Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings opened to critical acclaim and commercial success. While it has been praised for its choreography, action sequences, and performances of the leading cast, the real show-stealer is Tony Leung, who plays Wenwu, the film’s villain and leader of the Ten Rings, an underground criminal organization.
In recent years, Marvel has offered up a steady spate of boring bad guys. While Josh Brolin’s Thanos could be menacing at times, his reasons for genocide to bring “balance” despite wielding the Infinity Gauntlet seemed like lazy writing. Black Panther’s Killmonger and Karli Morgenthau (from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier) were comparatively well fleshed out. They both believed in using violence as a means to an end and dismantling corrupt power structures instead of reforming them. Loki, too, was a rather interesting and misunderstood character in the first Thor and Avengers films, but then Marvel decided to give him his show and turn him into an unlikely and sappy hero instead.
But Tony Leung’s Wenwu is a refreshing break from the usual mold because, finally, we have a villain who acts out of love.
Image Credit: Marvel
In the opening sequence, we see Wenwu harness the power of the mystical Ten Rings to conquer nations, topple governments and become the most powerful man on Earth. However, when he tries to find an entrance into Ta Lo, a secret village that is said to be a haven for different mythical beasts, he is bested by the guardian Ying Li, and they fall in love. Li leaves her village to be with Wenwu, who too gives up his Ten Rings, and together they start a family. But eventually, Wenwu’s criminal past catches up with him, and his wife is murdered. When he hears a strange voice that promises back his wife, he decides to use all his powers to set free her spirit, even if it means razing an ancient village to the ground.
Unlike other Marvel villains, Wenwu, despite being insanely powerful, isn’t motivated by world domination or an endless quest for power. All he wants is to be reunited with his wife and family, even if it means killing innocent people in the process. Despite being a strict and abusive father, he realizes his mistake and, in the end, sacrifices himself to protect his son, Shang-Chi. Wenwu’s story is one of heartbreak and tragedy, which Tony Leung portrays with precision, empathy, and a poetic In The Mood For Love energy. At its heart, the film asks the central question: Given the choice, what will we not do to have our loved ones returned to us, safe and alive?
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