Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Stars: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Florian Munteanu, Michelle Yeoh, Ben Kingsley & Tony Leung.
Review by Damocles
This gave me Mulan (2020) vibes. I thought I put that movie behind me, but this bought it back. Curses.
This is going to be a difficult review for me to write, simply because I am struggling to recall anything of note in this film. So much of this film was lacklustre in the extreme, from the visual effects, to the story and the acting.
There was nothing to grab onto in this film.
I will also be the first to admit that I am somewhat of an MCU apologist, however this was before I hopped off the train after Avengers Endgame successfully delivered me to its’ destination.
In many ways, I wished they stopped because this movie sucked.
First, a personal confession. Unlike many people who love to be shoehorned into an ethnicity for whatever reason, I don’t see nor feel any special connection just because someone happens to look similar to me. In fact, I like to maintain that I feel an equal amount of embarrassment and pride in my ethnicity as any healthy person should.
What this means, is that this film is not going to get any special treatment simply because it has Asian people in it …
Feel free to read the “after-review” list below for the long litany of sins that this film commits in my eye.
Another superhero, another origin story, you would think that Marvel would know how to change up the formula by now, considering one of their first hits, Blade (1998) didn’t even bother with establishing how the character came to be, just that he is Blade.
What made this film particularly uncompelling is the rather convoluted plot to get him to become the hero. In what was a promising start to the concept of the hidden hero, ends up being marred by motivations that aren’t particularly conducive to character building and the usual derivative Marvel CG-heavy third act.
The idea that the hero needs to return home, after being attacked by unknown forces is not a great basis for understanding what makes Shang-Chi … Shang-Chi. There needs to be more than just him finding out why he is being attacked or the usual “bad dad” ham-fisted motivations.
There are many problems with Shang-Chi as a film, but the most problematic of them all is how utterly boring it all is. It is oh-so predictable, and visually there is nothing to latch onto. The plot suffers from extreme second act lagging issues and so many characters lack proper depth to their motivations and even participation in the film’s story.
To future cement its mediocrity, the atypical Marvel quips are delivered with their usual slightly tone-deaf happenstance throughout the film, most of which are done through Awkwafina. Whilst mostly innocuous, I found myself not particularly amused by the line’s creativity nor their timing.
Which brings me to the cast.
Simu Liu is perhaps one of the least charismatic leads for a superhero film seen in a while, with his performance lacking any real charm or particularly note-worthy elements that make a lead interesting. This, on its own, is not an issue, as there have been films where the lead isn’t the most interesting factor, take Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), but when so much of the surrounding film is forgettable, it falls on the lead to carry the film.
Much like how Al Pacino carries The Godfather (1972) or George Clooney in Michael Clayton (2007), these films are elevated by their strong performance and fearless plumbing of emotional depth.
In perhaps less Oscar-worthy comparison, you can see how Chris Hemsworth transforms Thor in Ragnarok (2017) to a much more affable goofball, or how Benedict Cumberbatch taps into a worldly arrogance for his turn as Doctor Strange in his film.
Despite the plot and the usual backstory trappings, Simu Liu doesn’t exactly do much beyond pose in martial art stances and look vaguely confused at what is going on around him.
Not exactly, a lead that demands his own solo movie entry into the MCU.
Perhaps he is best introduced ala Black Panther, as a side character to a larger story?
Lamentably, the rest of the cast isn’t much better, with Awkwafina’s natural charisma, muted to favour Simu Liu and showcased only through very bizarre fashion choices, Tony Leung being wasted in his role, similar to Donnie Yen in Star Wars: Rogue One (2016) and Michelle Yeoh being casted as a predictably serviceable matronly figure with no real standout elements to her character.
You can sense the running theme here, a lot of safe choices that don’t particularly endear the film nor enhance them.
This extends to the cinematography which is laughably terrible with its overuse of CGI and garish mixing of colours for a truly strange aesthetic that runs throughout the film. Too much of the film looked like it was filmed on a green screen with effects that accompany them, looking decidedly Black Panther (2018) third act bad.
What a huge pity, that never once, did the film really tap into the vein that it was ripping off from, with real bamboo tree settings or thought provoking scenery that these films can offer, in conjunction with martial arts action. Instead, so much of the film has very rough-looking scenery that does little to sell the impression that we are observing a beautiful hidden world.
From an action standpoint, the only noteworthy fights were seen in the first half of the film, which even then, fail to stick the landing owning to the overuse of CG all around the action. Whether it is garishly purple neon lighting or a bizarre overuse of a CG bus, so much of the fights were marred by strange choices that detracted from the action and took the immersion out of it.
You didn’t feel like Simu Liu could perform these fights, because there simply wasn’t enough opportunity for him to really showcase the extent of his skill.
Contrast these fight scenes with the more grounded, fast-paced action seen in classics like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) or even the more ludicrous silliness as seen in Kung Fu Hustle (2004), you will notice that the camera work is much steadier and less dynamic, truly allowing these martial artists to showcase the speed and complexity of the choreography and thus cement their status as brilliant fighters & actors.
This inability to allow the cast to breathe life into the plot or the action, is also highlighted with an incredibly forgettable score by Joel P. West, in which he uses generic Asian themes and melodies to mix them together in a highly disparate album, that goes from electronic to traditional and everything in-between.
Whilst Marvel films aren’t particularly known for their remarkable score, I found Shang Chi’s one to be particularly egregious and worthy of the complaints directed against Marvel films and their soundscapes. I, for the life of me, cannot place a single tune from that film, and this is coming from a guy who enjoyed Hugh Jackman’s work on G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013) and that score was as generically Asian as it gets.
To throw in a quick note regarding fashion, it was also lacking a lot of the usual Marvel flair for design and their iconic thigh boots. Whether this wasn’t incorporated because Simu Liu is a sneaker head, I shall leave up to you, but taking a look at his final costume, you will notice a distinct lack of flair for the bottom half of his “super-hero outfit.”
Overall, Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, needed a shorter name, better script and direction. So much of the film was dull, boring and ugly to look at and I found myself consciously checking the time to see how much more of the film was left.
It was so infernally monotonous that I cannot even provide a single photo to showcase a scene I liked in the film.
God, this film almost made me wish I saw Mulan (2020) for an insufferable second time instead.
To sum up … Shang Chi … is most definitely lacking any Chi in its filming-making.
Just go and watch some proper classics instead and leave this as another forgettable entry in the MCU … like so many of them are nowadays.
THE CRAP LIST (SPOILERS AHEAD):
This list seems to be a recurring phenomena when I discuss bad films, so from now they shall be referred to as the Crap List. Spoilers will be everywhere and will categorise all the personal gripes and issues I’ve had with the film.
- As an Asian growing up in a Western country, there are a lot of embarrassing qualities about us, as a people and a splinter faction of strange Asians. Here are some of them:
- Terrible fashion taste … check.
- Drive obnoxious BMWs everywhere … check.
- Strange sense of entitlement over being a “failed Asian in a dead end job” … check.
- Being over-sensitive about racism, whilst failing to acknowledge that Asian people are far more racist than anyone else out there … check.
- Shallow references to things that everyone knows (Bubble Tea, Karaoke etc) and pass it off as being “cultured” … fucking check that box.
- So you can imagine my embarrassment when they put every single terrible element about ABAs (Australian/American Born Asians) in this film …
- Speaking of BMWs, was their sponsorship intentional? Because you could not have chosen a worse & accurate car to represent ABAs. As a car nerd, I hate BMWs with a passion, mostly because of the clientele they attract …. rude, non-indicator-using arseholes who think that in owning the cheapest luxury car available, somehow equates to having class. Here, in Australia anyway, most of those pricks are young, arrogant Asian males and I cannot stand their poor taste in car, manners or aesthetics. Let’s not get into the fact that recent BMW grilles have been an affront to eyes everywhere with its pig snout and somehow the only people buying them are these pricks.
- I’m sick of seeing neon lights everywhere to represent Asia. It’s uncreative, unrealistic and honestly, just shows how cheap your sets are. Please stop this stupid trend of showcasing Asia as some neon-soaked urban jungle. It’s really just old, crumbling and ugly in a fascinating way like most concrete jungles are.
- The Mandarin’s retcon is … lame honestly. I liked how they changed in up in Iron Man 3 (2013) and to have Trevor Slattery return is clearly just a shot across the bow to those who liked the twist.
- What was the point of Trevor returning? Was it for Ben Kingsley to get a pay-check? Because his character did nothing and served zero purpose.
- Why was the CGI so bad throughout this film? The visuals were so over-saturated or muted. The bamboo forest’s saturation was eye-searing, yet when you flick back to the mountain, it was so dull and difficult to make out anything.
- Can we stop having such ridiculous third acts? It’s OK to change things up Marvel, but having two giant dragons fight each other is ridiculous and there was no build up to such things. Not to mention the actors barely react to the sight of a fucking mythological creature just spring out of nowhere.
- Why did Awkwafina’s character go along for the ride? Any reasonable person would have left after the whole bus incident. Her character was so unbelievably shoe-horned in and the fact that she was the one who became a master archer that took down an evil dragon was …. stupid. You can’t convince me that it only took 2 hours to become an expert archer, especially when all she’s ever done is park cars.
- Speaking of which, I understand being a valet is a “dull job” but at the very least they could have paid it off and made the pair of them use their driving skills to good use. But alas, that never happened.
- Why can’t I remember any of the characters’ names …
- My poor man, Florian Munteanu was terribly wasted in this film. His imposing stature, once so awesome and powerful in Creed 2 (2018) is now reduced to a bumbling henchman with a sword for an arm …. hardly worthy of such a powerful physique.
- The non-subtle hint about racism being the main reason why Shang Chi was bullied as a child, had me rolling my eyes so hard. It would be better to show not tell, and showcase perhaps how difficult it was for him to grow up without a parental figure, instead we got a cheap woke moment and myself reflecting on it and going “did you ever think that maybe you were bullied cos you are an ass?”
- The lack of definition on the relationship between Shang Chi and Awkwafina was irritating. I disliked how they finished each other sentences constantly whilst telling a story, like two dumb minds clicking together, and how they never got together. It seems odd to me, to have an entire life-changing event appear on screen, and yet somehow the people involved never get closer …. romantically or personally. If I had a huge death-defying, mythological experience, I’m certain my biological brain would be reminding me of how short my life is, and that I need a mate immediately. But no … they just remain friends, as usual. Nothing changes. I question that, you could have at least stopped a lame karaoke session to discuss the events over drinks.
- Karaoke … BMWs, Bubble Tea, Horrible Fashion, Poor Parenting, Bad Career Choices, Sneaker Obsession, Fuccboi Attitudes, Cringe Small Asian Hype-Man, Stoic Older Sister Who is a Bitch … this really felt like they went through a lame checklist of all the things Asians have gone through in Western countries, not actual Asia.
- I genuinely forgot the sister of Shang Chi was in film … her character had such a lame impression on me … she wasn’t there to add drama, nor enhance the plot in any meaningful way … perhaps this is a strange thing, but I feel siblings in films need to either be very minor characters that help pep up the hero or be a dastardly competitor whose relationship with the lead has soured beyond healing. Otherwise they serve no real purpose. There is a reason why a majority of the most compelling characters do not have siblings.
- The plot was so poorly paced, that I have large blank spots of the film’s plot in my mind. There are just a lot of disparate scenes in my head and they all clash with each other, either tonally or visually.
- The final third act was definitely one of the worst things about the film. Visually, it was a mess, and the fight scenes were so choppily edited that none of the moves were particularly impressive. It didn’t helped that most of it was spent riding a dragon and that looked terrible.
- Too many factions were involved in that final fight scene and it was all so lame … fighting another faceless CG army again.
- The lack of emotional closure and stakes between father and son was … disappointing to say the least. His sacrifice in the end was also lame. It needed more panache.
- The titular rings were very uninventive in terms of a super-power. There was literally nothing special about them. They weren’t used creatively, or showed any real worth compared to the other iconic weapons in the MCU. They were just colourful wallpaper light shows …
- The costume department need to look at themselves in the mirror and consider their colour profiles and the cuts of the jackets and costumes. Because everything sucked in this film. EVERYTHING.
- The mother figure and Michelle Yeoh should have been one character.
- The end credit scenes were awful. Unnecessary. Useless. Not even fun. Just horribly bad and I see Brie Larson has another bad hair day again.
- They promised me a martial arts movie … I got another generic lame MCU movie. Seems like this is the par for the course nowadays ….
- I’ve never winced so much throughout a film, that it left my jaw hurting. So thank you.