Simu Liu skillfully fights to top of MCU.
Name: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Where: In theatres
What: Movie, 132 mins.
Genre: Marvel comics universe
Why you should watch: A visual feast with great leads, including Canada’s born-to-be-a-star Simu Liu as Shang-Chi, an endearing performance from Awkwafina as his kick-ass gal pal and an amazing extended cameo from Ben Kingsley. Great action, some quests, solid storytelling and plenty of amusing asides to the audience. This could become Marvel’s biggest property.
Key cast and crew from Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings — the latest soon-to-be blockbuster from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) — are in a great mood, sharing plenty of laughs during a Zoom meeting with press just before the film’s release. And it’s not just because hilarious fellow cast member Ronny Chieng (The Daily Show) is hosting.
Why shouldn’t they be pleased? This film is going to be huge, and it’s fantastic. Shang-Chi feels fresh and fun, and it’s not just the long overdue casting of Asian characters in lead roles that re-invigorates the Marvel universe — but it helps.
Shang-Chi, played magnificently by super-handsome Canadian actor Simu Liu (TV’s Kim’s Convenience) doesn’t wear a mask or a costume, and this unadorned character doesn’t really “change” to muster his super-powers — it’s more like he finds himself.
Director Destin Cretton shares, “I love that this is a superhero that doesn’t get splashed with chemicals to get his superpower. This is a journey of self-discovery, of growing up, of learning to deal with pain that he’s been running away from his entire life.
“When he is finally able to look inside, into his past — and embrace good, bad, the joy, the pain — and accept it all as part of himself, that’s when he finally steps into his big-boy shoes.
“I think that’s what we’re all doing as humans in some way or other.” Plus, there are awesome fight scenes, lots of clever laughs, a cool-looking utopian world and fantastical beasts in a film that is a nonstop visual treat.
In addition to Liu and Chieng, the cast includes: Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh and Ben Kingsley — in a surprise, extended-cameo. It’s a cast that was clearly thrilled to work with Kingsley, to whom the actors refer exclusively as “Sir Ben” throughout the Zoom call.
Stage actor Michelle Yeoh makes her Marvel film debut in Shang-Chi and explains that when she asked Sir Ben the difference between performing in the two media, he said, “When we are on stage, we are landscape artists; and when we are in front of a camera, we are portrait artists.”
Kingsley, who has South Asian heritage, won an Oscar playing Mahatma Gandhi and was given the task of addressing representation in the film.
“The motives behind telling this story are crystal clear, lucid, pure motives, and they are life-enhancing. If your motives are pure as a storyteller, the angels will come assist you with that story.
“To quote a great author, ‘To tell a story is to heal.’ And I think that this story — because it’s so beautifully told and so rich — will ultimately be healing because it’s not propaganda, it’s just a really beautiful story,” says Kinglsey, commanding the Zoom as if delivering lines from The Tempest.
“As soon as I arrived on set, the fact that my colleagues were from a different culture was immaterial, completely immaterial and irrelevant.
“We are actors together, we live on empathy and transformation, and this is our currency. All the rest is irrelevant. And if we can demonstrate that energy, I think it will be ultimately be soothing and healing.
“People will realize there’s very little difference in storytelling and very little difference in our hearts.”
Everyone looks like they want to clap.
Rumours that a tweet by Liu asking for the job got him the gig were quashed by the producer. But concluding his audition with a backflip and a Black Widow-esque power pose definitely helped him land the role.
“I thought, it couldn’t hurt. I was auditioning for a superhero franchise and if I could show them I could pull off a superhero pose, maybe that would help. I thought it was like a good signature.”
Despite the flip, Liu admits to intense nerves auditioning for his life-changing role.
“My nerves were sky high. I was an actor from Toronto who had never allowed myself to imagine being part of the MCU. It’s the craziest dream someone can possibly dream.”
A dream that could well see him at the top of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.