BAXTER — “Who are you?” Katy asks of her best friend, Shang-Chi.
That’s a question many moviegoers may be asking as they flocked to see “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” a new superhero movie from Marvel Studios.
The new release playing at the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter and the Sunset Cinema in Jenkins is the latest motion picture set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe populated by The Avengers.
The blockbuster playing only in theaters set a record-breaking $90 million across the four-day weekend, according to Rotten Tomatoes, a review-aggregation website for film and television.
Shang-Chi is a lesser-known comic book character compared to, for example, Spider-Man, Captain America and Iron Man, but the martial arts expert has been around since 1972.
The feature film takes family dysfunction to a whole new level with the father of the titular character attempting to recruit his son into his criminal enterprise — or kill him for resisting.
“I told my men they wouldn’t be able to kill you if they tried. … Glad I was right,” says Xu Wenwu, who brutally trained his son to grow up to become an assassin.
"I told my men they wouldn’t be able to kill you if they tried. … Glad I was right."
— Xu Wenwu, father of Shang-Chi
The two-hour action-fantasy film features special effects galore and truly impressive martial arts-based action sequences in the superhero origins story with a predominantly Asian cast.
Wenwu possesses the Ten Rings, mystical weapons that grant their wearer immortality and seemingly unlimited power, which he uses to amass an army and topple governments.
Legendary award-winning Hong Kong actor Tony Leung plays Wenwu while Simu Liu, a Canadian actor known for the CBC Television sitcom “Kim's Convenience,” plays Wenwu’s son.
Wenwu, an ancient warlord, searches in modern times for Ta Lo, a village concealed in a potentially lethal maze of trees rumored to harbor mythical beasts, to expand his power.
The village is guarded by Ying Li, a woman who proves more than a match for Wenwu in battle, but the combatants eventually fall in love and sire a girl and a boy, the latter being Shang-Chi.
Fast forward several years and Shang-Chi, who goes by his American name, Shaun, is trying to assimilate into American society, on the run from his overbearing father, who has other plans for him and his sister, who likewise has also gone into hiding from the patriarch of the family.
The movie depicts the titular character grappling with universal themes of identity, coming to terms with one’s culture or ethnic background, and finding one’s place in the world.
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” has made headlines as an American major motion picture with an almost entirely Asian cast during a time when hate crimes against Asians in the U.S. are at a historically high due to the divisive rhetoric of the Trump administration.
Liu secured the part of Shang-Chi after he tweeted in December 2018 to ask Marvel for the role when he heard about the movie. He retweeted that original tweet in July 2019 to thank them.
Awkwafina plays Shang-Chi's best friend and potential love interest Katy, who is initially unaware of Shang-Chi’s tortured past, and legendary Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh plays Jiang Nan, Shang-Chi’s aunt, in the two-hour film that is rated PG-13.
Audiences may remember Yeoh as a Chinese secret agent co-starring in “Tomorrow Never Dies,” a 1997 James Bond film featuring Pierce Brosnan, or the 2000 martial arts movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” which became a cultural cinematic touchstone.
Moviegoers may also recognize the up-and-coming Chinese-American actress Awkwafina as the dragon in the Walt Disney Animation Studios picture “Raya and the Last Dragon,” which was released earlier this year, because of her unmistakable raspy voice and East Coast delivery.
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” currently holds an 83% approval rating among critics and a 96% approval rating among audiences at Rotten Tomatoes.
The RottenTomatoes.com audience says: “‘Shang-Chi’ covers new cultural ground for the MCU without losing any of the action, comedy, and emotion Marvel's movies are known for.”