My Top 5 Movies for 2021: The Redo (Part 5)

Well, I must say, I hadn’t planned on making this a 5 parter but writing these up in brief review style took a lot more time and words than I expected. As the saying goes, if I had more time I’d write a shorter letter. Let that one sink in a second. So here we are at part 5 of 5.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

…the other Marvel movie out this year has actually been in development since 2001 but didn’t gain traction until indie director Destin Daniel Cretton and his composer associate Joel T. West came on board. Shang-Chi is the martial arts master of the MCU, displaying what has been described as a mix of Wing Chun and Tai-Chi fighting. I reviewed this film for style and substance on December 31, 2021 so please refer to that post for more details.

This movie is an origin story and revolves around a father-son conflict so many psychological aspects come into play that one might expect to see. By the same token, Shang-Chi (played by Canadian Chinese actor Simu Liu) rebels against more than just an authoritarian father figure in WenWu (played by Japanese actor/singer Tony Leung). WenWu is the immortal Mandarin who has been a ruthless, power mad warlord for more than a thousand years. He owes his powers to a set of Magic Rings which came into his possession during an ancient conquest. In other words, he stole them. WenWu uses a more aggressive fighting style, Hung Char.

After the traumatic murder of his mother by a rival gang, Shang-Chi (who changes his name to Shaun) runs away to San Francisco to escape WenWu’s influence. Can’t say I blame him but he’s really exhibiting adolescent traits here, and notably similar to Simba in Disney’s Lion King, Shaun must stop hiding from his true identity, face his twisted father and claim his own power.

In keeping with the traditions of the KungFu fighting film genre, Shang-Chi has trained since early boyhood in martial arts. His rebellious sister, Xialing (played handily by first time film actress Meng’er Zhang) finds her own way of freeing herself from her father’s influence. In the climactic fight sequence Shang-Chi earns his own set of rings from the White Dragon that protects the hidden world of Ta Lo that WenWu seeks to conquer.

The climactic fight between Father and son in which Shang-Chi earns his own set of rings and becomes a man.

This movie is a fresh breath of air for Marvel and a triumph in spite of the fact that China has banned it. This almost all Asian casted film is exquisite in many ways and fun to watch. I love West’s score , much of which uses the oriental pentatonic scale and ancient Chinese folkloric instruments. There are many memorable pop songs as well, including Anderson Paak’s Fire in the Sky, which is/was #1 on Billboard. Mark Tuan and South Korean singer songwriter BIBI also perform Never Gonna Come Down, which topped the charts too.

The only rough spot for me was the transition from the real world to the extra-dimensional village of Ta Lo in Act 3. Moving through the magic forest was both imaginative and original. It was the shocking shift in the look of the mythical animals (which resemble walkabout characters) and the grain and color palette of the film. While I understand the intent, it was a little TOO much and drew attention to itself, causing this viewer to question why I was suspending disbelief in the first place.

Overall, the strength and likability of the movie overcomes its few shortcomings and Shang-Chi: The Legend of the Ten Rings more than earns its place in the MCU. I’m already looking forward to the sequel. If you haven’t seen it yet, what are you waiting for?

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