It’s been almost two years since Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu, who achieved initial fame in the beloved CBC sitcom Kim’s Convenience, was cast as the titular character in the Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, but following a production that was prolonged by the pandemic, fans have finally been treated to its first official trailer.
My first thought when I watched the trailer was simply “Wow!” My second thought, brief as it was, contemplated Marvel’s increasing fascination with fight scenes in public transport; or more specifically, busses. Much like the trailer for Captain Marvel, Shang-Chi showcases an intense fight scene in a bus, yet this time around the choreography and camerawork look to be even more refined, using cuts that appear to be longer than what is found in the average action scene, which I always appreciate.
In fact, the cinematography was one of standouts of the trailer. As the John Wick franchise has proven in recent years, less cuts and more action in a single shot is a powerful technique in any action director’s arsenal, but it is incredibly tricky to pull off, demanding perfection in its execution. It should come as no surprise, then, that director Daniel Destin Cretton chose Bill Pope as his cinematographer, a legend of the trade whose credits include The Matrix trilogy, a bunch of Sam Raimi films, from Darkman and Army of Darkness to the Dark-less Spider-Man 2 (and Spider-Man 3, but let’s not ruin the mood), and has been Edgar Wright’s go-to cinematographer since 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. My point is, the guy really knows how to shoot action, and the trailer is looking to be another visual knockout by Pope.
Pope’s hiring is also a testament to Shang-Chi’s visionary throughline from the early stages. Disney, and by that account Marvel, have acknowledged their concerted effort in recent years to produce more ethnically diverse features, and after the backlash of Iron Fist, which was a poorly made TV show featuring yet another ‘white saviour’ figure, Marvel were adamant on hiring an actor of Asian descent for Shang-Chi…and someone who, unlike Finn Jones, actually knows how to fight!
While Cretton has acknowledged Simu Liu’s comedic and charismatic chops helped him lock down the role, his proven fighting skills were essential, especially considering footage from the trailer pays clear homage to the unmistakable wushu cinematic style found in the likes of Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers. Given that Pope’s work on The Matrix films with the Wachowskis was heavily influenced by Hong Kong cinema, he is almost inarguably the best cinematographer in Hollywood to help capture the intended wushu-centric action. And the trailer, from what we have seen, surely proves that.
While it can be a tad more complicated when it comes to dissecting performances within a trailer, it must be said that Liu very much looks the part, unquestionably put in the work required to capture such hard-hitting action. He even got his own shirtless moment, which by now is pretty much a rite of passage for any incoming MCU leading-man; seriously, that goes for every first instalment featuring a male lead bar Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk…even Doctor Strange flashed us his Cumber-pecks!
Meanwhile, the mononymous Awkwafina headlines the supporting cast as Shang-Chi’s best friend and potential love interest Katy, but thankfully they won’t leave her comedic talents rest on their laurels as she will also double as the primary source of comic relief. There are also some major character reveals, such as the curiously attired Death Dealer and the aptly named Razor Fist (you literally cannot miss him), but the most menacing presence throughout is Tony Leung’s Wenwu, who goes by the moniker of the Mandarin and is Shang-Chi’s father. Villains have been a noticeably hit or miss affair in the MCU, but an actor of Leung’s calibre will surely not be squandered by Cretton, especially given that his character’s motivations run much deeper than most Marvel villain thus far, something they clearly strive to instil in the trailer.
While it is more than capable of slipping up, there is an inherent quality to be found in any film Marvel produces, whether you ultimately liked it or not. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is bringing the MCU into brave, bold new territory, and what is abundantly clear from the trailer is that super-producer Kevin Feige and Marvel seem to be doing it in style once again. Trailers can be misleading and are not always indicative of the final result, but if this trailer is anything to go by, then Marvel could have another critical and commercial megahit on their hands.