and captures moments of brilliance. It is just missing a bit of cohesiveness that might have brought to become a whole balanced artwork. The special effects are mind blowing, maybe even a bit too much so. Some of the scenes at the end take your mind away from the intense character drama that’s been established. There is a cacophony of styles at play – is it a myth, a thriller, a comedy, a martial arts fight club extravaganza, a special effects tour de force? Bottom line – it’s definitely groundbreaking, in many ways, and deserves to be seen.
Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com

in Film
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