U.S.-China Mix Intensifies For Shang-Chi’s Action Movie

With Shang-Chi, Marvel adds to a stand that already includes Spiderman, the Avengers and Captain America

Photo credit: Shutterstock

A mix of Hollywood comic blockbuster and Chinese martial arts movie, Shang Chi stands out as one of the best superhero movies of 2021. Spider Man meets Ip Man, it’s a finely balanced mix of expertly choreographed fights and big-screen stunts.

The film, which debuted on Disney+ last week, is one of the first Marvel productions to be truly bilingual: at least a quarter of the dialogue, and all of the narration, is in Chinese. The film explores grief, family and cultural identity with a refreshing take on Eastern tradition. This mix of American and Chinese notions marks a serious step forward for Marvel.

Perhaps the most notable moment is a fight scene on a San Francisco bus. The unremarkable protagonist “Shaun” – aka Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) – is confronted by a horde of black-clad, Kung-Fu practicing “villains” on his morning commute to his job as a hotel valet.

As the punches fly, Shang-Chi’s best friend Katy (Awkwafina) watches, stunned by her old friend’s sudden display of fighting skills. Shang-Chi quickly deals with the crowd of attackers, but then runs into a bigger problem: a Romanian mountain man with a prosthetic sword in place of his right forearm, aptly named “Razor Fist”. “. That’s when the screen comes alive with rapid punches and a punchy soundtrack – “Run It” by DJ Snake.

The scene pays homage to the action films of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan – including a side angle, slow motion, one inch punch and the use of a jacket for self-defense. As the bus spirals out of control through the hills of San Francisco, Peter Parker’s desperate attempt to stop a train wreck in Spiderman 2 also comes to mind. Or Shang Chi differs, however, in that Katy participates in the bus stop as much as her power-infused friend.

This is just one of the many ways the film examines gender roles with a critical eye. The exploration of Chinese family themes is linked to a critique of patriarchy in both hemispheres. Shang-Chi’s sister, Xu Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) is a talismanic figure of female empowerment. Time and again, the film shows her fighting (in every way) twice as hard as her male counterparts.

The most striking example is when Xialing tells Katy that “if my father wouldn’t let me into his empire, I was going to build my own.” These words foreshadow his eventual rise to take charge of the Ten Rings, following the death of his father. The very last scene of the film shows Razor First loyally awaiting orders from Xialing, seated on a throne. Before fading to black, the camera pans, revealing an army of women trained to fight for the Ten Rings.

Shang Chi avoids any easy characterization of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’. Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung), the play’s supposed villain, is a complex and deeply human individual. He harbors a lasting and painful love for his dead wife and through the complicated father-son bond he has with Shang-Chi.

One of the most touching moments is when Wenwu captures Shang-Chi, Katy, and Xialing in Macau. He approaches his son, pressing their foreheads together in a gesture reminiscent of the Maori “Hongi”. It’s not just in this scene that Tony Leung’s performance stands out from the rest of the cast.

That’s not to say the game elsewhere was mediocre. A former accountant at Deloitte, – something sure to strike a chord in Luxembourg – Simu Liu roared onto the big screen with his breakthrough and top performance in Shang Chi. The Chinese-Canadian actor has shown his talent on countless fronts, displaying emotional depth, serious stunt skills and humor. Both Awkwafina and Ben Kingsley stood out as sources of levity and fun. Ronny Chieng’s limited appearances as Jon Jon also stood out for their levity.

For all the praise that can be piled up Shang Chi, there were things to be desired. The plot has a fragmented streak, which makes the movie feel longer than it actually was. The hash and change of setting, villains and heroes and supporting characters gave the whole thing a clear lack of grounding. Another shortcoming is the final battle, which ditches mesmerizing martial arts displays in favor of a typical Marvel battle. This begs the question: how will Shang-Chi fit into future MCU movies?

For many other superhero movies, such shortcomings would be damning condemnation. Corn Shang Chi remains a great addition to the Marvel canon. The film is dedicated to Brad Allan, the stunt coordinator who died before the film was released. Allan’s work on the film, alongside that of fight coordinator Andy Cheng, is a fitting addition to his legacy. the Shang Chi Perhaps the bus sequence in particular will stand out as one of the best fight scenes in Marvel franchise history.


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