Shang-Chi Pulverizes Competition with Revolutionary Visuals and Inclusivity

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Graphic edited by Laura Renfroe; photos courtesy Marvel Studios

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings carves a legacy for itself in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with breathtaking cinematography and relevant messages.

Laura Renfroe, Staff Writer

In mythical Ta Lo, the earth itself swelled with bloom. In this oasis among the raging bamboo forest, flowering pink trees reached skyward and sun rays stretched to every corner, painting the area with multi-colored shades of red, gold and green. A rumbling creek spilled into a crystal pool below by which stood a woman clad with vibrant green robes.

Wenwu gazed at the woman with a mixture of curiosity and aloofness on his flushed expression. The man’s forearms were wrapped in stunning stone rings, fatal bands of power that could cripple cities and kill even the most powerful warriors with a single blow. 

The woman smirked as Wenwu carefully swept his arms up and back into a fighting position, the blue-hued rings shimmering against his skin. “Is that all?” she sneered.

Newest Marvel movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings encompasses every element that makes a film a cinematic masterpiece. From the camerawork to the visual effects to the action sequences, Shang-Chi presents an intoxicatingly immersive world in homage to Chinese culture.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings continues to peak with a jaw-dropping $300 million in the global box office as of September 20. The film shattered Labor Day weekend records with a $90 million debut in American and Canadian theaters.

With a 92% Rotten Tomatoes rating, Shang-Chi boasts critically acclaimed success as the first ever Marvel film with an Asian lead. This unforgettable superhero film proves itself groundbreaking for the Asian community with much-needed representation in the media.

The film tracks Xu Shang-Chi (played by Simu Liu) and his childhood friend Katy (played by Awkwafina) as they live life freely, valeting cars for tips and indulging in frequent karaoke nights. But after Shang-Chi’s father sends out deadly emissaries to obtain his son’s pendant (a gift from Shang-Chi’s mother,) Shang-Chi must face his past and return home to his sister and father in China.

Shang-Chi’s father Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung), stricken with guilt and grief over his wife’s death, believes the children’s jade pendants present a clue, a longing call for help, from their mother Ying Li (Fala Chen.) But as Wenwu’s delusions turn into threats of flames and destruction against his own family in Ta Lo, Katy, Shang-Chi and his sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) make a tumultuous escape to save Ta Lo before Wenwu unleashes his siege.

Ta Lo, the heavenly-hued haven protected by dragon blessings, holds guest to all entities from nine-tailed foxes to the looming red-and-white dragon underneath the village lake’s murky depths, the “Great Protector.” 

The story continues with the three escapees–accompanied by wannabe-thespian Trevor–furtively preparing for war in Ta Lo, refining their martial skills and donning smoldering garments and weapons, all fabricated with the gift of the dragon scale. 

With his father’s threats looming over the village, Shang-Chi must brace himself to do what he has been trained by his father to do all those gruesome years throughout his childhood: assassinate. 

Marvel beautifully threads the tension-filled plot with images of Chinese culture and family traditions throughout the entirety of the film, embellished with flawlessly choreographed action sequences and camera work. All of Shang-Chi’s harrowed memories from his father’s compound are uniquely placed as flashbacks throughout the film, unraveling the plot bit by bit. 

The viewing experience is truly unlike anything the Marvel franchise has crafted before, the cinematography guided by ravishing landscapes and fluid fight scenes. The combination of CGI and soundtrack makes Shang-Chi the grandest form of filmic escapism.

Many Marvel fans have declared Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings their favorite film in the cinematic universe, and it is undoubtedly not hard to see why.

“I’d say what stood out to me was how beautifully Chinese culture was portrayed in this movie — though Ta Lo is a mystical place, it’s similar to the historical Chinese lifestyle, with the nobility of the characters and beautiful buildings and landscapes,” Jessie Chen, a student at the University of Toronto Schools, shared. 

“Typically Hollywood film makes people think that China is either super rural with dilapidated buildings and dirty streets or super high-tech with mafia vibes, and I’m glad [Marvel is] showing a different side to it,” Chen went on.

At its core, Shang-Chi leads its audience through more than just mythic realms and colossal fight scenes. It is a powerhouse of a visual story that demonstrates how important Asian representation is in film. For the community, seeing the place and language they come from being represented on the silver screen is a momentous step.

“I really really appreciate that a lot of the film is in Mandarin. As a Chinese-Canadian, it makes the Chinese element seem realistic and the sentimental moments more touching when you can understand both languages at the same time,” Chen noted.

“But one thing I found a bit iffy was that the English translations didn’t encapsulate the whole meaning of the Chinese phrase. For example, there was this section where Wenwu said, ‘Respect me, I’ve eaten more salt than you’ve eaten rice in your entire life’ which basically means ‘I’ve gone through more hardships and suffered more than you ever have, show some respect,’” she explained.

Chen also expressed how the burn was lost in the English translation. “I think Marvel still needs to work on capturing the full essence of the language and culture.”

Despite moments of lost translations like these, the movie does an impeccable job of portraying the ultimate essence it intended to portray.

Shang-Chi pushes multilayered emotional themes including accepting who we are and honoring family and love. Channeling his childhood scars into empowerment and vision, the protagonist bears both his father’s brutality and his mother’s tenderness to ultimately confront some of his biggest challenges.  

Despite enacting such a complex character, actor Simu Liu plays his role flawlessly. Before Marvel, Liu was best known locally for the popular sitcom series Kim’s Convenience. His role in Shang-Chi now boosts him to a global level of exposure. 

Liu graduated high school from the University of Toronto Schools, where current student Jessie Chen recalls meeting the alumnus.

“I was super proud to see Simu as a Marvel superhero! He visited my school back when his biggest role was on Kim’s Convenience, actually,” Chen recalled. “Obviously even though we met, I [didn’t] know him well, but I think he’s super deserving of all his success and I’m really proud of how he’s representing Chinese Canadians (especially because Chinese Canadians are almost never in films!)”

Overall, the success of Marvel’s newest film holds immense significance. The messages and inclusivity make films such as Shang-Chi incredibly vital in the current world. 

The movie is a dizzying pleasure for the senses. With such artful use of visual effects and slow-motion, viewers may find themselves with dropped jaws throughout many of the scenes. Shang-Chi takes lead as truly an unparalleled cinematic sensation.