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How Shang-Chi Creates the MCUs First Actual Action Star

Simu Lius stunt background is a small thing that makes a multiverse-sized difference.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is made up of action movies that dont create action stars. They create MCU stars. A top-billed Marvel role launches you into another stratosphere, where the MCU of it all is so powerful it consumes the other parts of your stardom, and any future indie projects or out-of-the-box experiments will, on some level, garner the reaction “oh neat, Captain America is playing a lawyer.” The set-pieces of any given Marvel movie are a second thought compared to its personality; the action is just lights and noise in between iconic character moments. The franchises biggest, most memorable set-piece, the final battle of Avengers: Endgame, is weightless, digitally-rendered dishwater when watched in a vacuum, but a decade of audience investment in these performances, Alan Silvestris rousing score, and several dozen pitch-perfect individual character beats turned it into an action scene for the ages. But were living in a post-Endgame world, and while Black Widow offered the first tiny hint of MCU action that packs an actual punch, its Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings that just roundhouse-kicked the stereotype into oblivion. Director Destin Daniel Crettons film is the first of the franchise to be an action movie before an MCU movie, and as a result its leading man, Simu Liu, is the franchises first bonafide action star.

There are about a thousand reasons why this is true, but you have to start with one that sounds so simple: Simu Liu actually has a background as a stuntman and physical performer. Its not what he was known for before getting cast in the MCU—thatd be the devastatingly charming sitcom Kims Convenience—but its the most essential part of the package, one that includes experience on the stunt teams of Heroes Reborn, the 2017 action flick Kill Order, and CBS Designated Survivor. Not having to cut a fight scene around Liu is a small thing that solves the biggest obstacle hamstringing MCU action: How do you make your hero look as superhumanly cool as possible without exposing the process? Lius experience radiates outward into every step of the creative process. His casting allows you to comfortably bring in Bill Pope, the cinematographer who cemented Hong Kong-inspired actions place in American genre films with The Matrix, and actually let him have some fun. You can hire Andy Cheng as fight coordinator and the late Brad Allen as supervising stunt coordinator—two members of the legendary Jackie Chan Stunt Team—and actually see their work on screen, fluid, clean, in-camera, and mercifully not shaky-cammed to death. is currently available to watch on: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings streaming free

The result is the first MCU movie thats built around the action and not the other way around. The film is still filled to the brim with MCU hallmarks, including the required incomprehensible third-act CGI soup. (Shang-Chis version at least briefly includes Tony Leung looking tragic and forlorn, one of the most powerful weapons in cinema history.) But take, for example, the runaway bus sequence early in the film. Its probably only (being wildly generous) about 60% practical, but every single digital touch is in service to the choreography. The veritable army of CGI artists and stunt performers involved, the cheeky ways Popes camera is floating through and around the bus, the wonderful comic relief commentary from Zach Cherry, its all big-budget technical wizardry being used to enhance the fight at the center, which is impressive for very basic reasons. A clear sense of space and blocking. A thrilling fluidity; a chaotic elegance. Minimal cuts. Lord, bless the minimal cuts. Its a scene that understands cinemas best fights, even at their most violent, feel more like a dance than a car crash, and this scene literally takes place inside a car crash.

The result is the first MCU movie that’s built around the action and not the other way around. The film is still filled to the brim with MCU hallmarks, including the required incomprehensible third-act CGI soup. (Shang-Chi’s version at least briefly includes Tony Leung looking tragic and forlorn, one of the most powerful weapons in cinema history.) But take, for example, the runaway bus sequence early in the film. It’s probably only (being wildly generous) about 60% practical, but every single digital touch is in service to the choreography. The veritable army of CGI artists and stunt performers involved, the cheeky ways Pope’s camera is floating through and around the bus, the wonderful comic relief commentary from Zach Cherry, it’s all big-budget technical wizardry being used to enhance the fight at the center, which is impressive for very basic reasons. A clear sense of space and blocking. A thrilling fluidity; a chaotic elegance. Minimal cuts. Lord, bless the minimal cuts. It’s a scene that understands cinema’s best fights, even at their most violent, feel more like a dance than a car crash, and this scene literally takes place inside a car crash. best romantic movies: After We Fell streaming free