Transfiguring Adoption’s Overview:
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) is the 25th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and that doesn’t even count the multiple Disney+ miniseries. But for those of you panicking because you don’t remember every detail of the previous films, don’t worry! Shang-Chi works really well as a standalone film and doesn’t require an in-depth knowledge of the MCU in order to enjoy it. There are however some fun cameos and references to other films that fans will enjoy, as is the Marvel way.
The film features a predominantly Asian cast, which is refreshing as it’s unusual for a superhero flick and a first for the MCU. Shang-Chi gives us a nice shake-up from the normal superhero movie. We still get a great balance of humor, action, and back story/character building that Marvel does so well, but there are also a lot of elements of martial arts movies, which is not something typically seen in the MCU. There are also some fantasy elements, so it’s an interesting blend of genres. However, it’s done in a way that feels well thought-out rather than cobbled together like it couldn’t decide what kind of movie it wanted to be. The film definitely sets up Shang-Chi to be one of the main superheroes of Phase Four and as a big Marvel fan myself, I’m excited to see where they take things from here!
The target age range is definitely older kids and teens, probably 10+ (depending on their maturity level). The PG-13 rating seems to be almost exclusively for violence and thematic content. Something else to bear in mind if watching with younger children or non-readers is that the entire opening sequence as well as a number of key dialogue moments throughout the film are spoken in Chinese with English subtitles. Also, given the amount of trauma Shang Chi and Xialing are dealing with (as seen in flashbacks throughout the movie) it’s one that you should strongly consider pre-screening before taking children or even teens with trauma backgrounds to go see.
** Spoilers Could Be Ahead **
How Is This Relevant To Adoption & Foster Care?
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) does not directly relate to foster care or adoption but does have a lot of themes that may be relevant. The title character Shaun/Shang-Chi lost his mother when he was very young and was brought up by his abusive father and is trained to be an assassin from a young age. He runs away when he is 14 but leaves behind his younger sister, something he feels guilty about. The movie follows his journey as he is forced to confront his past. Eventually he is able to work through some of his trauma and reconcile his past and biological family ties with his new life and found family and embrace his powers. Children who have experienced abusive family members or caregiver and sibling loss are likely to relate strongly to Shang-Chi’s experiences. These themes of confronting past trauma in order to heal, dealing with loss and grief, and found family are all things that children who have experienced trauma can relate to.
- Working Through Past Trauma to Create a Better Future
When he was 14 Shang-Chi was sent on an assassination mission and after he completed his mission, he chose not to return home to his abusive father and working as part of a terrorist organization. Instead, he changed his name to Shaun and ended up forming an incredibly close friendship with Katy and working as a hotel valet. Shaun wanted to escape his past and not be the person his father was trying to force him to be and this is something we see him struggle with throughout the film. In the end he’s able to combine the power of his father and gentle strength of his mother and find his own path that embraces his past and who he is but also allows him to make more positive choices. We learn that his father went on a similar journey: after meeting Li he gave up the Ten Rings and his power to live a peaceful life with his family, saying that Li had given him the hope that he could be a different man than he had been for the past 1000 years. However, after her death he was crippled with grief and guilt that he hadn’t been able to protect her and went back to his old life. This can be a great opportunity to compare their two journeys and what made Shang-Chi successful when his father wasn’t. Most children who have experienced trauma have things in their past they wish weren’t a part of them. But ignoring or running away from those things, while successful in the short term, isn’t a long-term solution. Rather than running away they need to confront and embrace their past in order to process their trauma and decide what they want their future to look like, just as Shang-Chi had to return home and face those parts of his childhood he was trying to push away before he could fully embrace his powers and make the life he wanted for himself.
- Family is more than just Blood
After Shang-Chi ran away, he changed his name to Shaun and lived in San Francisco, building a new life for himself away from his father and the terrorist organization he runs. Along the way he met Katy, his best friend and found family. We see scenes of Shaun spending time with Katy’s family and he’s clearly very close with them. When he has to return home to deal with his sister and father Katy comes with him, despite finding out that Shaun had been lying to her about his past. She stands by his side even when that means traveling to another realm and facing a battle and monsters. Shang-Chi also chooses to protect and fight for Katy rather than just siding with his father despite the latter’s insistence of putting his ‘family’ aka ‘blood’ first. This can be a great way to talk about who’s important in your kiddo’s life — likely a combination of birth family, foster/adoptive family, and friends.
- Dealing with Loss/Grief
The movie shows a lot of unhealthy ways to deal with grief and loss, but can still be a great starting point for opening up a conversation and talking about feelings your kiddos have around their own losses. After Shang-Chi’s mother died, his father got lost in grief, blaming himself for her death. As a result, he went back to being the assassin he used to be and running the Ten Rings terrorist organization. He also turned abusive towards both of his children – training Shang-Chi to be an assassin and refusing to acknowledge Xialing because she reminded him of his lost wife. Later, he is driven to madness by the Creature of Darkness because it is able to convince him he hears his deceased wife’s voice and he is so desperate to see her again that he rushes into a situation that endangers the lives of many around him. Shang-Chi ran away from his family after being forced to be an assassin, which was understandable in the circumstances but also not the healthiest way to process his trauma and his past eventually came back to haunt him until he is able to confront and deal with it. However, this did allow him some time to engage in healthy relationships and when he did return home, he was in a better place to process his trauma and had the support of his found family (Katy) to help him. The movie also shows several different rituals for honoring lost loved ones – Katy’s family buys the grandfather’s favorite foods and items to give to him during the Day of the Dead celebration. There is a shrine for Li that Xialing and Shang-Chi visit both at their family home and at their aunt’s home in Ta Lo. Finally, at the end of the movie there is a lantern festival in Ta Lo where paper lanterns are floated down the river in honor of all those who were lost in the battle.
- Scenes of War
In the opening sequence we learn the history of Wenwu and The Ten Rings organization where there are a number of scenes of war shown. There is also a fairly epic final battle in the climax of the film as the villagers of Ta Lo fight first the Ten Rings soldiers and then the creatures of darkness that attack.
- Terrorist Organization
There are frequent mentions of The Ten Rings and its role as a terrorist organization including showing some footage of bombings and other terrorist acts. There are also several scenes depicting military-style training of soldiers. These mentions and depictions of terrorist activity may be upsetting to refugee children or those who have experienced trauma as the result of fleeing war or other acts of terrorism.
- Parent Loss
We learn through a series of flashbacks that Shang-Chi’s mother died when he was seven. And she didn’t just die, but was brutally murdered while he watched and he was the first one to see her lifeless body. For children who have lost a parent, these are likely to be very painful scenes to watch. Later, Wenwu is also killed in battle by the Creature of Darkness, just when it seems like he and Shang-Chi might be able to find a healthier relationship.
- Abusive Father
After their mother passed away, Shang-Chi and Xialing’s father was lost in grief and as a result became a very abusive person towards them. He forced Shang-Chi to train as an assassin from a young age and there are scenes of him punching things until his hands bleed. We don’t see his father personally strike him as a child, but we see him punished by others during training and his father sends a team of men to hunt him down and attempt to kill him, though he is an adult at this point. He also uses manipulative tactics to convince Shang-Chi to do his bidding, including grooming him to seek revenge, especially on those who killed his mother. Xialing also talks of the abuse she suffered and that her father hated to look at her because she reminded him of her mother, and that the way she survived growing up was to be quiet and hope he forgot she was there, indicating severe neglect. In the final battle scenes between Shang-Chi and Wenwu, Wenwu is verbally abusive, stating that Shang-Chi is responsible for his mother’s death because he was there and just watched but did not try to help her (despite the fact that he was a young child at the time).
- Child Forced into Combat/Killing
Shang-Chi was forced to train with the Ten Rings assassins after his mother’s death (he was only seven years old at the time). His father also killed men in front of him while he watched, saying things like “Don’t you want to help me?”. Shang-Chi was sent on his first assassination mission when he was 14 years old. While this goes along with the above-mentioned abuse, it felt substantial enough to list as its own entity and may be triggering for children who were encouraged to participate in violent activities by a caregiver or other adult.
While most of the fight scenes feature hand-to-hand combat and martial arts rather than modern weaponry, they are still pervasive and intense. There are also fighting pits where characters fight in order to earn gambling income and violence is glorified. There’s a pretty intense fight scene on a bus when a group of men ambush Shaun and Katy early in the film, as well as numerous other fight scenes during the course of the film.
- Sibling Abandonment
We find out that when Shang-Chi was 14, he was sent on his first ‘hit’ mission and he did not return home after, choosing instead to run away and start a new life. However, in a heartbreaking flashback scene we see his younger sister beg him not to leave her and he promises he’ll be back in a few days. She explains that she waited for him for years, hoping he’d come back like he’d promised but he never did. While Shang-Chi had valid reasons for taking the opportunity to escape his own abuse, it still meant that he left his sister behind to endure it. This is something that will likely be especially triggering if your youth were in a situation where siblings were separated in adoption or foster care, or if they themselves experienced siblings being left in an abusive home after they got out.
- Scene of Near Drowning
At one point during the final battle, Shang-Chi is pushed into the lake and we don’t see him come out again for a long time. Eventually there is another scene where he is shown underwater, struggling, and eventually a dragon comes and pushes him to the surface. Seeing these images of Shang-Chi under water might be triggering for children who have trauma related to water/drowning in their past.
- Scary Soul-eating Creatures
During the final battle, the Creature of Darkness has minions that are small flying beings with strange tentacles. They attack characters on the battlefield and suck out their souls (depicted as rainbow balls of energy), which they then feed to the Creature of Darkness allowing it to grow more powerful. Both the concept and depiction of these creatures is a bit on the creepy side.
About the Author: Jenn Ehlers
Jenn is a central Virginia native who received her BA in Psychology from the University of Virginia in 2012. Since then she has worked for a local mental health agency and the Department of Social Services in various capacities and has been involved in her community’s efforts to create a Trauma Informed Network. Currently Jenn works in vocational rehab and mentors youth in foster care. When she isn’t working, Jenn enjoys writing stories, anything and everything Harry Potter, and spending time with her niece and nephew.
**Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its review to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.