Wuxia is a combination of the Mandarin words Wu, roughly translating to martial arts, and Xia, roughly translating to chivalry or hero. It is one of the oldest genres of Chinese literature and focuses on honorable and powerful warriors battling the forces of corruption and evil using exaggerated martial arts. A few decades ago the closest version to an American version of Wuxia was the western, but in recent years a more appropriate translation of the genre has developed in the form of superhero movies. Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings is a modern reconciliation of these two traditions and it displays the best of both.
With Simu Liu in his film debut as the eponymous Shang-Chi – or Shaun as he is called at the start of the film – Shang-Chi begins in San Francisco where our hero leads a pleasant life in the dark as a valet working with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina from Crazy Rich Asians glory) when his childhood returns to haunt him in the form of assassins sent by his crime lord father to steal the pendant his mother left him, a task in which they succeed. This leads Shaun and Katy to travel to Macau to warn his distant sister, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang). Tony Leung plays Wenwu, the father of Shaun and Xialing, and brings a necessary amount of gravity to the character playing Wenwen that is both tragic and menacing in equal measure. His ambition and pride are matched only by his love for his wife Li (Fala Chen) and it is this love that drives his efforts as an antagonist.
Fittingly, for a film intensely focused on Asian culture, a central theme of the story is the conflict between the generations – the young westernized generation and the ancestral culture of the older generation. This conflict is handled extremely well and can even be seen in the movie’s fight scenes.
The initial fight between Wenwu and Li is classic Wuxia, evoking an almost ballet-like grace, while Shaun and Xialing’s fights are much more in keeping with what we’ve seen in other entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. . One exception is the third act final fight, which is standard Marvel fare and extremely CGI heavy.
Overall 5 out of 5. Must see.