“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is an action-packed origin story that embraces its slightly basic plot

Destin Daniel-Cretton and Marvel Studios deliver a fun movie that embraces the fact it’s a little cheesy.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is an action movie at heart. Directed by Destin Daniel-Cretton with a budget of 150 million USD, the movie embraces traditional Chinese design and aesthetics while being somewhat self aware about itself and features some of the coolest combat choreography I’ve seen in a long time.

The film features a cast from many acting backgrounds, with rising stars like Simu Liu and Awkwafina appearing alongside acting veterans like Tony Leung and Ben Kingsley. It also pays tribute to Hong Kong cinema by featuring Michelle Yeoh, an icon of Hong Kong action movies, in a major role.

Hong Kong action movies’ influence on the film’s direction is unmistakable. The first part definitely feels like it came straight out of one; the cheesy plot points, amazingly choreographed fight scenes and settings of the different scenes are all homages to that era. 

The acting is somewhat varied in this movie from actor to actor. Simu Liu plays the titular role of Shang-Chi, the son of a thousand-year-old crime lord, and his acting was sufficient to play the role of a cool, calm martial arts expert. It was not an outstanding performance, but it was satisfactory. 

Awkwafina plays Katy, Shang-Chi’s wisecracking sidekick, and her performance was similar in that it was more or less satisfactory to the role. The two most outstanding actors in the movie are definitely Ben Kingsley and Tony Leung, who played supporting character Trevor Slattery and the main villain Wenwu, respectively. 

Kingsley is hilarious in his performance, and is the source of much of the movie’s witty humor. In addition, he never fails to make Trevor look like a bumbling idiot, which is hilarious.

 Leung is amazing in his performance, as well. His character is a little generic, but Leung certainly gives a performance that goes beyond the script. He gives Wenwu a seriously cool demeanor and really shows Wenwu’s character.

Even though its special effects budget was smaller than that of “Black Widow,” “Shang-Chi” managed to have incredibly well-done special effects. The villages, waterfalls and mountains that the movie so prominently features look incredibly real and lifelike, and they are certainly the kind of graphics that should be appreciated in a theater rather than a home TV, although I would imagine it would look nice there, too.

The movie’s choreography simply knocked it out of the park. The first fight, taking place in a San Francisco bus, looks incredible, and all of the fighting is fluid with a certain rhythm to it. Later on, the movie focuses more on superpowers being used in combat rather than just plain martial arts, so the quality of the choreography does decrease a bit. But during that opening scene, it is just plain wonderful to see.

So far, I’ve been very pleased with the movie, but the actual story was kind of basic and didn’t have much to offer in terms of intrigue or reading between the lines; it is incredibly straightforward and barely featured any twists or turns in the plot. 

The plot and dialogue are probably at their worst near the beginning of the movie, before Shang-Chi and Katy’s characters have fully developed. The characters of this movie kind of need a supporting cast to seem interesting, which is not exactly a bad thing, but it makes it so the beginning of the movie is not as good as the rest of the movie.

Overall, “Shang-Chi” is pretty good. It is self-aware about how it is a little derivative of classic action movies that came before it. “Black Widow,” Marvel’s other major release for the summer season, tried to seem unique and groundbreaking, but wasn’t self-aware in the slightest, which led to it simply not being very good. “Shang-Chi,” on the other hand, is self-aware, using supporting characters to bring some levity to the movie. 

With breathtaking choreography, standard acting and storytelling along with amazing visuals, “Shang-Chi” is a fun-filled adventure movie for the whole family.