Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (4K UHD Review)
DirectorDestin Daniel Cretton
Release Date(s)2021 (November 30, 2021)
Studio(s)Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (Walt Disney Pictures)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C+
[Editor’s Note: As usual, this Disney/Marvel title is not available for pre-order on Amazon, but we expect it to become available sometime during the week of street date.]
Based loosely on the Marvel Comics character Shang-Chi, Destin Daniel Cretton’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings tells the story of a young Chinese boy of the same name, who discovers that his father, Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung), is a villain—wielder of the mythical Ten Rings—which he’s used to acquire and maintain power for a thousand years. To break from his father’s dark path, Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) runs away from home, changes his name to Shaun, and settles in San Francisco, where he attends high school, befriends a girl named Katy (Awkwafina), and lives the life of a normal teenager. Unfortunately, he was forced to leave his sister (Xialing, played by Meng’er Zhang) behind in the process. But “Shaun” soon learns that the past never stays buried, when his father sends minions to bring Shang-Chi and his sister home. It seems that he’s heard the voice of his late wife, Ying Li (Fala Chen), calling out to him. Though she died when Shang-Chi and Xialing were children, Ying Li was one of the mythical guardians of Ta Lo, a village that protects the gate to the Underworld. Wenwu believes that his wife is still alive and is being held captive in Ta Lo to prevent them from being together. But the truth turns out to be far more complicated, setting Shang-Chi and Xialing on a collision course with both their father… and their own destiny.
Once again, Marvel Studios must be commended for finding yet another compelling variation on the superhero origin story. Simu Li is both believable in the title role and almost effortlessly likable (as anyone who’s seen him in Kim’s Convenience will already know). The casting of Awkwafina works well here too, and the film is elevated by the presence of Leung (a frequent Wong Kar-wai collaborator), as well as Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Ben Kingsley (who reprises his role as Trevor Slattery from Iron Man 3). Marvel favorite Benedict Wong adds further connective tissue to the MCU at large. And the film’s production design, wuxia-inspired stuntwork, and visual effects are first-rate. But it’s the way this film reinvents the character of Shang-Chi that’s perhaps most impressive here. As he originally appeared in the pages of Marvel Comics in the 1970s and 80s, Shang-Chi was a pretty stock martial arts stereotype, whose father was none other than Fu Manchu. By updating both Shang-Chi and his father, the filmmakers have not only avoided unfortunate racial clichés, they’ve opened a doorway for Asian MCU fans (in much the way that Black Panther did for Black fans) and created a compelling father-and-son story to boot. Shang-Chi is engaging and entertaining from start to finish.
Shang-Chi was captured digitally by cinematographer Bill Pope (Army of Darkness, The Matrix 2 & 3, Alita: Battle Angel) in 4.5K in the ARRIRAW codec using Arri Alexa LF IMAX and Mini LF IMAX cameras, with Panavision Primo and Sphero 65 lenses, and was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate at both the 1.90 IMAX aspect ratio and also 2.39:1. Unfortunately, while the 1.90 presentation has recently been made available on Disney+, the physical 4K Ultra HD release is limited to 2.39:1. The good news is that it still looks terrific, with ample and clean detailing, and a much higher data rate than you’ll experience via streaming. Texturing is nicely refined, proof of the notion that better pixels captured results in better pixels in the final presentation, regardless of resolution. The star of this show, however is the HDR grade (available in HDR10 only), which renders inky blacks, luminous highlights, and wonderfully vivid and refined coloring in between. An early highlight is Wenwu’s battle with Ying Li, which exhibits plenty of detail in the bamboo forest surroundings and a lush, natural palette. Meanwhile, Xialing’s underground fight club in Macau bursts with vibrant hues, and the film’s climactic battle dazzles from start to finish. This is a beautiful—if not quite reference quality—image. (But it gets a “-” for lacking the IMAX framing on disc.)
Meanwhile, the 4K’s English Dolby Atmos mix delivers a pretty great (if again, not quite reference quality) surround sound experience, that’s better than both the Blu-ray version’s DTS-HD Master Audio mix and the more compressed Disney+ Atmos experience. Like Disney’s recent 4K UHD of Black Widow (reviewed here), this Atmos mix isn’t as hobbled by lackluster bass as the studio’s past UHDs have been. The soundstage is large and immersive, with plenty of atmospherics, and abundant and aggressive movement in both the overhead and surround channels. Dialogue is clean and well-positioned, and the score (by Joel P. West) is soulful and expressive. Additional sound options include English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, and Spanish 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus, with optional subtitles available in English for the Hearing Impaired, French, and Spanish.
As usual, there are no extras on Disney’s 4K release, but the package includes the film in 1080p HD on a Blu-ray as well, and that disc adds the following special features:
- Audio Commentary by Destin Daniel Cretton and Dave Callaham
- Building a Legacy (HD – 8:53)
- Family Ties (HD – 7:28)
- Gag Reel (HD – 2:10)
- Deleted Scenes (HD – 11 scenes – 14:23 in all)
It’s not a lot of content to be sure, but it’s all solid. There are some worthy deleted scenes that, while clearly cut for good reason, contain interesting character moments. But the highlight of this material is something of a rarity on Marvel Blu-rays—a feature-length commentary with the director and co/writer. The pair has fun with the fact that it’s their first such commentary, but go on to provide interesting insights on the film and their updated take on the characters. As usual, a Movies Anywhere Digital code is also included on a paper insert in the packaging.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is one of the better Marvel films to come along since the Infinity Saga ended. And if it eventually breaks down—as these films so often do—into video game-style, army vs. army melees involving magical or mutant powers, well… the characters are still pretty great and the story up until that point is pretty enjoyable too. Recommended.
- Bill Hunt
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