Movie Review: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)


Title: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Release Date: September 3, 2021
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

Shaun (Simu Liu) a Chinese immigrant in San Francisco, working as a valet and spending nights out at karaoke with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina, previously in The Farewell). When they are attacked on a city bus and Shaun shows considerable martial arts skill in their defense, he admits that his real name is Shang-Chi and he comes from a complex family background in China. His father Wenwu (Tony Leung, previously in In the Mood for Love) gained immortality through the use of a magical bracelets called the Ten Rings, and used the power they give to create an international crime syndicate also called the Ten Rings.  His mother Ying Li (Fala Chen) was the guardian of a magical village of Ta Lo which is home to many mythical beasts. The murder of Ying Li drove Wenwu back into crime and eventually into the mad belief that Ying Li is being held captive in Ta Lo.  In order to stop Wenwu from destroying Ta Lo, Shaun and Katy must first reunited with his estranged sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) in Macau.

As far as origin stories goes, this movie does a great job at efficiency with the backstories of Shaun, Xialing, Ying Li, and Wenwu filled in by a short prelude and many flashbacks that fit smoothly in to the flow of the movie.  There are a lot of great martial arts sequences, some well-timed humor (mostly from Awkwafina), and some imaginative wonders rooted in Chinese folklore.  A number of small parts and cameos of familiar characters include Wong (Benedict Wong) from Doctor Strange and Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley) from Iron Man 3, who provides some more humor.

I knew nothing of Shang-Chi going into the movie, but I’ve read that the original Marvel comics used a lot of ethnic stereotypes.  The film has people from Asia and of Asian heritage working on both sides of the camera, and does a great job at winding Chinese folklore into a modern superhero action film. I’d say the biggest flaw is that Xialing, who is constantly said to be in Shang-Chi’s shadow in the movie, is ironically given very little character development in the movie.  A post-credit scene indicates that Marvel has plans for Xialing in future films, though.  Other than that though, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is an excellent Marvel movie with a great cast, story, and effects.  It’s also Awkwafina’s second movie of the year featuring dragons after Raya and the Last Dragon, which makes for an interesting footnote.

Rating: ***1/2

MASTER LIST OF MCU REVIEWS

 

Recent Movie Marathon: The Farewell (2019)


Happy New Year! Today I’ll be sharing my reviews of a binge watch of recent films (released within the past 18 months or so)!

Title: The Farewell
Release Date: July 12, 2019
Director: Lulu Wang
Production Company: Ray Productions | Big Beach | Depth of Field | Kindred Spirit
Summary/Review:

The Farewell, titled Don’t Tell Her in Mandarin, is the story of an extended Chinese family who agree not to tell the family matriarch Nai Nai (Zhao Shu-zhen) that she has terminal lung cancer. The movie is told from the point of view Billi (Awkwafina), Nai Nai’s young adult granddaughter who emigrated to New York City with her parents (Tzi Ma and Diana Lin) when she was a child. Instead the family organizes a wedding of Billi’s cousin Hao Hao (Chen Han) and his Japanese fiancée Aiko (Aoi Mizuhara) as an excuse to gather the family together to say goodbye to Nai Nai.

The central tension of the film that the Americanized Billi believes Nai Nai deserves to know the truth about her fate while her parents and uncle (Jiang Yongbo) believe it is the Chinese tradition and collective responsibility of the family to bear the grief (Honestly, I know Irish-Americans who would do the same thing if they could get away from it). Zhao Shu-zhen is terrific as Nai Nai, who seems to be a force of nature and perhaps wiser to things than her family believes, while also showing moments of vulnerability when her illness catches up with her. Awkwafina also puts in an excellent performance as the young person between two cultures. All the performances feel natural and like a real family.

The movie is also beautifully filmed with some clever direction. In one scene Nai Nai and Billi have a meaningful conversation while the wedding couple have a ridiculous photo shoot in the background. The wedding reception scenes are also remarkable with the interaction of guests, karaoke performances, and chanting around a table all wonderfully filmed and intercut. The Farewell is an absolute joy of a movie and perfect reflection of family in all of its idiosyncrasies.

Rating: *****

Book Review: Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman


Author: Mark Salzman
Title: Iron & Silk
Narrator: Barry Carl
Publication Info: Recorded Books, Inc, 1987
Other Books Read by the Same Author: Lying Awake, The Soloist, Lost In Place: Growing Up Absurd in Suburbia, and The Laughing Sutra
Summary/Review:

When I was in high school, Mark Salzman came to speak to members of the National Honors Society (his father worked in development for my school).  I was not a member of the National Honors Society (long story – still bitter), but my English teacher had been at our talk and said he was “wonderful,” and that we should all go down and crash the NHS meeting instead of having English teacher.

I remember entering the library as Salzman was telling an animated story about astronauts that involved him walking across the top of a table.  I enjoyed his stories and his positivie attitude about embracing life, so I got a copy of his memoir Iron & Silk.  It soon became one of my favorite books and for many years I read each new Salzman book as it came out.  Since I’m trying revisit books on my list of Favorite Books of All Time, I figured it was due for a reread.

Mark Salzman grew up in suburban Connecticut and at a young age was drawn to kung fu (more properly termed “wushu”) and from there a more general interest in Chinese culture and language.  Earning a degree in Chinese studies from Yale, Salzman travelled to China in the early 1980s to work as an English teacher for two years at Changsha Medical University. This was at a time when China had been shut off from the United States for decades, so Salzman was among the first Americans to get a taste of everyday life in China.

Much of the book is about the cultural exchange among Salzman and his students and the other faculty.  There are many humorous stories of the differences of expectations in a classroom setting and the different understandings of history from Chinese and Western backgrounds.  Salzman becomes something of a local celebrity for being a tall, blond man who can speak fluent Chinese.  Some of the warmest parts of this book involved a fisherman Salzman meets who is amazed by the foreigner in his midst and basically welcomes him into the family.

Salzman also takes the opportunity to study his own interests including learning Chinese dialects and calligraphy.  The core of the book, though, focuses on the martial arts, as Salzman receives instruction from two different wushu masters whose different styles are the metaphor in the title of the book, iron and silk.  The “iron” teacher was Pan Qingfu, a legendary grandmaster who starred in Shaolin Temple, China’s first blockbuster film released in 1982.

Rereading this as an adult, I’m more aware of the gravity of the stories Salzman’s acquaintances tell of World War II and the Cultural Revolution.  I also notice when Salzman’s biases creep in.  But by and large, this is still the same charming, humorous, and inspiring book I remember reading as a teenager, albeit now it seems more of a relic of the 1980s than current.  I remember also seeing a movie adaptation of this book that somehow included a romance that doesn’t exist in the books, and wasn’t very good, even though Salzman and Pan Qingfu.  So read the book, ignore the movie.

Recommended books: The Silent Traveller in Boston by Chiang Yee, The Roads to Sata by Alan Booth, and An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie
Rating: ****1/2

Podcasts of the Week Ending February 16


There’s a rich crop of podcasts this week!  I wont be posting any podcasts next Saturday, so if you hear any good ones I shouldn’t miss, let me know in the comments.

Throughline :: How The CIA Overthrew Iran’s Democracy In 4 Days

The overlooked history of one of the worst crimes ever committed by the United States government.

Hub History :: Apocalypse on Boston Bay 

The indigenous population of New England suffered significant casualties from epidemics of infectious disease that swept their communities in the 1620.  The colonizing English saw these plagues as the grace of God to their settlement.

Tomorrow Society :: Peggie Farris on 50 Years at Disney and Producing Spaceship Earth

An interview with a remarkable woman who rose from being a ride operator at Disneyland to an influential Imagineer at Disney Parks across the world.

99% Invisible :: National Sword

China has enacted a program to no longer import recycled materials, which means that recycling collected from many US communities no longer is actually being recycled.  This podcasts prods consumers to “reduce and reuse” more than they recycle, but also questions placing the burden on the consumer and suggest industry needs to reduce the material created in the first place.

Smithsonian Sidedoor :: Cheech Marin Gets Antsy

Cheech Marin, famed for starring in stoner comedies, now works to bring attention to Chicano art in galleries and museums.

Planet Money: The Indicator :: The Strike That Changed U.S. Labor

The 1937 General Motors strike presaged a highpoint for union membership in the United States and a period of shared prosperity.  This podcast discusses how we got from there to today with record low union participation.

The Truth :: Meet Cute

A romantic comedy where one the members of the couple dies before the first date.  There’s a lot of clever twists in this story.


Running tally of Podcast of the Week appearances:

Movie Review: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “A” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “A” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Africa: The SerengetiAmerican Experience: Blackout,  and American Experience: Into the Amazon.

Title: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Release Date: April 16, 2012
Director: Alison Klayman
Production Company: United Expression Media
Summary/Review:

The documentary spends some time with the Chinese artists Ai Weiwei in the years between 2009 and 2011.  While Ai is shown supervising the creation of his sculpture by his assistants and attending the openings of installations in various parts of the world, the crux of this film is his activism.  Events covered include his organizing a team to collect the names and birthdates of school children who died in the collapse of substandard buildings in 2008’s Sichuan Earthquake which eventually total over 5000 names he displays on a wall.  He also is depicted being beaten severely by the police in Chengdu when he went there to testify at a fellow activist’s trial.  The Chinese government shuts down his blog and then demolishes his studios in Shanghai.  But Ai persistently attempts to work through the channels of bureaucracy to find justice, where many others would give up as intended by the system.  His family and fellow artists are interviewed and flashbacks through photographs reflect on his time in the New York City art scene in the 1980s.  Near the conclusion of the film, Ai is arrested and held for 81 days with the final scenes depicting him upon his release.  It’s a powerful film statement and surprising for the material captured on film that the Chinese government wouldn’t want people to see.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary: This film shows a good example of the role the artist can play as an activist. Ai Weiwei challenges the government’s lack of transparency through provocation and creates art to memorialize the  children lost in the collapsed schools who would otherwise be anonymous.
If You Like This You Might Also Want To …: See some of my photos from Megacities Asia exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, which includes some works by Ai Weiwei.

Source: I watched this movie on Netflix streaming, and it is also available to Hulu subscribers.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Mulan (1998)


Title: Mulan
Release Date: June 19, 1998
Director: Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

Mulan is Disney’s interpretation of the classic Chinese ballad “Hua Mulan,” where a girl takes her aging father’s place when he’s conscripted to war against the Huns. Mulan is a misfit in her society’s traditional expectations of a woman, but with the help of the dragon Mushu – voiced by Eddie Murphy – she’s able to find her place in the military.The great part is that Mulan is able to use her smarts to figure out clever ways to defeat the Huns in battle and eventually save the Emperor.

The animation style that draws on Chinese watercolor rather than real world appearance is a nice touch.  It does feel that Disney didn’t bring in their Grade A composers for this movie, though, as the musical numbers are a resounding dud. While it’s a simple tale simply told, especially compared to the other Disney movies of the Renaissance era, but it is a decent movie about family, honor, friendship, and the capabilities of women in a patriarchal society.

Rating: ***

Photopost: A Visit to the MFA, part eight


I continued my ongoing quest to visit every gallery in the Museum of Fine Arts by visiting the Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa wings.  It’s unfortunate that the art of the two most populous continents and some diverse island cultures are all clumped together like that, especially since the MFA boasts having a large collection of Asian arts dating back to the earliest days of the museum.  Nevertheless there was quite a delightful collection of works that had me hopping around geographically as well as through time.  One gallery deliberately mixed contemporary and classical Japanese art in a provocative way.

I also took a 3 masterpieces in 30 minutes tour and got to learn about three family portraits from three different artistic styles – Sargent’s The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, a folk art portrait from the 1830s, and Steen’s Twelfth-Night Feast.

After these eight visits, I believe I’ve been to every permanent gallery in the museum.  Of course, art on exhibit is changing all the time, so I’ll have to go back and do it again.  Maybe next time I’ll have a theme like art with families or bridges or pets or something like that.

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