Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings (4 stars)

Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings

Awkwafina and Tony Leung steal the show in the MCU's enjoyable, martial arts-heavy latest

Following Crazy Rich Asians and Mulan, the latest major American film to bring a predominantly East Asian cast to the screen is the 25th instalment of the all-conquering Marvel Cinematic Universe. Directed by US filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton (best known for Short Term 12 and Just Mercy, and who is Japanese on his mother's side), Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings marks another encouraging step toward inclusion as it gives us martial arts-heavy action that's by turns gorgeously graceful and punchy.

The film tells the story of superhero Shang-Chi (played by the China-born, Canada-raised actor and stuntman Simu Liu), who lives inconspicuously as a seemingly feckless valet driver called Shaun in San Francisco. When he reveals his fighting prowess on a bus following a targeted attack – in a tremendously exciting scene recalling the recent Nobody, as well as Speed – it's to the great surprise of his long-term friend and colleague Katy (Awkwafina).

The pair then hotfoot it to China, where Shang-Chi reunites with his sister Xialing (Meng'er Zhang), who has been fuming at him for decades. The siblings find themselves fighting the forces of their estranged father Wenwu (In The Mood For Love's Tony Leung), otherwise known as the Mandarin, the centuries-old wielder of the titular ten rings. Wenwu is looking to gain entry to his dead wife's former home Ta Lo, a hidden village full of mystical creatures whose inhabitants are empowered by the magic of the Great Protector. Fala Chen appears as Shang-Chi and Xialing's powerful mother, while Michelle Yeoh is their aunt, and Benedict Wong pops up as MCU returnee and master of the mystic arts Wong.

Whilst Liu doesn't exactly radiate charisma, he has an unflappability amidst the escalating chaos that's appealing and is an extraordinary physical performer, who more than convinces in the fight scenes. It's still rare for a woman to provide the light relief in a commercial film and the increasingly ubiquitous Awkwafina does so admirably, building on her sparkling sidekick routine that so impressed in Raya And The Last Dragon. If she's carrying Liu comedically, then Leung does rather outclass him in some key dramatic scenes; it's great to have an actor of his calibre bringing weight to Wenwu's considerable moral conflict.

Shang-Chi's trailer made it seem a bit po-faced, yet it's far from it as quips fly back and forth between its likeable and eclectic ensemble, which eventually includes a certain British actor making a welcome and hilarious return. And the film's fulsome embrace of martial arts adds impact and polish to the action, giving it a scaled-down sense of spectacle that's often very satisfying. Sadly, a typically overblown, creature-heavy finale loses a bit of what makes it so special.

Available to watch in cinemas from Friday 3 September.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

  • 4 stars
  • 2021
  • US
  • 2h 12min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Destin Daniel Cretton
  • Written by: Andrew Lanham, Dave Callaham, Destin Cretton
  • Cast: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng'er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh, Tony Leung
  • UK release: 3 September 2021

A martial arts-heavy fantasy action film from Marvel that's by turns gorgeously graceful and punchy.