Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is proper Wuxia for the modern age


Outside the Springfield AMC 8 | Photo Credit: Cameryn Hodges

Wuxia is a combination of the Mandarin words Wu, roughly translating to martial arts, and Xia, roughly translating as chivalry or heroes. It is one of the oldest genres of Chinese literature and focuses on honorable and mighty warriors fighting against forces of corruption and evil using over-the-top martial arts. A few decades ago, the closest thing to an American version of Wuxia was the Western, but in recent years a more fitting 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 both of these traditions and it displays the best of both.

Starring Simu Liu in his cinematic debut as the eponymous Shang-Chi – or Shaun as he is called at the start of the film – Shang-Chi starts in San Francisco where our hero is enjoying a pleasant life of obscurity as a valet working with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina of Crazy Rich Asians fame) when his childhood comes back to haunt him in the form of assassins sent by his crime lord father to steal the pendant left to him by his mother, a task in which they are successful. This leads Shaun and Katy to travel to Macau to warn his estranged sister, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang). Tony Leung plays Wenwu, Shaun and Xialing’s father, and brings a needed amount of gravitas to the character playing Wenwen as both tragic and menacing in equal measure. His ambition and pride is matched by his love for his wife Li (Fala Chen) and it is this love that drives his efforts as antagonist.

Fittingly, for a movie intently focused on Asian culture, a central theme of the story is the conflict between generations – the westernized younger generation and the ancestral culture of the elder generation. This conflict is addressed exceedingly well and can even be seen in the film’s fight scenes.

The initial fight between Wenwu and Li is classic Wuxia, evoking an almost ballet-like grace, while the fights by Shaun and Xialing are much more in line with what we’ve seen in other entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. An exception is the final fight in the third act, which is standard Marvel fare and extremely CGI heavy.

All in all, 5 out 5. A must see.