It’s interesting to note that the two Marvel Cinematic Movies of the fall are the ones that hew furthest away from the source material. In Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, out now in both streaming and disc, it makes the most sense because the original Master of Kung-Fu comic was very much a product of its time. Capitalizing on the kung fu craze of the early 1970s, it also melded the comic with Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu, the epitome of the Yellow Menace, a pulp magazine staple.
But, boiled down, the story is about fathers and sons and legacy, a solid framework that writers Dave Callaham, Andrew Lanham developed with co-writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton. While jettisoning the stereotypes, we have instead Xu Wenwu (Tony Keung), a near-immortal being who has amassed power and wealth across the centuries but doesn’t find happiness until he met Li (Fala Chen). What he comes to learn is that she hails from a hidden civilization, protecting the world from a deadly dragon, walled within a mountain.
At one point, Wenwu’s enemies come calling and kill Li as she protects her children, Shang-Chi and Xialing. The grieving man sends Xialing away to be raised apart while he trains Shang to become his successor. When the adult (Simu Liu) objects, he is given a decade to find himself. He drifts, taking the name Shaun, and coasts along, parking cars in San Francisco with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). Of course, time’s up and dad summons son and daughter home. He must find the dragon and free it, for it is, he believes, keeping his wife from him.
There’s a lot of pain and emotional heft here, more than in some of the other MCU offerings. It’s also about coming to terms with great power and great responsibility which seems woven into the DNA of every Marvel hero.
There are terrific set pieces along the way, with plenty of martial arts mayhem that honors the best of the Asian filmmaking tradition. We, of course, get to the village where a lot of backstory is filled in by Shang and Xialing’s aunt Ying Nan (Michelle Yeoh).
For comic relief, we get the welcome return of Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley), the faux-Mandarin and Shang’s opponent Razor Fist (Florian Munteanu) is on hand as a leader of the storied Ten Rings, which has been in the background of the films dating back to 2008’s Iron Man.
The final battle is of course a little drawn out but exciting and things resolve nicely with some solid human moments, Shang and Katy’s final time as mere civilians before Wong (Benedict Wong) retrieves them to fully insert them into the Marvel mainstream.
The film is very entertaining and its cultural roots help it stand apart from its brethren. It’s far from groundbreaking as a superhero origin tale, but nicely shines light on a new corner of the MCU.
The movie is out in streaming, 4K Ultra HD, and Blu-ray so you have your pick of formats. The 4K streaming is sharp and crisp, retaining the color palette and shadows without a glitch. The disc has a fine DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless soundtrack or Dolby Atmos and both sound strong.
The Special Features are nothing out of the ordinary and they include The Costumes of Shang-Chi (1:31); Building a Legacy (8:53); Family Ties (7:28); Gag Reel (2:10); and best of all, Deleted Scenes (14:23). There are two notable moments that make Razor Fist an interesting character and one that fleshes out Xialing a little. Finally, there’s Audio Commentary from Cretton and Callaham where we learn the director has had a lifelong obsession with the Eagles’ “Hotel California”, hence its role in the film.