A love letter to Wenwu: a take on Shang-Chi

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a must-watch for those who like plot, action, and #daddies

Julie Ham

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” opens up on an impressive historical battle scene, clashing with the Western image of the European triangular hats and overly-buttoned breast coat. 

“Shang-Chi” is, in essence, a comedic drama placed in the Marvel Universe. The emotion woven beneath layers of humor seems quite dramatic for a Marvel movie, yet it’s this thematic independence – a movie that just so happens to have the trademark fight scenes – that makes it absorbing. In actuality, I found myself forgetting about the Marvel aspect of this film, the fight scenes the only saving grace for the product. 

The premise of this film lies around the idea of family. Shang-Chi grapples with finding an identity separate from that from his infancy whilst treading between the cultural clashings of the Western and Eastern spheres. And it’s the premise of Wenwu’s fantastic villain arc: what does it look like to grieve for a lost one? Just as importantly, how do you deal with that sorrow as a collective family? What do those internal bonds look like? Director Destin Daniel Cretton’s intention for the film to be character-driven displays itself in the complexity of the characters. 

On that note, let’s talk about Wenwu since he practically carries this movie on his back. The worst villains are the ones you can sympathize with, the ones that have good and valid reasons for their evil. It’s hard not to empathize with Wenwu, to see the grief of his wife, Li, through his lens. And though it doesn’t justify his actions, it sure makes it hard to condemn him for it. There’s a complexity to his character. Wenwu demonstrates the delicate balance between the emotional vulnerability of fatherhood and the manly, toxic lust for power. And Tony Leung portrays this complexity deliciously!

(We also stan a #DILF!)

The film also hit a home run with world-building. Ta Lo is the hidden foundation of the film as it harbors the sorrows of Wenwu. Once Shang-Chi reaches Ta Lo, it becomes the ground that all growing tensions are spilled on: the physical struggle of saving Ta Lo from the Dweller in Darkness, the fight between father and son. 

This tension makes the fight scenes all the more intense- the emotions running wild with the punches. The fighting itself was choreographed with care and delicacy by the film team, and they made sure to match the frenzy and energy of typical Hong Kong movies. Cretton credits his shooting inspiration to Jackie Chan and his action movies, and it shows in the fluidity of the martial arts scenes. Moment of applause for the variety (and authenticity!) of Chinese martial arts displayed too from Shaolin to Wing Chun. 

There remain holes, however, with the translation of the Chinese dialogue. Wordplay and nuances become lost in translation for every non-Chinese-speaking audience member. 

Overall, it was surreal to feel connected to the emotional elements of a movie through its Western base. One lasting question though: what’s going on with the rings? Marvel, I’m still confused.