Birthday presents are cool and all, but how many people get an entire Marvel movie trailer released in honor of their birthday? Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings star Simu Liu became one of the lucky few to receive that distinction this morning, as Marvel surprised him – and all of us – with a first trailer for the hotly-anticipated next installment of the MCU after Black Widow: after initially revealing a poster for the upcoming movie that, while quite beautiful, wouldn’t have given us much to talk about beyond the fact that Simu Liu’s official costume is stunning.
But we’ve been promised a lot of martial arts epics by Hollywood that have more often than not failed to match the visual splendor and shock-and-awe factor of action films produced in China, South Korea, and Japan. I can’t say for certain if Shang-Chi will be able to break that trend based on just a single trailer, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t optimistic – because the trailer has got the visual splendor in spades (cinematographer Bill Pope is new to the MCU, but not to action-heavy blockbusters, with the visually stunning Alita: Battle Angel being one of his most notable credits), and the wuxia elements left me both shocked and awed…possibly because, for the longest time, I was convinced Marvel would go in a much grittier direction with the character.
The first minute of trailer footage still had me worried that would be the case – but then Shang-Chi battles a magical, flowery-hat wearing, wind spirit, in a bamboo grove (and the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon parallels are so strong, I have to believe it’s Michelle Yeoh behind that green mask)…and from there, the trailer cuts to a flashback sequence, with an entire army of gravity-defying warriors fighting alongside giant lions and bats. The Mandarin (here using the name Wenwu) uses his titular Ten Rings to create magic weapons and conjure tidal waves. There’s a villain named Razor-Fist, played by Florian Munteanu, whose arms turn into glowing blades. Awkwafina drives a bus over a row of cars like this is Fast And Furious. It’s kind of zany, but that’s undeniably also part of the winning formula for genuine wuxia films.
From what we can glean of the story, it’s clear that Shang-Chi was The Mandarin’s adopted son and one of his most powerful disciples as a child. But after letting Shang-Chi go off on his own and forget (or try to forget) his martial arts training for ten years, The Mandarin suddenly shows up again in his son’s life now that he’s an adult, with a whole bunch of threats and taunts about how he’s gone from being the right-hand man of the most dangerous and feared crime-lord in the world to working as a hotel valet and using his spare time to sing a karaoke rendition of A Whole New World (gotta love the corporate synergy there) with Awkwafina.
But Shang-Chi gets pulled back into his life of crime, and…well, I have no idea what happens next. There were rumors at one point that the film’s plot would revolve around a martial arts tournament with the prize being the Ten Rings themselves, and we see glimpses of what that might look like with Shang-Chi dueling Meng’er Zhang’s character in some kind of nightclub/crime den, but my theory (based on Zhang and Munteanu’s villains being clearly visible disembarking from The Mandarin’s helicopter behind Shang-Chi in one shot) is that The Mandarin will send them all on a globe-trotting treasure-hunt to the death. That allows for more diversity to the locations and fight-scenes than just a single building (even one with such beautiful bisexual lighting).
And speaking of diversity, one thing I really want to talk about is the fact that this film is a milestone for Asian and Asian-American representation onscreen. Building off the amazing work of Chloe Bennet and Ming-Na Wen on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Simu Liu’s Shang-Chi will be the first Asian-American superhero to exist inside the peripheries of the MCU proper, and the first to get his own solo movie – and that is definitely worth celebrating. There’s no need to pit these characters against each other or hate on any of them, particularly since (if their adorable Twitter interactions are any indication) it seems like Liu would love for Bennet’s Quake to cross over into the MCU at long last.
And on that note, happy birthday to Shang-Chi himself, Simu Liu! He seems like one of the most humble, down-to-earth people working in the MCU today, but he’s going to literally fly onto our screens this September, and I couldn’t be happier for him.
Trailer Rating: 8.9/10