Marvel Debuts A New Origin Story With ‘Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings’

The summer movie season is ending with an origin story. Marvel’s 25th superhero epic, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings stars its first Asian Superhero played by Simu Liu.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The summer movie season is wrapping up with an origin story, “Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings.” It is Marvel’s latest superhero movie and its first with an Asian star. Critic Bob Mondello says on his way into the theater, he had just one thought.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Ten rings – 10 – and there were only six Infinity Stones. And remember how long it took Thanos to collect that whole set? And according to the trailers…

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS”)

FALA CHEN: (As Li) The 10 rings are stronger than anything in your universe.

MONDELLO: Turns out collecting the rings isn’t the point. They’ve been in the family for generations – well, one thousand-year generation, but we’ll get to that. Anyway, pals Shaun and Katy, who park cars at a swanky hotel in San Francisco, clown around enough at the start to make you forget all about rings until on a city bus, some guys pick a fight.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS”)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, non-English language spoken).

AWKWAFINA: (As Katy) You have the wrong guy. Does he look like he can fight? Come on, bro.

MONDELLO: The ringleader shoves Katy, and Simu Liu’s mild-mannered Shaun is suddenly all sharp angles. With one punch, he sends the dude flying. Then, before going all Jackie Chan on the henchman, he checks in.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS”)

SIMU LIU: (As Shaun) You OK?

MONDELLO: She is, though as played by Awkwafina, she’s also pretty wide-eyed at what her best but just established he could do. And as the bad guys get tossed like salad – a guy with a machete-arm slicing and dicing and Shaun spinning out of his jacket to clock one guy and then back into it the clock another, you’re likely to be wide-eyed too. This is one of many martial arts sequences, and whether they take the form of acrobatics on bamboo scaffolding 20 stories high or classical dance moves amongst wandering trees, they’re invariably artful, something you can’t say about most of the bone-crushing slugfests in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS”)

LIU: (As Shaun) I’ll buy you some time. Just keep going.

MONDELLO: They’re also in the service of a story that presents director Destin Daniel Cretton with quite a list of must-do’s, introducing not just a new superhero but as in, say, the “Black Panther,” creating a whole world that comes with its own visual and cultural touchstones and family conventions.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS”)

CHEN: (As Li) You are your mother. And whether or not you like it, you are also your father.

MONDELLO: Happily, the director gets a big assist with the worldbuilding because Shaun’s dad, the guy with the 10 rings, is played by Hong Kong superstar and extraordinary actor Tony Leung, who single-handedly connects the film to dozens of Asian martial arts epics, swoony romances and gangster thrillers. Those thugs on the bus? His guys.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS”)

TONY LEUNG: (As Xu Wenwu) I told my men they wouldn’t be able to kill me if they tried. Glad I was right.

MONDELLO: Thanks, Dad. There’s also sis, played by newcomer Meng’er Zhang, who has her own issues with dad and, frankly, a more interesting backstory than her brother. I hesitate to say give the lady a spin-off because then I’ll have to review it. But she and Awkwafina kind of run rings – you should pardon the expression – around most of the film’s warriors and around its leading man, who has been hiding in plain sight after cleverly changing his name to Shaun. His real name is…

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS”)

LIU: (As Shaun) S-C-H-A-N-G – Schang.

AWKWAFINA: (As Katy) Schang?

LIU: (As Shaun) Yeah.

AWKWAFINA: (As Katy) You changed your name from Shang to Shaun?

LIU: (As Shaun) Yeah. I don’t…

AWKWAFINA: (As Katy) I wonder how your father found you.

LIU: (As Shaun) I was 15 years old, all right?

AWKWAFINA: (As Katy) What your name change logic? You go into hiding and your name is Michael, you go on and change it to Mishal (ph).

LIU: (As Shaun) That’s not what happened.

MONDELLO: The legendary kingdom they end up in has lots of critters culled from Asian iconography, two of whom are big and scaly and have names. But I found myself thinking of them as Slytherin and Smaug. And, yes, I know Slytherin’s not a critter in Harry Potter, and Smaug’s in a different franchise entirely, but you’ll understand when you see them. Anyway, they’re part of the big, loud finish that is apparently contractually required of all Marvel movies but that at least has the virtue of looking different in “Shang-Chi,” which is a plus because now that Marvel’s got his 10 rings origin story out of the way, he’ll be back and back and probably back.

I’m Bob Mondello.

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