- THE red CORNER REVIEW
red Corner Review September 25th, 2021
"A man must face his past and his destiny to save his mother's mystical homeland ( and the world)"
EXPECTATIONS: Extremely Low
The trailer gave me no hope whatsoever I thought it would be genuinely awful
THE GOOD: dragons and Morris
THE BAD: cage fighting
RATING: 6 / 10
See it! Much better than expected
My expectations of this film were so low. I begged Blue corner not to see it. But one rainy day, with little on at the local cinema, we decided to brave Marvel's latest block buster. I grew up around boys who loved martial arts movies, the boys in my family were obsessed with Bruce Lee movies and I think I saw most of them on repeat a hundred times. Even if I did try and block it out. The younger boys in the family loved Van Damme and later Jackie Chan. The trailer had shown me part of the bus fight and I thought oh no .....here is just another marvel movie. But this time a Kung Fu flop.
Due to a 3d showing mix up we actually missed the start. But soon we were learning all about how Shang chi's mum and dad met in a floaty crouching tiger hidden dragon montage. I don't know how to describe that floating-through- the- air- slowly- on -a- high- wire style of fight scene. I want to call it matrix-esque but Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was the first place I can remember seeing this style. So anyway they are floaty practice fighting and we learn that Shang- Chi's mum met her fearsome warrior dad Wenwu. They fell in love and the dad decided to give up the Rings of power and put them away. They decided to live a normal life and have some babies. Shang- Chi and sister Xialing.
But then we learn as the film progresses what happened to mum Ying Li. We see a scene where she gives her son a nice jade necklace and they discussed how she wouldn't have her powers anymore because to live with his dad she had to give them up.
Now living in America and parking cars with his bestie Katy is Shaun. He has run from his past and not in touch it seems with anyone from his family. Him and Katy are just good friends, even though Katy's granny asks him otherwise. He is shown as respectful to his elders and speaking mandarin with the grandma. Being second or third generation, friend Katy is very much chinese american. The two are trying to figure out their path in life and have a good time singing karaoke while waiting for said figuring out to occur.
Problems arise when Shaun receives a post card he thinks to be from his sister. A sister he never told friend Katy about. They are also attacked on the bus by the big one arm Romanian. We had seen some of this fight scene in the trailer and it was decent over all. If a little too long. But it was definitely one of the moments that had me eye rolling in the trailer. Despite a valiant attempt, Shaun's necklace is stolen and he decides he needs to go and find his sister as she will be next on the hit list. He reveals to Katy his true identity and name Shang-Chi.
So this is where the film really begins. Up until this point while Katy and Shaun joke on the plane about his name, I almost forgot it was meant to be a superhero movie. How would a dude who parks cars and lives in a pokey garage be able to afford a last minute flight to Macau? I googled and it was £1350 to go in two days and that's assuming you would be booking a return. Where is Katy who insists on going too getting that cash? Too much reality Lisa.... Focus! Maybe Katy borrowed it from her charachter in Crazy Rich Asians... they were too much alike for me.
Arriving in Macau they head off to find Xialing. Find her they do running an underground fight club. This was a slightly jarring moment for me. Not the neon lighting and fast paced, not the Thor3 fight club styling, but the fact that there were supernatural creatures and metahumans about. Jolted me back into the superhero world and remembering this is a marvel movie set in the MCU. In a pointless fight scene the siblings fight, and then try to flee from assassins sent by Wenwu to recover the other pendant.
We find out through a series of flashbacks laced through the film that Shang-Chi saw his mother die. She was attacked by a 20 strong gang intent on revenge on Wenwu. This death changes Wenwu and he once again wields the rings as revenge and takes back his organisation. He also decides to brutally train his son in martial arts and combat to withstand pain and channel his anger. Xialing is angry too, and she copies the training that she sees and trains herself to fight too. Because despite his wife being an accomplished fighter in her own right, why bother to train her daughter as an assassin? Why not? To be honest Xialing is a better fit for an assassin, Shang-Chi doesn't have the heart for it. He would be better off in a nice tea shop
Now in possession of both pendants and both his children, Wenwu unlocks the map in his home that shows the mystical location of Ta Lo. Home of his former wife. Dad has come to believe his wife is being held in her village as punishment behind a gate and only he can free her. He has been hearing her voice call to him and he vows he will not fail her a second time by being a shop for a mars bar when she was brutally murdered in front of their children.
Wenwu explains why names are important and sets the record straight about the fact that he has been called many names and lived a very long time. But he was offensively impersonated as the Mandarin by Ben Kingsley in Iron Man. As a terrorist. This bit I had heard of before I saw the movie, that this was going to be an apology for the racist depiction of Fu Manchu and depiction of Asian stereotypes and Caricatures.....um ok.
And now we have a very surprising and delightful part of the film. We find that Wenwu has kidnapped Trevor Slattery, the silly actor that was hired to impersonate Wenwu and caused so much outrage as "The Mandarin". I loved Ben Kingsley in this film. So many little moments of comedic delight.And the stand out delight of the film- Morris. Morris I later found out when I googled, is a Hundun they are a legendary (and may I say delightful) figure from Chinese Mythology. This creature as featured in Shanhaijing represents the "primordial and central chaos" in the Chinese creation myth. Morris was delightful and I deeply deeply fell in love.
How Trevor managed to learn to communicate with Morris is a wonder indeed. Perhaps as an agent of Chaos, it recognised that Trevor is somewhat chaotic and eccentric himself. With delightfully cute guide Morris leading them, they head to Ta Lo to stop Wenwu from destroying the village. When they arrive there we get to see a bit more of the Chinese mythological creatures which I loved. They are welcomed to the village and embraced by their extended family. We Meet Aunty Ying Nan, sister to Ying Li. I wish she was my long lost aunty so cool and poised, and badass in her own right. She teaches Shang Chi there are other ways to harness power and a little bit of the family magic to tap into his mothers people's gifts. Much to his own surprise.
It managed to be actually come over as meaningful and somewhat poignant. Which was very surprising. As they discover their family after both having been alone for such a long time. Even though they had a short time on screen to do this. As the rag tag band join with the villagers to prepare for the arrival of WenWu. We learn from Ying Nan about what is really calling to Wenwu. There are dark forces beyond the portal that call to power. They want to be released to wreak havoc on the world. They did this once before and were only stopped reaching our world by the great protector dragon. The great protector have them some armour stuff to make weaponry with. Sounds silly but yeah it kinda worked and I love dragons so I was so in. Awkwafina feeling useful I think mirrors what all of us would like to feel in that situation. She is the ordinary person here thrust into extraordinary circumstances and yeah its bad ass that she can be useful and pick something up fairly fast! wouldn't we all want to be bad ass archers?
Wenwu shows up. Now we have got to this point in the film and not really seen much of the power of the rings and that's a good thing! Everyone fails in trying to talk to him and the fight begins. This is usually where stuff gets silly and I switch off. But no it was well paced, action was decent and I was surprised at how much I genuinely enjoyed it.
Powerful as he is, Wenwu opens the gate and then realises too late that his children and Ying Nan were right and that they have unleashed a demon dragon instead. He battles with his son, who to his surprise is rather bad ass and takes command of the rings, and is then snatched up/ sacrifices himself to the bad dragon. Leaving Shang- Chi with the rings and needing to urgently save the world having only had the rings for ten minutes. Where is the on off switch? what happens if you swish your arm like this? Think how long it takes you to get used to ice skates or roller blades! Anyway bad daddy killing dragons to kill.
I felt surprising genuine peril when I thought that bad dragon, looking very much like Blake's The Red Dragon had a hold of the good dragon. I did think for a minute he would drop his sister. For about 30 seconds yeah I thought he might. But all was well in the end. The bad dragon was defeated once again by a coalition of Men, Ta Loians and Shang- Chi now wielding the ten rings.
I really enjoyed this film. It vastly exceeded my expectations. I enjoyed the humour, the mythology and the dragon finale. I enjoyed it in a similar way that I enjoyed Black Panther. I particularly enjoyed the way they portrayed Wenwu. I would much rather have a layered story with flawed powerful baddy on a misguided mission that we can understand and a bad guy we can empathise with, than an out and out cardboard cut out bad guy. I thought it was genuinely really sad when Wenwu was blaming his son and saying you didn't save her ( his mum). Um.... he was a seven year old child what could he do against 20 men. That was unexpected!
The point being that Wenwu is angry with himself that he wasn't there. Angry she had given up her power for him. Angry and blaming everyone fuelled by grief. That makes him so so much more interesting as a charachter. In this film people do die and that is good. I dislike when no one ever dies. I hate that in modern film, and especially something like MCU where no one is going to die or just come back to life. That includes the bad guys. So I was happy when Ying Li wasn't behind the gate and when Wenwu was sacrificed to save his son/ redeem himself. That's proper order! Thank you!
BLUE CORNER'S RATING FOR Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021): 6 / 10
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EXPECTATIONS: Extremely Low
'Phase 4' in general hasn't perked my interest at all - from the trailer we would happily have skipped this.
THE GOOD: Some of the main action scenes have far fewer cuts than many recent Marvel movies, interesting 'real world' design for many of the Chinese creature myths and legends.
THE BAD: The lead actor being something of a charisma black hole, Kate in general, plus the basic story presented offered more than we actually got.
RATING: 5.5 / 10
The latest instalment of the 'MCU', and the first of the 'Phase 4' releases set after Infinity War. Shang-Chi is reluctantly forced to return to China in order to confront his past, being drawn back into his father's Ten Rings organization. It could, and should, have given more, but what we get was at least watchable enough.