Shang-Chi: A legendary entrance to the MCU


Illustration by Sophie Yang


Fans eagerly awaited as the glaring red Marvel Studios logo appeared on the theater screen. As the lights dimmed, a new hero was introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Shang-Chi.

Clocking in at two hours and 12 minutes, this epic, action-packed film was nothing short of greatness. You know the movie’s going to be great when it opens with the backstory of the villain, Wenwu (Tony Leung), who also happens to be Shang-Chi’s father. The introduction of the legend of the ten rings primes viewers for the inevitable battle that Shang-Chi and his father face at the end of the film. While this somewhat cliche father-kid face-off has been seen before (i.e. Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Thanos and his daughters), it absolutely worked. In fact, everything about this movie just worked. While certain parts are hilarious, others bring tears to my eyes. While some scenes are filmed in bars, other scenes feature incredible fight sequences in completely made-up places. The balance between all these elements is just impeccable as Canadian actor Simu Liu delivers through his performance of the hero. Liu is charismatic, a great warrior and just an all-around perfect pick for this lead role. 

Awkwafina’s portrayal of Katy particularly stands out, as the NYC comedian brings humor throughout the film. The dynamic between Katy and Shaun keeps the movie light, and I found myself unexpectedly laughing the whole time. While many of the jokes are somewhat predictable, it didn’t bother me because they were just so darn funny. I absolutely loved the casting of these two, and I can’t wait to see more of their friendship unfold (and hopefully more singing outbursts of Hotel California). The unexpected appearance of Ben Kingsley is also a highlight of humor, as the movie explains his imposter role of “the Mandarin” in Iron Man 3. Marvel’s ability to weave in previous movies makes my Marvel-loving heart happy. Kingsley’s quirkiness and adorable relationship with Morris adds a nice touch to the overall feeling of the film. 

Despite having so much humor, the film touches on serious themes. Wenwu’s character arc is shockingly beautiful, as love is the main motivation for everything he does. The ominous creature, known as the Dweller, pries off Wenwu’s grief to free himself from the gates. This plotline takes a dark turn, especially considering the Dweller’s way of sucking out people’s souls to gain power. It reminded me of dementors from Harry Potter, but a little more graphic, as the creature just drops the lifeless bodies of its victims (gross, I know). Another serious part of the movie is the story of Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), Shang-Chi’s girl boss sister. Marvel’s historical lack of 1) female heroes and 2) Asian characters has been notable for years. However, Xialing’s redemption story and insane martial art moves are nothing short of amazing. As she says in the movie, she is self-made. She trained herself to fight, built an empire, and—as we see in the post-credit scene—is taking over the Ten Rings organization. Xialing is an unstoppable force who is predicted to continue on in the MCU, but whether she will be a hero or villain is still undetermined. 

As for Asian superheroes, this movie made me proud. Aside from the bits of spoken Mandarin, and the obvious Chinese setting, the film included certain familial and cultural aspects that are relevant to China but didn’t overdo anything. I didn’t feel like I was watching an Asian hero; I was just watching a super cool hero. Shang-Chi is different in many ways to the traditional Captain America and Iron Man archetype. He isn’t overcome with the sense of duty or confidence that those founding heroes had. Shang-Chi faces a past that he had run away from, and we get to see him find himself more and more throughout the film. 

It was the small moments, like Shaun helping Katy pronounce his real name on the plane that made me say ‘Yes, that’s exactly it!’ So many immigrants adopted an “American” name when assimilating to help ease the struggle of mispronouncing their real names. The bits that reference issues like that were what made me feel connected to this first Asian hero. To see Asian representation up there on the big screen gives hope to a more inclusive, representative future in the MCU. A huge cultural aspect of the film was the martial arts fighting. The way the characters moved gracefully but intentionally, gently but with power, made the action so cool. Tons of credit goes to Simu Liu for training for months to nail the demanding physical training that this role entailed. The fight sequences were some of the best I’ve ever seen, not just in the MCU, but ever. 

With its humor, plot, surprise cameos, action and CGI, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has instantly made its way to my list of favorites. I can’t wait for Marvel to put out more Shang-Chi content and to see the future of this legendary hero.