Paulie’s Perspective: Shang-Chi (2021) Review

Dir: Destin Daniel Cretton

Writers: Destin Daniel Cretton; Dave Callaham; Andrew Lanham

Starring: Sim Liu; Awkwafina; Tony Chiu-Wai Leung; Michelle Yeoh

Marvel Studios

Born and raised in Maui, Hawaii,  Destin Daniel Cretton is a Japanese-American known for writing / directing his own projects. He started doing shorts and grew to bigger projects from there. He has been working with Brie Larson since 2013 with his feature, Short Term 12, which won some festivals. So he was kind of grandfathered into the Marvel Universe, just as Samuel L Jackson fathered in Brie Larson. 

Shang-Chi had a huge task to fill, and that was telling backstory for 3 plot lines while continuing to tell the main story. It had to explain the history of the 10 rings, the history of the family and the history of the town of Tai-Lo, all while keeping the main story of Shang-Chi going. That’s not easy to do, oh yea, and plus make it interesting so we don’t get bored and fall asleep in our popcorn. 

Because Marvel chose Destin to do this film, his writing abilities came into play here, big time. He was able to interweave all that exposition and do it in a way that it was actually interesting. Awkwafina, the current comedic flare of the day, was able to do some dramatic scenes with no problem, and didn’t make it awkward, which is good. Her presence in the film made the expositions go a bit faster and made us chuckle along the way. 

Since Destin does come from Asian heritage, I am hoping he was the one who respected the culture of the film so much, and that Chinese was spoken a lot more than usual in American films. I liked that and I think it gave us a respect and a feel for their culture when we had to read the subtitles. It made us feel more like an outsider and made the characters and their family seem closer to each other. After all, your family would speak their native language to you normally, wouldn’t they? I know mine did. I didn’t understand a lick of what they were saying, but it bonded them and made them more of a unit. That’s what this film accomplished and I am so glad it did. 

Another thing Destin did as a writer was put a thread through this film from the MCU universe. Ben Kingsley makes a very good appearance here as Trevor Slattery, the actor who portrayed The Mandarin in Ironman 3. Seeing him again was a great surprise and kind of automatically made these characters and this world legit in the MCU. That and Benedict Wong appearing as Wong, Dr. Strange’s knowledgeable accomplice. Destin made sure this film was wrapped around the MCU, not trying to get inside of it. The writers did a great job grandfathering this installment in, adding a new world, new characters and new villains. 

Shang-Chi did another smart thing and made this film rooted in family, and not saving the world. Much like Marvel did with Black Widow.  Well, they both saved the world, but Shang-Chi was about father and son, and sister, and mother and aunt and all that good stuff. The film values family and characters make decisions based on that, not greed, or saving the world. In fact, Shang-Chi doesn’t really get his powers until the very end, after he proves himself and earns all that power. So this film is definitely on the right track and I’m glad it did so well at the box office. It’s a well-made film  with its heart in the right place. 

Speaking of well made – after watching the mid-credits bonus scene, I stuck around and watched the end credits. There was a total of 11 Visual Effects studios that made this film happen. That is a big project. I remember when it used to be just one or two. Now we are up to 11?!  Incredible. If I had kids I would definitely make them be digital effects artists. Talk about a booming industry. 

11 VFX Houses, and the film looks pretty good. Lots and lots of CGI, obviously, and a good humble story about family losing each other and then finding each other. I liked this thing, I think it came from a good place, Destin Daniel Cretton handled the script very well, doing all those levels of exploitation, creating new characters, not making it too cheesy, putting threads of the MCU around the story and keeping the Asian culture intact.  All this not so easy to do for a big budget box office bonanza, but he handled it and did it very well. Hope to see more of his writing throughout the MCU, I know we’ll see more of Shang-Chi.