‘Shang-Chi & the Legend of the Ten Rings’ lets go & moves forward

Landmark superhero film reminds us of the importance of progress

Shang-Chi is a step in the right direction for representation.

In the first-ever Asian-led film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Marvel’s signature flair is present—but there’s also a deeply moving narrative of a fraught past and intergenerational trauma. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is simultaneously progressive in its diversity and retrospective in its examination of the past.

I went into this film expecting a flashy action romp, full of punches and kicks, with little substance beyond the visual spectacle Marvel has come to be known for. But Shang-Chi, headed by Simu Liu, who plays the titular character, possesses a deeply human glow that goes far beyond the expected over-the-top heroic antics.

The substance of the movie is much more than the pomp of its set pieces—it’s in the beautifully textured characters and the bonds they share. The action scenes in Shang-Chi move with vitality because the audience is so invested in the context behind the punching.

The setup is deceptively simple. Shang-Chi is hunted down by his power-hungry father, Wenwu (Tony Leung), who recklessly wishes to resurrect and avenge his wife, Ying Li (Fala Chen). But when examining Wenwu and his obsession with reviving a dead past, the movie forces us to consider how we can effectively move forward and let go.

MCU movies tend to be incredibly whitewashed. Diversity has been mostly absent, with a few exceptions—most of the films being headed by a powerful white man. Racialized actors are at most relegated to side roles or excluded from the cast. They can be a white man’s sidekick but never the hero.

A lot of people still love early Marvel movies, and that’s okay. The past is a precarious thing. The romanticization and nostalgia often forces us to view it through rose-coloured lenses. Now, Marvel is giving more people the opportunity to identify with a superhero—which everyone deserves.

We must progress, even if it means leaving Iron Man in the past.

Shang-Chi reflects this progressive attitude. It examines the necessity of appreciating the past while using lessons learned to form a beautiful future. Wenwu destroys everything he loves because he can’t move forward.

The tension leading up to the final fight between Shang-Chi and his father is so palpable because of what the two represent. Shang-Chi wishes to love his mother as she was and let go. Wenwu would harm his son to resurrect a time in which he knew he was loved. But through his desperate attempts to save his wife, he ultimately causes her more pain than those who took her away.

Shang-Chi reminds us to cherish the past while building towards a better future.

Even if all this movie does is help one child imagine themselves as a hero, I think it’s incredibly worthwhile. None of the previous Marvel movies exist in a vacuum. Their history of problematic depictions of Asian characters shows that there is work to be done, but Shang-Chi is a step in the right direction.

Let’s move forward and give everyone the chance to be the superhero—and let’s let the past die in peace.

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