While there’s a vocal contingent online citing MCU fatigue, I’m getting excited after the last two films — Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals — as things feel like they’re starting anew. We don’t know if these new stories will interconnect in a major way and, at present, it doesn’t matter. Instead, I’m enjoying what these new stories offer and, in the case of director Destin Daniel Cretton’s Shang-Chi, what’s presented before us is one of the better American-made wuxia stories, offering lovely visuals, tight fight choreography, and an emotionally satisfying narrative that just so happens to utilize the visual iconography of Eastern culture. Now available on digital and streaming via Disney+ and coming available on physical formats November 30th, Shang-Chi’s fans can enjoy his first MCU appearance anytime they like and can also do it with bonus features which extend the enjoyment just a bit further.
If you’re interested in learning about Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings without major plot details or surprises, I recommend jumping over to the initial theatrical review. Moving forward, there will be spoilers.
Living in Post-Snap San Francisco, Shaun (Simu Liu) is your average post-grad enjoying his life, working as a parking attendant with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). Their days of organizing cars and nights of karaoke end when Shaun gets attacked during their usual bus ride to work. Terrified of what it means, Shaun heads to find his estranged sister, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), before the same trouble does. Just after they make contact, though, they, too, are attacked and the reason is revealed: their father, Wenwu (Tony Leung), leader of terrorist organization The Ten Rings and possessor of the mystical ten rings of power, wants them to come home to free their mother from a spiritual prison. The problem, though, is that their mother died many years ago, so whose voice is actually calling out to their father? If they answer the call, will their beloved mother Ying Li (Fala Chen) reveal herself or will it be something far more dangerous? As familial tension mounts, Shaun (now revealed to be Shang-Chi), Xialing, and Katy escape to their mother’s hidden village of Ta Lo in hopes to find the truth and save their family from irreparable harm.
I am an unabashed fan of Asian cinema whether it’s Hong Kong action like Benny Chan’s Raging Fire (2021) or Johnnie To’s Throw Down (2004), Japan’s Deliver Us from Evil (2021) or Baby Assassins (2021), or South Korea’s Seobok (2021) or Train to Busan (2016). I’ve enjoyed live-action and animated; adaptions of literature or history and original pieces; comedy, drama, action, horror — you name it, I’ve checked it out. It’s undeniably refreshing it is to see a story being told using the visual and actual language from the perspective of the Asian community versus through the White lens pervasive throughout the run of comics which make up its source material. It just truly lights my soul aflame. Cretton and his team of writers and department heads crafted a world that’s distinct and singular on every level, creating a film that works as a straight-forward comic adaptation *and* as an emotional family story with cross-cultural leanings. As a Jewish American, I am very much outside the community, so you’d be better served to read the thoughts on Shang-Chi from one of the many talented Asian writes who’ve covered it — for instance, this Twitter thread compiled by writer Nguyên Lê.
What I feel confident commenting on is that the things that stood out to me in the first viewing were absolutely addressed in some manner in the follow-up at home. The timing as it related to the events of Iron Man (2008) make more sense when you consider that Wenwu reactivated The Ten Rings after the murder of his wife by a rival gang, giving Shang-Chi about five years of training before he left the compound and stayed gone. This also means that Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley) was masquerading as The Mandarin when Wenwu was active. Based on what we see in this film, Leung plays the character as capable of violence but not necessarily through reactionary measures. That Trevor wasn’t murdered before the end of Iron Man 3 (XX) and that A.I.M. wasn’t wiped out makes far more sense within this version of the character versus what comic readers might presume. Additionally, the enveloping darkness within the final act that made tracking action so difficult was, in fact, related to the projection system in the theater as, watching it on my eight-year-old plasma the day after Disney+ Day, the picture was clear and gorgeous. More than these aspects, I was able to fully appreciate just how much foreshadowing the script was doing setting the expectation that Wenwu wouldn’t be a traditional villain but someone in touch with his culture who would be resistant to letting go of the past (first hinted at with Tsai Chin’s Waipo during the breakfast scene at Katy’s apartment). There’s depth to everything in Shang-Chi, making the final confrontation bittersweet in its expected resolution.
If you’re looking for more details, the bonus features included with the home release are lighter than one might hope. There is a feature-length audio commentary track from Cretton and co-writer Dave Callaham (America: The Motion Picture) which will offer the most insight out of any of the included materials. What remains are two featurettes averaging eight minutes, a fun-but-brief gag reel, and 11 deleted scenes. There’s much to be gleaned from these, but it may not satisfy as much as you want. For instance, while it was great to hear from Liu about how he felt putting on the suit for the first time in “Building a Legacy,” because that featurette covers so much, there’s no lingering on Liu’s experience as a Chinese immigrant (born in China, moved to Ontario, Canada, at five years old) leading his own Marvel Studios film or the fact that he’s likely to be leading the next wave of Marvel heroes (at least being one of the strongest). For non-comic fans, the seven-minute featurette “Family Ties” will help establish the origins of the character and how they took that history and adapted it for, not just cinemas, but for the modern era.
In case you’re debating which format to pick up, I can’t guide you in one way or another definitively. Part of this is because I was sent a 4K digital code, but also because the digital version is different from what’s available on Disney+ as of November 12th, 2021. What do I mean? Disney worked with IMAX to create IMAX Enhanced versions of several MCU films, Shang-Chi included. What this means is that scenes shot in IMAX will be presented in the appropriate screen ratio if you’ve selected the IMAX Enhanced version when watching through Disney+. The digital-to-own edition does not offer this capability and, honestly, while it’s not something I would’ve fret about before the option became available, it’s certainly one I prefer now that I notice the difference a few inches top/bottom make to the picture and immersion. I do not know if the physical formats will include the option, but there’s no mention of it on the press materials, so it’s doubtful. In short, if you’re looking to recreate the IMAX experience with your home theater, the Disney+ option may be the best, especially because it will present in 4K UHD as well. Personally, as a fan of physical formats, I’m still angling to pick up a 4K copy when it goes on sale so I can watch the film without worrying about (a) whether the Internet is working, (b) whether Disney+ is working, and (c) video/audio compression.
I’m not one to rank films unless absolutely necessary, like during end-of-year awards voting. I’m reticent to do this because the enjoyment of films ebb and flow based on a multitude of factors, time being one of them. I am, however, fairly confident when I say that Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings will remain one of my top tier MCU films. I love it for the fact that it uses the native tongue of the characters in situations when it makes sense to do so. I love it for the way it captures the energy and philosophy of Asian culture, specifically Chinese, in a way that feels true to the source instead of pretending it is. I love it for the way it puts the characters first, even in fight sequences, so that the narrative never stalls just to throw a punch. Look at the way Shang-Chi uses the rings compared to how his father does in their fight, the way they flow with his movements but don’t rest on his forearms. It’s a physical presentation of the fighting style of his mother, one which uses momentum and energy of the opponent instead of relying on brute force. These little details add up to a cinematic experience that’s both entertaining and emotional, kickstarting Phase Four with style.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Special Features:
- Audio Commentary – View the film with Audio Commentary by Destin Daniel Cretton and Dave Callaham. (2:12:21)
- Building a Legacy – Go behind the scenes and explore Shang-Chi’s explosive debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (8:53)
- Family Ties – A deep dive into the rich but complicated legacy of Shang-Chi and Xu Wenwu. (7:28)
- Gag Reel – Take a look at some of the fun mishaps on set with the cast and crew of Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings. (2:11)
- Eleven (11) Deleted Scenes (15:03)
- They’re Waiting – Shang-Chi and Katy connect with Xialing over a call.
- Take a Shot – Katy has a moment of resolve during a battle.
- Apology – Years after his sudden absence, Shang-Chi tries to apologize to Xialing.
- I’m Here – Shang-Chi and Katy have a conversation in the alley. Katy reassures Shang-Chi that she will always be his support system.
- Pep Talk – In order to turn the tide, Razor Fist encourages Katy during the middle of a battle.
- Greatness – Trevor and Katy bond over passions in their getaway car.
- Escape Tunnel – The gang slips out through Trevor’s escape tunnel in order to secure a getaway vehicle.
- Two Sons – Xu Wenwu compares Shang-Chi and Razor Fist during a tense dinner.
- Postcard – Shang-Chi and Xu Wenwu reunite as father and son. Shang-Chi makes it clear he disagrees with Xu Wenwu’s philosophy.
- Just Friends – Katy and Xialing get to know each other. Xialing asks Katy some personal questions.
- Do It Yourself – Xu Wenwu returns to his empire after the Iron Gang boss is captured.
Available on digital and Disney+ November 12th, 2021.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD November 30th, 2021.
For more information, head to the official Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Marvel Comics website.