By Annilee Hampton
“Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” Marvel’s first film with an Asian lead, was finally released on Sept. 3 after many delays, receiving positive reviews and an incredible box office turnout.
Leading up to its release date, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” already had an uphill battle to fight. The film was originally scheduled to release on Feb. 12, 2021, which happened to coincide with Chinese New Year. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the film’s release date was shifted to May 7, then to July 9, and finally to its final Sept. 3 release date when “Black Widow” took over the previous date. Unlike “Black Widow,” which was released simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access, “Shang-Chi” had a 45-day exclusive theatrical release.
In August 2021, Disney CEO Bob Chapek stated that the film would remain in theaters despite the rise of the delta variant, saying that it would be an “interesting experiment” for the company to continue to evaluate its release strategy moving forwards. Simu Liu, who plays the titular character, responded to this comment with a Tweet saying “We are not an experiment. We are the underdog; the underestimated. We are the ceiling-breakers. We are the celebration of culture and joy that will persevere after an embattled year. We are the surprise. I’m fired the f**k up to make history on September 3rd; JOIN US.”
Liu’s prediction was correct: “Shang-Chi” did in fact make history. The film made $94 million domestically during its opening weekend, surpassing 2007’s “Halloween” to break the box-office record for Labor Day weekend. During its second weekend, its earnings declined by only 2.1 percent. In comparison, “F9,” which was released in June and was also a theatrical exclusive, declined by 43.8% over its second weekend.
In addition, the film was incredibly successful amongst both critics and audiences, with an audience score of 98% and a critic score of 92% — placing it in the top five for the Marvel Cinematic Universe — on Rotten Tomatoes. The fight scenes and choreography were some of the most praised elements of the film, with Laura Sirikul of Empire calling it the best yet in the MCU and describing it as “hypnotic” and “mesmerizing.” The cast’s performance was also applauded, with Liu as well as Tony Leung being mentioned as standouts. Angie Han from The Hollywood Reporter calls Leung’s Wenwu, Shang-Chi’s grieving father, “a supervillain with a soul,” praising his sincere performance.
The film has also been acclaimed for its Asian representation. After 23 movies, Shang-Chi is the MCU’s first Asian protagonist. The representation offered in the film has been positively compared to that which “Black Panther” gave Black audiences in 2018 by critics such as Variety’s Peter Debruge. It is notable that “Shang-Chi” begins with a character narrating in subtitled Chinese, with nearly half of the rest of the film being in the same language. It is like nothing Marvel has ever done before, which, in this case, is likely a positive attribute. Nick Allen of RogerEbert.com puts it best when he says, “This movie is not an experiment for Marvel and Disney. It is a promising template for how they can get it right again.”