“From sun up to sun down, I was taught every possible way to kill a man,” says Shang-Chi (Simu Liu ), the first Asian superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Or perhaps that should be “reluctant” hero.
It was his ruthless father Wenwu (Tony Leung Chiu Wai ), whose intense powers come from 10 magical rings, that forced him towards this deadly lifestyle. But after fleeing, Shang-Chi, who now goes by Shaun, has been hiding out in San Francisco, working as a parking valet alongside his boisterous friend Katy (Awkwafina).
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12 ), Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is an action adventure that perfectly showcases Liu’s remarkable martial arts skills.
Take the stunning early scene, when Shang-Chi and Katy are attacked by members of the Ten Rings, the army formed by Wenwu. “Bus boy”, as Shang-Chi becomes known when footage of the fight goes viral, fends off multiple assailants in the best sequence set on a moving bus since Speed .
The action doesn’t relent when Shang-Chi, with Katy in tow, resolves to go to Macau and track down his sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) after he realises his father is coming for them both.
A vertigo-inducing fight on the side of a high-rise building is another stunner in a film that is furiously paced. Later, a trip through a forest where the trees suffocate anything that take a wrong turn through the undergrowth is another sharp-intake-of-breath moment.
Any fan of Asian cinema will surely be delighted by Shang-Chi , if only to see The Grandmaster star Tony Leung and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ’s Michelle Yeoh , who plays Shang-Chi’s aunt, appear in a full-on Marvel martial arts movie.
Both are dignified and elegant, though neither can steal the film from Liu, who won’t just be remembered here for being the first Asian superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). He might yet be seen as the best.
This being Marvel, the wider picture is not forgotten, and Shang-Chi dovetails nicely into the MCU, with a couple of juicy cameos – there are mid- and post-credits stings too, so stick around.
If the final act suffers from the usual excess of CG that most comic-book movies can’t seem to resist, as a whole load of fantastical creatures come out to play, it’s not enough to derail this highly enjoyable tale of father-son rivalry and how to set about achieving your potential.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.