Fantasy, action and heart rule “Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings”

Updated: Mar 3


4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS

(1) Prepared to conquer the ancient village of Ta Lo, Xu Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) of the Ten Rings takes on one of its guardians, Ying Li (Fala Chen). In the midst of battle, they develop respect for each other and fall in love. (2) Their son Shang-Chi develops incredible martial arts skills. Unable to be the assassin his father wants him to be, he leaves for San Francisco, where he lives under the name Shaun.



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“SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS”


4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2021; PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and brief profanity; streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)


Best extra: “Building A Legacy” featurette








DO NOT MISS the MCU/Disney tribute to Chinese martial arts and fable. It’s a family adventure with characters to admire, CGI critters in a league with “Black Panther’s” war rhinos, and a young hero to admire.


“Shang-Chi and the Legend of The Ten Rings” begins with a love story like we’ve never seen when Xu Wenwu – played by the legendary Tony Chiu-Wai Leung (“Hero,” “Red Cliff”) – finds the magical Ten Rings, granting him immortality and amazing powers. He channels it all into building an army and begins conquering the known world. All that comes to an odd stop when he attempts to take down Ta Lo, a village of immortal guardians who protect magical beasts. The beautiful and equally skilled Ying Li (Fala Chen) meets and matches the Ten Ring master in a fight that advances from aggression to respect and passion. They marry, have two children - a boy and a girl - and Wenwu hides the rings away to begin a peaceful family life.


It ends when his old enemies murder Ying Li, and Wenwu begins training his young son, Shang-Chi, to avenge his mother’s death.


(1&2) In ancient times, Xu Wenwu finds ten mystical rings, giving him immortality and unmatched power. He builds an army, and conquers the known world, continuing to conquer up to modern times. (3&4) In 1996, he challenges Ying Li. (5) Ying Li gives her son Shang-Chi a magical pendant, should he ever need it, to help find his way home.





Years later, Shang-Chi, played by Simu Lu of “Kim’s Convenience” (Netflix series), escapes his father’s grasp. He becomes Shaun, a college graduate and parking valet of posh limos in San Francisco, with best friend Katy (the magnificent Awkwafina). These slacker buddies enjoy a carefree existence until Wenwu’s men show up. This leads to chaos, a runaway bus racing up, down and around San Francisco streets, and a massive display of martial arts. Which Shaun wins, much to Katy’s surprise.


As expected, there are a lot of stunts and CGI, nicely blended with real-life digital capture on great sets and backgrounds in Australia, Macau and San Francisco. Disney/Marvel production values are always top of the line. Origin stories are always the best, and Shang-Chi’s story is no different – except for its wuxia-style authenticity, and attention to Chinese culture.



“This is an Asian superhero in the MCU. That’s an important distinction for us, and my first reaction to reading the script was – I cried. For so many reasons I cried because we got to see an Asian superhero saving the world and saving the day, and it was such a profound moment for me as a fan, as an actor and an Asian person.” – actor Simu Lu, “Building A Legacy”




Present Day

(1-3) While riding the bus to work, Shaun and his best friend Katy Chen (Awkwafina) are confronted by Wenwu’s men led by Razor Fist (Florian Munteanu) on a mission to steal the pendant. (4&5) When the bus driver is injured, Katy comes to the rescue driving the two-section bus on a wild ride through the steep streets of San Francisco. (6) Afterward, Shaun discovers his pendant is gone.




VIDEO

We received the 4K digital code for review, best watched on Movies Anywhere, which also includes all bonus features. The movie was captured on ARRIRAW 4.5K digital but finished on 2K, all the better to quickly and seamlessly merge live-action and CGI. The 2160p (2.39:1 aspect ratio) looked very good on its digital platform and even better on a 4K disc, with bold, saturated color, strong detail, and excellent contrast. Dolby Vision grading is available on digital platforms.


Complexions of the multi-ethnic cast look authentic. Texture and detail in costumes, props, and sets are great.


Stunt Coordinator Mark Ginther describes how the runaway bus sequence was shot with “Two moving vehicles. One was a low-sitting gimbal … and another one that was up on a gimbal that gave us more degrees of movement.”


“Any time that we can rig something up and actually do something for real allows an audience to not just turn their brain off and go, ‘Oh, that’s a computer.’ A lot of things you see in this movie were actually [practical, physical effects].” – Dentin Daniel Cretton, director

“The idea that the ‘dragon skin’ that these costumes are made of comes from our backstory of the dragon which sheds its skin, and is then taken by the village as this precious material. Of course, there’s nowhere to go buy dragon skin. So for us that means carving out all the scales and then molding hundreds and hundreds of thousands of scales glued on by hand … In fact, each suit has about 14,000 tiny, individual scales.” – Kym Barrett, costume designer


Those who follow Pokémon will find some of the origin creatures here. I’ll admit I fell in love with the giant-sized fu dogs, graceful huli jing (nine-tailed fox), and phoenix-like fenghuang. Then there were the hundun, one of which – Morris – shows up with a returning character from “Iron Man 3.” It’s a winged, six-legged creature covered in fur that purrs and snuggles. It’s also represents “cosmic chaos.” Right. I’ll take one of those – and the guardian dragon, too.


(1&2) Flashbacks show how Shaun is trained as an assassin by his father. (3) In search of the pendant, Shaun and Katy fly to Macau, ending up at the Golden Daggers Club where they're greeted by Jon Jon (Ronny Chieng). (4&5) Shaun finds himself on the grand stage, battling his own sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang). (6&7) Shaun, Katy, and Xialing are flown to the Ten Ring Headquarters, where Wenwu introduces Shaun to his army.





AUDIO

On the 4K disc and digital, Disney provides a Dolby Atmos and a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless track. On Blu-ray, the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 is the default soundtrack. The digital format, played on my 4K UHD set with Atmos soundbar, sounded very good with well-blended dialogue, effects, and score by Joel P West.


The sound experience carries clear dialogue and dynamic effects throughout the room, with occasional ceiling-high rumble-blasts, particularly in the battle between two dragons. Bass-lines were robust without overwhelming the room or my neighbors in the apartment below. For me, that’s great!


EXTRAS

Marvel/Disney provides five bonus features. “Building a Legacy” and “Family Ties” explore story details and the film’s place in the Marvel Universe, with interviews from actors, director, and crew. Eleven deleted scenes range from ordinary cuts to entertaining background. I especially enjoyed seeing how Shang-Chi’s sister, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) took over Daddy’s little army.


An audio commentary with director Destin Daniel Cretton and writer Dave Callaham explores the film in detail, but I found it pretty bland. There’s also a gag reel.



“When you see a superhero, you see yourself. For this movie specifically, it’s going to mean something to that kid who may not see a lot of Asians on screen, or may not see a lot of minorities on screen. And when they see them, it allows them to feel possibilities.” – actor Awkwafina, “Building A Legacy”



“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” scores well on Rottentomatoes.com with a 92% rating from critics and 98% from viewers. The cast also includes Michelle Yeoh, Wah Yuen (“Kung Fu Hustle”), and Ben Kingsley. Also, it’s the No. 1 domestic box office film of the year hitting $224 million.


It’s still amazing to note that all the conflict and action happens because of the opening love story – which makes “Shang-Chi” one of the most unique stories I’ve seen in the Marvel Universe. The fantasy, immortal heroes, magical creatures and action makes this a xianxia film rather than wuxia, like “Yin Yang Masters: Dream of Eternity,” “Jade Dynasty,” “Monster Hunt” and “Legend of the Demon Cat” films. The martial arts romance wuxia “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” compares well, too.


Find most of the titles on disc or Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Rakuten Viki. Like these favorites, Shang-Chi, his friends and their world is a place to return to again and again.


— Kay Reynolds


(1) Wenwu talks with his son. (2&3) Wenwu and Ying Li begin their life together. (4) Young Shang-Chi listens to his sister-to- be, Xialing. (5-7) Xialing, Shang-Chi and Katy meet the Earth Dragon (Dilong), who controls waterways and protects Ta Lo.


 


(1) Katy, Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley) and his hundun companion find more trouble. (2) A herd of gentle qilin are just one of the magical creatures Shang-Chi and friends find in Ta Lo. The horse-dragon hybrid is similar to a chimera or unicorn. (3) The elders of Ta Lo meet Shang-Chi, Katy, Xialing and Trevor. Note the giant Fu Dogs in the background. 'Shishi' always come in male and female pairs, providing protection for sacred places and homes. (4) Shang-Chi meets his aunt, Ying Nan, played by Michelle Yeoh. (5) The Spirit Tablet is a traditional memorial shrine for Ying Li.



 



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