‘Shang-Chi’: Tony Leung’s Compelling Villain Helped Make the Marvel Film a Massive Success

Marvel has quite a few long-awaited projects quickly approaching on the horizon, and fans seem to have recently got an indication that Phase 4 of the MCU is going to be spectacular. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings exploded into theaters on Sept. 3 to both commercial success and critical acclaim. With large theatrical releases still shaky ground for many studios, the film defied all odds with its record-setting success. Simu Liu’s performance as Shang-Chi has many fans thrilled to see him on the MCU’s roster for future releases. But it was the villain rather than the hero who stole the show for many viewers, as Hong Kong film legend Tony Leung gave a compelling and relatable performance as Wenwu rarely seen in MCU antagonists.

‘Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’

The film is the story of the titular Shang Chi, played by Simu Lui, taking on the mantle of a hero despite a reluctance to accept any responsibility in his life in the beginning. The child of an ancient warlord who is empowered by 10 mystical bracelets of unknown origin, he is forced to face the past that he has spent his life running away from.

While the basic setup sounds as if it has all the ingredients of a copy and paste origin story, the film is surprisingly fresh in its delivery. It embraces the classic tropes and formulas of its Marvel predecessors and classics of the Kung Fu genre, but its execution and delivery far exceed some of Marvel’s earlier attempts.

The film explores complex issues about family legacy and how each individual reacts to grief differently. At the forefront of this struggle is Wenwu, Shang-Chi’s father. Due in no small part to Tony Leung’s portrayal of Wenwu as a villain that audiences can really relate to, the movie was a huge success.

A groundbreaking success

Tony Leung Chiu-wai sitting outdoors
Tony Leung Chiu-wai | Nora Tam/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

Shang-Chi was released exclusively in theaters after some initial hesitancy from executives at Disney, as the COVID-19 pandemic was still seen as a serious roadblock to box office success. Whatever doubts there were about the reception the film would receive quickly dissipated though, however, when the film opened to huge box office numbers and tons of praise from film critics.

One critic from the Hindustan Times said: “Tony Leung is the secret weapon in Marvel’s best solo film since Black Panther.” In their breakdown, they praised how Marvel hadn’t strayed too far from familiar ground but that the details and depth of the film had really made it stand out from the pack. “Shang-Chi, although it treads familiar thematic ground, feels positively radical in both its style and texture,” the critic said of how it succeeds where some recent Marvel solo films have fallen a little short.

Success despite hardships

The production of Shang-Chi wasn’t without its hiccups that may have made fans a little nervous along the way. While every film faces challenges, some simple, embarrassing miscommunications on the part of Disney created some huge controversy for the film.

Since Shang-Chi was going to be the company’s first big return to blockbuster cinema after the pandemic without arranging some sort of streaming release alongside the film, executives at the House of Mouse were obviously interested to see how the film performed in its first few weeks in the theaters.

In an investor call in August, Disney CEO Bob Chapek found himself making drama for Shang-Chi when he referred to the film’s theatrical release as “an interesting experiment for us,” according to Insider. As Shang-Chi has been long-awaited by many as the first solo superhero outing with a racial minority hero, some professionals working on the film took particular offense to the use of the term ‘experiment’. Star Simu Liu even steamed at the comment on Twitter, remarking firmly “We are not an experiment.”

The company was quick to clarify that the remarks were regarding its theatrical release, and it was all a misunderstanding. As Disney’s historical record of handling racial minority characters isn’t great though, many fans were still upset over the ordeal.

Fortunately, no production turbulence seems to have disrupted this phenomenal movie. Brilliant performances from both Tony Leung and Simu Liu highlight a film that definitely deserves all the praise that it is getting right now.

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