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Review: ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ fights for better representation

Marvel’s latest theatrical venture, the martial arts-fuelled “Shang-Chi,” follows the titular hero as he stops hiding his true self.

A large portion of the dialogue in Marvel’s first movie with an Asian lead and supporting cast is written in Mandarin. Though it’s subtitled for English-speaking audiences, having Chinese characters speak their own language in a big-budget Hollywood movie is a step forward for positive Asian representation in media.

As expected with Marvel movies, connections to the larger cinematic universe are plentiful. Wong’s entire presence in the movie is predicated on keeping Shang-Chi up to date for the next team-up.

The film also retcons and explains the racism behind the Mandarin fake-out in “Iron Man 3.” As Shang-Chi’s father Wenwu, played by the captivating Tony Leung explains, “The U.S. government was almost toppled by a pretender named after an orange!”

Leung’s Wenwu ranks high among the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s villains by giving a nuanced and heartbreaking performance. His motivations, while simple, are believable, and at times you want to root for him.

While Simu Liu is a charismatic lead, he is not the real star of the movie. That title goes to the visual effects department. The stunning visuals make for a grounded, yet fantastical, film. All of the water effects looked especially beautiful.

Another factor of “Shang-Chi” that makes it unique is the fight scenes. As a martial-arts movie, the choreography is top-notch. Unlike other Marvel movies, each battle carries emotional significance and serves a purpose outside of making the hero look cool.

Simu Liu and Awkwafina have easy chemistry as Shang-Chi and Katy. The audience doesn’t have to see every detail to know how supportive and caring their friendship is. Plus, “Shang-Chi” proves that a man and a woman can be really good friends without relying on romance. I hope that the next filmmakers who use these characters respect what this film has established.

The one downside for me is that the film, like Wenwu, ignores the daughter Xialing. What development she had as a character over the course of the movie is gone by the second post-credits scene.

Overall, I would rate “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” a 9/10. I’m excited to see where the characters go next and hope that the film opens the door for more respectful and accurate representations of historically underrepresented groups in future Hollywood films.

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