Awkwafina

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

Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) has been living a normal life in San Francisco with his friends including his best friend and co-worker Katy (Awkwafina) but that changes when his father Wenwu (Tony Leung) sends his men after him and pulls Shang-Chi back into the world of the Ten Rings.

I have seen Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings twice now (and there’s a good chance I’ll see it a third time in the cinema) and I really truly love it. While almost naturally there’s a big CGI-heavy showdown at the end, that doesn’t lessen the impact of this film, and as it’s a very CGI-heavy showdown that still puts the focus on the characters and their relationships, it works and is still very enjoyable. Plus, it pulls in elements from Asian culture that we just haven’t seen before in the MCU so it doesn’t feel like the typical end of the world scenario.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a story of a family, and perhaps more than that it’s a love story. But not the kind of love story you’d expect with the superhero lead having a big romance. Here the love story is between Shang-Chi’s parents, Wenwu and Li (Fala Chen), and how their love shaped each other and their children. Throughout the film there’s flashbacks to Shang-Chi’s childhood (played by Jayden Zhang as a child and Arnold Sun as a teenager) to see the events that shaped him into the adult he is now. The way these scenes are interspersed throughout the film always feel natural and are complimenting what’s happening in the present. These scenes, while often more family and relationship focused, are just as compelling as the action sequences that are happening in the present. Ever single flashback feels important and adds something to the characters involved; whether that’s Shang-Chi, Wenwu, Li, or Shang-Chi’s sister, Xialing (played by Meng’er Zhang as an adult, Elodie Fong as a child and Harmonie He as a teenager).

Having these flashbacks scattered through the film means that the main action and story of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings kicks in very quickly. After a prologue narrated by Li (and all in Mandarin) telling the backstory of Wenwu, the ten rings he possesses, and how the two of them met and fell in love, it’s straight into the everyday life of Shang-Chi and Katy and how they both quickly get caught up in Wenwu’s schemes. The first action sequence is set on a moving bus and straightaway you can tell that this is a film made by people who know how to shoot fight and stunt sequences – and it’s clear that Simu Liu (like other cast members) put in many hours of stunt and fight training because it’s easy to believe that he knows martial arts.

All the hand-to-hand fights are just thrilling to watch and the way they’re choreographed often shows little character moments in them. Character’s fighting styles aren’t all the same and Shang-Chi incorporating a headbutt (something far more American than anything his father would’ve taught him) into a fight is a fun little moment.

The MCU often has a problem with its villains; namely that they’re pretty generic and forgettable. The two main exceptions to this rule are Thanos and Loki and now there’s a third with Wenwu. He is a villain, he is a murderer and a conqueror, but he can love though over time it becomes twisted into something else. He is an understandable and complex villain and his connections to Shang-Chi and Xialing makes him compelling and the conflict between the hero and villain that more impactful.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is one of my new favourite MCU movies and is definitely one of the great origin stories of the MCU. It’s fun and vibrant with great characters, fights and visuals and overall, it feels like a breath of fresh air in the MCU. Also, I appreciated how the comedic moments were handled throughout the film. Katy is the main comedic character but her jokes and comments are never to the detriment to a dramatic or sombre moment. Plus, she feels like a real character by actually having her own family connections and skills that can aid the hero. I honestly did not expect to love this film as much as I did and I can’t wait for Shang-Chi and to meet other characters in this universe because i feel his dynamic with them would be so interesting. 5/5.

Also got to give a shout out to whoever put together the trailer for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. There is really very little of the movie in the trailer, and of the third act especially. In some ways it’s good as there were so many surprises to be had when watching the film but in others it’s not as I thought the trailer was fine but it didn’t make me desperate to see the film. But maybe that was for the best as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has far surpassed any expectations I may have had.

REVIEW: Paradise Hills (2019)

Uma (Emma Roberts) wakes up in Paradise Hills, an apparently idyllic reform school for wealthy young ladies, but things are not what they seem.

Honestly, I was not sure what to make of Paradise Hills to begin with, but I slowly got captivated by the whole look of the film and that unsettling feeling that something isn’t quite right at Paradise Hills.

Uma is strong-willed and opinionated – two reasons why she was sent to Paradise Hills as it’s where she can learn to become a better version of herself aka the version that her mother wants. At Paradise Hills she meets other girls who are in a similar position to her. Chloe (Danielle Macdonald), Yu (Awkwafina) and Amarna (Eiza González) are all there for different reasons but they are also all content with who they are.

The relationship that forms between them all is one of love and support. They are solid friends who look out for and help one another. The moments there are tension between them are not because of what one girl is thinking, but because of the situation they’re in and it’s circumstances that threaten to tear them apart.

There’s an other worldly beauty to Paradise Hills thanks to the art department. The production design, the hair, the make up and costumes makes Paradise Hills (the place) seem so far removed from what we know. It often gives off a twisted Alice in Wonderland vibe, especially with all the roses everywhere and the obsession with mirrors. To carry on the Alice in Wonderland analogy, The Duchess (Milla Jovovich), who runs Paradise Hills, almost fills the Red Queen role. She’s in control of everything, though she can lose her cool in a spectacular fashion, she’s obsessed with roses and she’s the only person in Paradise Hills whose clothes are colourful, making her stand out from everyone else. Uma and the other girls always wear white dresses while the male servants, gardeners and attendants are also in white.

The beautiful costumes and location is a harsh juxtaposition to the thoughts and emotions Uma is going through. Paradise Hills is perfection and that’s what Uma is supposed to be learning to be, but she doesn’t want to. She knows who she is, who she loves, and she doesn’t want to change anything about herself.

Paradise Hills is so much more than I thought it’d be. The theme of women supporting women is so strong, as is the message that people (especially young women) should be happy with who they are no matter what pressures from family or society they might face. The whole production is stunning and that makes the dark underbelly of what’s really happening at Paradise Hills all the more affecting. 4/5.

REVIEW: Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Rachel (Constance Wu) and Nick (Henry Golding) have been dating for over a year, and when it’s Nick’s best friend Colin’s (Chris Pang) wedding in Singapore, it’s the perfect chance for Rachel to meet Nick’s family and friends – what she doesn’t expect is for them all to be super rich and famous!

Based on the book of the same name by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic comedy that’s big, bright and full of over the top characters and settings, and somehow it all works.

Singapore with all its people, buildings and food looks stunning. The film captures the extravagance of these characters lives, showing all the glitz and glamour but still being able to shine light, however briefly, on the characters more hidden sides – one of Nick’s cousins Astrid (Gemma Chan) has a subplot with her dissatisfied husband (Pierre Png) that’s heart-breaking.

Rachel and Nick are a believable couple as their chemistry is fantastic and they actually talk about the problems they encounter – though both of them don’t always understand what the other could face because of their relationship. Rachel’s main adversary is Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), Nick’s glamourous and reserved mother. She wants the best for her son and see’s Rachel as an outsider and a distraction, both because of Rachel’s status in class, and the fact she grew up in America. As Eleanor’s disapproval becomes more obvious, Rachel must decide whether to fight or give in to the almost insurmountable pressures she and Nick are under. While Eleanor is the villain to Rachel’s hero, the film never fully villainises her, instead being sure to show Eleanor’s side to things and making her sympathetic in her own way.

The whole cast is brilliant and while the romance is the main focus, the film showcases some brilliant relationships between women. There’s Rachel and her best friend from university Peik Lin (Awkwafina) who is hilarious and supportive, Astrid is one of the few members of her family to fully accept and like Rachel straight away, and Rachel and mother (Kheng Hua Tan) have one of the best mother-daughter relationships, and while her mother is from China, even she doesn’t quite get all the ins and outs of high Singapore society.

Crazy Rich Asians is a funny, romantic film with engaging characters you root for. Everything works, the opulence, the music and the cast. It’s a delightful film that’s pure escapism and there’s nothing wrong with that. 5/5.

You can read my review of the book here.

REVIEW: Ocean’s 8 (2018)

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) gathers a crew to pull off the impossible, stealing a $150 million necklace from around actress Daphne Kluger’s (Anne Hathaway) neck at New York City’s Met Gala.

Ocean’s 8 is a spin-off from the George Clooney-starring Ocean’s movies from the 2000’s. Besides from a small cameo near the beginning of the film, which is a nice touch rather than feeling desperate, Ocean’s 8 is its own thing and stands on its own merit.

There’s something immensely satisfying watching women who are good at what they do, go and get the job done. There’s all the usual types of characters when it comes to a heist film. Lou (Cate Blanchett) is Debbie’s right-hand woman, Tammy (Sarah Paulson), is a fence, Rose (Helena Bonham Carter) is the one who has to stick close to their target, Amita (Mindy Kaling) is the forger, Nine Ball (Rihanna) is the hacker, and Constance (Awkwafina) is a pick-pocket. They are all so great in their roles and the chemistry between them all is wonderful too. I have to say Hathaway is the standout when it comes to the cast’s performances. She’s the epitome of a diva here, funny, outlandish and deceptively smart too.

The heist itself is clever and manages to fool the target and the audience though Ocean’s 8 lacks the style seen in previous Ocean’s movies. That being said, the costumes more than make up for that – all these women look fabulous. The soundtrack is also pretty great too.

Ocean’s 8 is an entertaining heist film with characters you root for. I really hope there’s a sequel because I’d love to see these women steal more amazing and priceless stuff. 4/5.