Back in 2004 I took a two and a half hour bus trip to the cinema to watch a movie called ‘2046’, a film by Wong Kar Wai and starring Tony Leung. The cinema in my hometown was limited to just 3 screens and English only movies and a few years before that to see foreign films at all was limited to the Television. I wouldn’t make a long bus trip for every foreign film but the combination of one of the world’s best Directors and one of the world’s best Actors was pretty much a guarantee that I was going to see it. So 17 years later I am surrounded by movie theaters, the closest one to me is about a 10 minute walk. Marvel movies are played on numerous screens of each theater throughout the day. It should be no problem to get tickets to see it. Right? Nah! I checked for tickets last night and it was sold out, sold out, sold out. I literally spent an hour visiting different theater websites looking for tickets and the best I could find were front row seats, you know those ones that give you a crick in your neck? They should be abolished, especially with the advent of IMAX. They are the worst seats. I feel constantly annoyed by theaters that use this crappy location for wheelchair seating. A lot of wheel chairs don’t have head rests yet wheelchair users are expected to hold their neck up to the screen for 2 hours or more. So, I didn’t buy those tickets. Instead, I got on a train for an hour and twenty minutes to go to a cinema that did have seats. In short, this is a really popular movie. Even with cinemas here only at half capacity it’s pretty impressive. Even with less than half of the nation vaccinated, people still really really wanted to see this.
The film opens with the main man himself, Tony Leung and the story of Wenwu. Throughout the film the story cuts back from time to time and as we learn more about the main plot of the movie. We learn more about Father Wenwu, Son Shang-Chi and Daughter Xialing in flash backs from their own perspectives. Wenwu and Shang-Chi get the most development in these flash backs and I think this movie is just as much about the master of the ten rings, Wenwu, as it is Shang-chi. In modern day, Shang-chi lives in the USA having not seen his father for 10 years after running away. He lives a normal, yet fun life and shows no hint of his mastery of Kung Fu which he trained in since he was a young boy.
The first half of the movie feels like a grounded Kung Fu action film, the fight choreography is fast and impressive. Awkwafina plays Katy, Shang-chi’s closest friend and perhaps the most lovable character in the whole film. She provides a lot of the lightheartedness in the film and give us a very down to earth perspective of the events she gets caught up in.
When Wenwu shows up in the movie to reunite with his son after 10 years it shifts from a grounded Kung Fu movie into a more fantastical one. I kinda missed the more grounded stuff as the latter half of the film presents characters flying through the air, flying dragons and soul eating bats. While the CGI is great the fights are depending more on CGI effects than the actor’s physical talent. The film also gets a little cutesy with the re-introduction of a certain character from marvel’s past along with their furry little friend. While I was excited to see the return of this character I think the cute furry CGI creature that’s used for comedy in the movie didn’t really work for me and felt a bit aimed at kids. The end battle and fights are pretty bonkers and throw every mystical Asian creature onto the screen.
But at the heart of the film is the story of Shang-chi and Wenwu. Take away the action, the CGI and you’re left with two very human characters. Shang-Chi, who runs away from his Father to escape becoming like him, resents him and resents what he sees of his Father in himself. Wenwu, a man, a warlord who has lived for over a thousand years but is tamed by his family only to have his world turned upside down. He would do anything to get back that which he lost. Neither character is purely good or purely evil. They do lean towards different spectrums but when face to face all their flaws are exposed.
Tony Leung is my favorite actor and like my other favorite actors I will watch any movie he is in. When it was announced two years ago that Tony would be making his American debt in a Marvel movie playing one of Iron Man’s most famous villains I just about screamed with delight.
With all that said I think the performance by Tony Leung was absolutely fantastic. He doesn’t leave anything off the table. I don’t see Wenwu as a villain. He’s very nuanced. I think Tony is actually perfect casting for the role as you can actually sympathize with his character, the sadness in his eyes over what he has lost, the moments with his son when they talk about family. It almost had me in tears. It’s relatable to all of us and it’s elevates this marvel movie to something more than just a comic book movie. The story of Wenwu and his character arc is just as compelling as Shang-Chi’s.
Favorite Quote: “Your family needs you.” – Shang-Chi