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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the action-packed origin story of Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero Shang-Chi (Simu Liu). The son of The Mandarin (Tony Leung) -- the superhumanly powerful leader of the underground criminal organization the Ten Rings -- Shang-Chi was trained as an assassin from an early age. As a teen, he abandoned his destiny in order to live a normal life, but his father sends muscle to force him back home a decade later. As in all of the MCU movies, families can expect lots of sometimes-intense comic book-style violence. Most of it is martial arts-based and involves heavy hand-to-hand combat, although characters also occasionally use guns, bows, spears, and other weapons (and, naturally, things blow up). There's a fairly large body count, frightening demon-like creatures, and a couple of deaths that may hit viewers hard. Language is infrequent but includes "s--t" and "damn." There's less romance in this movie than in other MCU entries, with the exception of flashbacks to how two characters met and fell in love (there are a couple of embraces and kisses). The film is notable for featuring a nearly all-Asian cast (including popular comedic actor Awkwafina as Shang-Chi's best friend), as well as for its messages of teamwork, perseverance, and courage.
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What's the story?
SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS begins with a bedtime story prologue explaining that Shang-Chi is the son of two supernatural people: superstrong (and basically immortal) Wenwu, possessor of the Ten Rings (Tony Leung), and Ying Li (Fala Chen), a fellow martial arts master who hails from the secret powerful community Ta Lo and is the only rival to ever defeat Wenwu. When Shang-Chi's mother dies, Wenwu, who had given up the Ten Rings to devote himself to his family, goes back to building his criminal empire and training Shang-Chi to be the best killer/assassin and successor. But at age 15, Shang-Chi escaped. Ten years later, he goes by Shaun (Simu Liu) and is a San Francisco parking attendant who spends most of his time hanging out with his best friend, Katy (Awkwafina). One day while Shaun is commuting on the bus, Ten Rings goons arrive to steal the one thing Shaun has left of his mother: half of a jade pendant. Soon, Shaun must reveal his true identity to Katy, and they both head to China to find his estranged younger sister, Xialing (Meng'er Zhang), before Wenwu does. Once they reconnect, Shang-Chi, Xialing, and Katy are caught up in Wenwu's master plan to resurrect their mother by destroying her secretive village.
Is it any good?
An entertaining mix of comedy and superhero action, this is a welcome addition to the Marvel universe that, like many MCU movies, explores loss, father issues, and learning to own your power. Liu and Awkwafina have great buddy chemistry as Shang-Chi and Katy, and, similarly to Black Widow, the romance in Shang-Chi is limited to the older generation while the main character is more devoted to his family (both chosen and biological). While Marvel is no stranger to funny sidekicks, the central pairing here has comedic timing on par with Ant-Man's Scott and Luis, with the added bonus of a tender brother-sister vibe. Shang-Chi also has a biological sister, of course, and she's sure to be an audience favorite. Zhang's Xialing is like an edgier Natasha: She's a trained assassin who wants more out of her life than being her father's overlooked younger child. But Leung is the scene-stealer here, a brooding, powerful presence simmering to a boil. It's hard to imagine a superhero film without overt father-child baggage, and director (and co-writer, along with David Callaham and Andrew Lanham) Destin Daniel Cretton focuses a lot on the characters' backstory. It occasionally feels like too much, but ultimately the writing manages to balance the superhero speechifying and inspirational monologues with witty banter and a particularly effective subplot with a familiar MCU face.
One thing to make clear, even to those not versed in the genre, is that Shang-Chi isn't a straight-up, bona fide kung-fu or martial arts flick. Yes, there are plenty of martial arts scenes (from the aggressive style the Ten Rings members use to the almost dance-like martial arts demonstrated by Shang-Chi's mother and her community) and elements, but this is still first and foremost the Marvel world. The rapid-fire editing (courtesy of Elsabet Ronaldsdottir, Nat Sanders, and Harry Yoon) during the action sequences is noteworthy, as is Bill Pope's cinematography, which excels in both the city-set scenes and the ones taking place against the natural beauty of idyllic Ta Lo. Once the story settles there, it's a lovely, vibrant counterpoint to the darker, grimmer parts in the Ten Rings headquarters. It's important to also note that Shang-Chi features the first Asian lead in the MCU (Benedict Wong, who cameos, was memorable in Doctor Strange, but he's wasn't the main character). Shang-Chi, like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians before it, continues to prove that diverse representation matters.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the action violence in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Does martial arts/hand-to-hand combat violence impact viewers differently than weapons-based, military-style violence?
Fewer than 4% of Hollywood films feature AAPI characters in leading roles. Why are racial and ethnic representation in media important for all viewers?
How does Shang-Chi reference the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe? What would you like to see happen if there's a sequel?
This is one of the few Marvel movies without a romantic subplot. Discuss the strong platonic bond between Shaun and Katy. Do you like that they're "just friends," or would you have preferred a romance? Why?
- In theaters: September 3, 2021
- Cast: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Michelle Yeoh
- Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
- Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Superheroes
- Character strengths: Courage, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 132 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sequences of violence and action, and language
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: September 7, 2021
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