Tony Leung and Fala Chin

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a very good Marvel movie, which is akin to saying that there is a great new item on the menu at Applebee’s. The movie has compelling performances, humor and heart, and a few of the best action scenes in the MCU. But it’s still a Marvel movie, and saying otherwise feels disingenuous.

Maybe that Shang-Chi is very much a Marvel movie is fine with you. Maybe hearing that it is top-tier MCU is a cause for celebration. I suppose if you only ever eat at Applebee’s you’ll be thrilled to hear that they have a new Asian-inspired menu item and that it’s pretty good. I can’t get excited about it though. I’ve been wrestling with my reaction to this movie for a week, and this is where I land. I don’t want to eat at Applebee’s anymore.

And the thing is, it’s so easy to eat somewhere besides Applebee’s. I’m not trying to dissuade you from watching and enjoying Shang-Chi. I hope you do watch it and enjoy it. Friends of my friends worked on it, and I want the film be successful. I just want you to know that the things about it that are good are even better elsewhere, and they are better with greater intensity.

If you (rightfully) enjoy the movie’s early martial arts scenes, watch Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Jet Li movies. If you want to go the director route, start with John Woo and Jonnie To.

If the seductive fight scene in the film’s prologue peaks your interest, there is a world of Wuxia films for you. Wuxia is a Chinese, epic fantasy genre. Think swords and sorcery but with more interesting blades. You probably already know Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon—though if you don’t, start there; it was made with Western audiences in mind—and then search for a list of great Wuxia films. There are many.

And if you appreciate Shang-Chi’s more-interesting-than-most-MCU-movies friendship and family dynamics, watch writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton’s other films. I especially love I Am Not A Hipster and Short Term 12. There is a lot of I Am Not A Hipster’s DNA in the relational dynamics that make Shang-Chi work as well as it does.

And finally, it you’re like “Tony Leung? I need to see more of that guy.” Yeah, you do. Everyone does. He’s one of the greatest actors of all time. He makes me glad most film production has switched to digital, because I’m always afraid his presence in a movie is going to incinerate the film strip.

The pessimist in me thinks that maybe people don’t want anything besides Applebee’s. The MCU is a product first and foremost, fodder for the latest addition to Shanghai Disneyland. It requires very little from its audience by design. And while it costs the same amount of money of watch it as it does to watch anything else, it certainly costs more intellectually and emotionally to watch any of the other films I recommended above. Pessimistically, I think that people don’t want to be challenged even a little bit. (And honestly, when we’re talking about Hong Kong action films, we’re talking about the smallest amount of challenge. You don’t even have to read subtitles most of the time, because they’ve dubbed the dialogue in English.) I think about Plato’s Cave, and I think about what happens to the guy who comes back into the cave to tell people they are only watching shadows. The pessimist doesn’t even write this review though. The pessimist just sighs and walks away.

But I choose to believe that audiences’ enthusiasm for Shang-Chi’s slight improvement over the MCU norm is evidence that we all want to eat better than Applebee’s, and I’d be doing a disservice to you to not say to you, “You like that? You should really try this other place down the street.” I think I may watch Ashes of Time.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a very good Marvel movie, which is akin to saying that there is a great new item on the menu at Applebee’s. The movie has compelling performances, humor and heart, and a few of the best action scenes in the MCU. But it’s still a Marvel movie, and saying otherwise feels disingenuous.

Maybe that Shang-Chi is very much a Marvel movie is fine with you. Maybe hearing that it is top-tier MCU is a cause for celebration. I suppose if you only ever eat at Applebee’s you’ll be thrilled to hear that they have a new Asian-inspired menu item and that it’s pretty good. I can’t get excited about it though. I’ve been wrestling with my reaction to this movie for a week, and this is where I land. I don’t want to eat at Applebee’s anymore.

And the thing is, it’s so easy to eat somewhere besides Applebee’s. I’m not trying to dissuade you from watching and enjoying Shang-Chi. I hope you do watch it and enjoy it. Friends of my friends worked on it, and I want the film be successful. I just want you to know that the things about it that are good are even better elsewhere, and they are better with greater intensity.

If you (rightfully) enjoy the movie’s early martial arts scenes, watch Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Jet Li movies. If you want to go the director route, start with John Woo and Jonnie To.

If the seductive fight scene in the film’s prologue peaks your interest, there is a world of Wuxia films for you. Wuxia is a Chinese, epic fantasy genre. Think swords and sorcery but with more interesting blades. You probably already know Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon—though if you don’t, start there; it was made with Western audiences in mind—and then search for a list of great Wuxia films. There are many.

And if you appreciate Shang-Chi’s more-interesting-than-most-MCU-movies friendship and family dynamics, watch writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton’s other films. I especially love I Am Not A Hipster and Short Term 12. There is a lot of I Am Not A Hipster’s DNA in the relational dynamics that make Shang-Chi work as well as it does.

And finally, it you’re like “Tony Leung? I need to see more of that guy.” Yeah, you do. Everyone does. He’s one of the greatest actors of all time. He makes me glad most film production has switched to digital, because I’m always afraid his presence in a movie is going to incinerate the film strip.

The pessimist in me thinks that maybe people don’t want anything besides Applebee’s. The MCU is a product first and foremost, fodder for the latest addition to Shanghai Disneyland. It requires very little from its audience by design. And while it costs the same amount of money of watch it as it does to watch anything else, it certainly costs more intellectually and emotionally to watch any of the other films I recommended above. Pessimistically, I think that people don’t want to be challenged even a little bit. (And honestly, when we’re talking about Hong Kong action films, we’re talking about the smallest amount of challenge. You don’t even have to read subtitles most of the time, because they’ve dubbed the dialogue in English.) I think about Plato’s Cave, and I think about what happens to the guy who comes back into the cave to tell people they are only watching shadows. The pessimist doesn’t even write this review though. The pessimist just sighs and walks away.

But I choose to believe that audiences’ enthusiasm for Shang-Chi’s slight improvement over the MCU norm is evidence that we all want to eat better than Applebee’s, and I’d be doing a disservice to you to not say to you, “You like that? You should really try this other place down the street.” I think I may watch Ashes of Time.

Portrait of Fuller Seminary alum Elijah Davidson

Elijah Davidson is Co-Director of Brehm Film and Senior Film Critic. Find more of his work at elijahdavidson.com.

The Green Knight is the old tale told rather straight with a gothic sensibility, meaning there are no contemporary action theatrics to see here, just weird fantasy stuff.