★★★★ - STUFF
- A fresh take on Marvel boilerplate -
Early in the brisk-by-Marvel-standards running time of Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings, we are taken to Shaun/Shang Chi's (Kim’s Convenience’s Simu Liu) one-room apartment in present-day San Francisco.
Among all the usual dross and detritus you might expect on the walls of a 20-something guy, employed as a car valet, there is a poster for Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle. Which, as soon as I saw it, made me smile.
Nothing turns up by accident on a wall of a film set – and knowing that director Destin Daniel Cretton had chosen to have a Kung Fu Hustle poster there is a sure and perfectly pitched wink to the audience. “Relax,” it says. “This is going to be fun."
Shang-Chi is a Marvel film. So we know it's going to stick pretty rigidly to a formula and will slot seamlessly into the Marvel continuum like one more Tetris block in Kevin Feige's great game. But within the bog-standard hero-origin yarn, there is a locatable and human pulse.
Director and writer Cretton is Japanese/American. He grew up in Hawaii, before studying film in San Diego. Cretton's co-writer on Shang-Chi is David Callaham, who is Chinese/American. The early scenes of Shang-Chi are peppered with jokes and gags about “white names” and western stereotypes of Asian representation. If you have a glance over the pair’s biographies and track records, you might appreciate a few of those jokes even more.
After a very well assembled fight scene aboard a runaway San Francisco bus, Shang-Chi leaves the US and travels to China, by way of an underground fight club in Macau. We meet Shaun/Shang-Chi's sister, from whom he has been separated for years, while learning a little more about their mysterious father – who seems to be just your average 1000-year-old mystical warlord type – and their mother, who could still kick the old man's arse without breaking a sweat.
Which leads us to another quality I really liked about this film. In Shang-Chi, the women are always right. And, mostly, they get listened to.
After a decade and more of the increasingly smug and oblivious wafflings of the eventually middle-aged white men who made up The Avengers and their playdates, it is flat-out refreshing to watch a film in which the women have the best ideas and work out how to defeat the enemy. Maybe it will fall to Shang-Chi to deliver the final blow and inherit those ten rings, but even he knows he only got to do so because his mum, his aunt and his sister cleared the way for him.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings does everything a Marvel film must – and I have no doubt it will make out like forty bastards at the box office. But, just as with Kung Fu Hustle, within all that boiler-plate and crowd pleasing obligation, there are jokes, lines and references that I knew were going right over my head. Just as they should. I've appreciated nearly all of the Marvel franchise, but there were moments in Shang-Chi that I'm pretty sure I loved.
All that – and a completely unexpected callback to Ironman 3 that had everyone in the audience literally laughing out loud. Shang-Chi – what's not to like?
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is now playing at Light House Cinema!