Review: ‘Arthur the King’ (2024), starring Mark Wahlberg, Simu Liu, Juliet Rylance, Nathalie Emmanuel, Ali Suliman, Bear Grylls and Paul Guilfoyle

March 17, 2024

by Carla Hay

Mark Wahlberg in “Arthur the King” (Photo by Carlos Rodriguez/Lionsgate)

“Arthur the King” (2024)

Directed by Simon Cellan Jones

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in 2018, in the Dominican Republic and briefly in the United States, the dramatic film “Arthur the King” (based on the non-fiction book “Arthur: The Dog Who Crossed the Jungle to Find a Home”) features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, Latin, black and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: In 2018, American adventure racer Michael Light comes out of retirement to race with a team in the Adventure Racing World Championship, taking place in the Dominican Republic, and the team has a stray dog who follows them and becomes an unexpected companion.

Culture Audience: “Arthur the King” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Mark Wahlberg and true stories about athletic races and dogs who make a impact on people’s lives.

Ali Suliman, Mark Wahlberg, Nathalie Emmanuel and Simu Liu in “Arthur the King” (Photo by Carlos Rodriguez/Lionsgate)

“Arthur the King” is exactly what it appears to be: an unapologetically sentimental drama about a team learning to work together during a grueling adventure race and the stray dog who becomes the team’s unexpected companion. A movie like “Arthur the King” doesn’t have to be award-worthy to be effective for its intended audience. Although certain things in this movie are completely predictable, what will probably affect viewers the most is knowing that it’s based on a true story. Some parts of the movie were changed to make this a Hollywood version of the story, but the outcome in the movie is true to what happened in real life.

Directed by Simon Cellan Jones and written by Michael Brandt, “Arthur the King” is based on Mikael Lindnord’s 2016 non-fiction book “Arthur: The Dog Who Crossed the Jungle to Find a Home.” The title of this book should tell you that this dog has an extraordinary story. However, the namesake of “Arthur the King” (a terrier mix dog named Arthur) doesn’t get a real storyline until about 50 minutes into this 107-minute movie. Some viewers might be irritated that the movie takes this long to prominently feature the dog in the story.

In real life, Arthur was a stray dog who followed Lindnord (who is Swedish) and his team, as they were competing during the 2014 Adventure Racing World Championship in Ecuador. The dog was sick and injured from abuse because of his rough life on the streets of Ecuador. But remarkably, Arthur trekked across 435 miles over 10 days, in various rugged terrains, to be the team’s companion.

In “Arthur the King,” the film’s main human character was changed to be an American named Michael Light (played by Mark Wahlberg), a professional adventure racer, who meets Arthur while Michael leads a team competing in the 2018 Adventure Racing World Championship in the Dominican Republic. “Arthur the King” was filmed on location in the Dominican Republic. Lindnord was in his late 30s when he met Arthur. Wahlberg was in his early 50s when he made this movie, and he looks his age in his face, although Wahlberg’s younger-looking athletic physique in the movie is not typical of men in their 50s.

The Adventure Racing World Championship is a grueling competition that involves navigation, all-terrain cycling, mountain biking, rope work, climbing, trekking, night running and kayaking. The race is open to adults of all genders and has cash prizes that can range from five figures to low six figures. Teams can choose their own paths and strategies in competing in each stage of the race.

“Arthur the King” begins by showing Michael and his team competing in the 2015 Adventure Racing World Championship in Costa Rica. Michael has done this race several times, but he has never been on a team that came in first place. And it will be no different in 2015. Michael is very hotheaded and stubborn (in other words, a typical character portrayed by Wahlberg), and he doesn’t listen to advice from his equally arrogant team member Leo Sun (played Simu Liu) on which path to take. It’s one of many clashes that Michael and Leo have when they work together.

As a result of Michael’s decision, the team gets stuck in a mud bank and doesn’t even place in the top three in the race. Leo takes a photo of a defeated-looking Michael stuck in the mud during this distrastrous experience. Leo is an avid social media user, so he posts this photo on his Instagram account as a way to shame Michael. The photo goes viral, much to Michael’s embarrassment, although Michael is too proud to admit to most people that he’s embarrassed.

The movie then fast-forwards to 2018. The dog who will be named Arthur is briefly shown living on the streets of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. The movie mentions later that this dog had several injuries from abuse, but fortunately for animal fans, none of this abuse is shown in graphic details in the movie. The dog is seen being shooed away by some people on the streets as the dog looks for food.

In real-life, the dog who portrays Arthur in the movie is named Ukai, who was found at an animal shelter. Ukai had two stunt doubles named Beau and Hunter, but Ukai “performed 90% of the scenes himself,” according the “Arthur the King” production notes. Ukai’s lead trainer is Mathilde De Cagny, who works with Birds and Animals Unlimited in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, in the fictional city of High Springs, Colorado, a brooding Michael is shown moping in his home about how he didn’t come in first place the 2015 Adventure Racing World Championship. After that race, Michael decided to quit being a professional adventure racer to help raise his daughter Ruby (played by Cece Valentina) with his wife Helen (played by Juliet Rylance), another former professional racer who retired to focus on raising a family. Ruby is about 4 or 5 years old in the movie.

As much as Michael loves his family, several things are bothering him. First and foremost, Michael still has the urge to achieve his goal of coming in first place at the Adventure Racing World Championship. Second, he wants to redeem himself from his humiliating loss in the race in 2015. After nearly 20 years of being a professional adventure racer, Michael says to Helen, as he looks at the “stuck in the mud” photo: “This is not the end for me.” And third, Michael wants to gain back the respect of his father Charlie Light (played by Paul Guilfoyle), who has gotten fed up with Michael being an unemployed grouch.

Helen has also gotten tired of hearing Michael’s whining. She’s loving and supportive when she tells him that if he really wants to compete in the Adventure Racing World Championship again, he should do it and find sponsors. That’s all Michael needs to hear to get back in the racing game again.

Michael first travels to Big Sur, California, to reconnect with his former teammate William “Chik” Chikerotis (played by Ali Suliman), whose best team racing skills are in navigating. Chik has a knee injury that prompted him to retire from adventure racing. When Michael finds Chik, after not seeing each other since 2015, Chik is operating a camping business whose clients are mostly spoiled urban dwellers. Michael can see that Chik isn’t happy in this job, so it doesn’t take much to convince Chik to be on Michael’s resurrected team, although Chik is somewhat skeptical that Michael can get sponsors.

Next on Michael’s list in assembling his “dream team” is expert climber Olivia Baker (played by Nathalie Emmanuel), the daughter of a famous climber named Hugo Baker (played by Oscar Best), who is Olivia’s coach. Michael goes to Oahu, Hawaii, to ask Olivia to be on his team. Olivia needs a lot more coaxing because she doesn’t want to go back to adventure racing. She changes her mind and later reveals the very poignant reason why she decided to be on Michael’s team.

Michael then has a business meeting with a fictional corporate company named Broadrail that Michael has worked with in the past as a sponsor. In this meeting, the executives in the group listen to Michael’s pitch, fully aware that Michael has never won the Adventure Racing World Championship. The biggest skeptic in this corporate group is a smirking executive named Tucker (played by “Arthur the King” producer Tucker Tooley, in an uncredited cameo), who questions if middle-aged Michael and knee-injured Chik can handle the athletic challenges. Decker also wants Michael’s former teammate Leo to be on Michael’s team again, because Leo has a few million followers on social media.

Michael’s biggest supporter in the group is an earnest executive named John (played by Alani Ilongwe), who tries to smooth things over when Michael inevitably gets riled up and has a temper tantrum in response to Decker’s naysaying attitude. Michael also dislikes the idea of working with Leo again. Michael asks for $100,000 in sponsorship money. In the end, Michael has to settle for an offer of $50,000, on the condition that Leo is a member of the team.

Michael then travels to West Hollywood, California, where he finds Leo at a photo shoot, because Leo is now a well-known social media influencer. Michael has some disdain for social media, but he understands why the sponsor wants Leo on the team. Michael has to swallow his pride and admit (at Leo’s insistence) that Michael made a mistake in not listening to Leo’s advice in the 2015 Adventure Racing World Championship. Michael also says that if Leo is on the team, Michael will take Leo’s opinions into account, but Michael as the leader will still make the final decisions.

With this team of four confirmed, they call themselves Team Broadrail and go to the Dominican Republic to prepare for the race. Unrealistically, they only have five days to get accustomed to the environment where they will be racing. The excuse is that they didn’t have the money to travel to the Dominican Republic earlier to fully prepare in the way that they wanted. It’s just the movie’s way of making Team Broadrail look more like underdog. It’s mentioned multiple times that the race will take place in sweltering humidity.

Every sports movie has a main rival that the “hero” wants to defeat. In “Arthur the King,” that team is Team Arc’teryx, led by a cocky Australian named Decker (played by Rob Collins), who likes to taunt Team Broadrail with snide remarks, any chance that he gets. You can easily predict which two teams will be close to the finish line in a climactic scene. Still, each stage of the race has its share of suspense. TV personality Bear Grylls has a cameo as himself in the movie.

As for the story of Arthur, he doesn’t endear himself to the team right away. At first, Michael just sees Arthur as a mangy stray dog that he feeds sausage scraps to when he first sees the dog at a transition area in the race. The members of Team Broadrail don’t see this dog until a few hundred miles later. They are amazed that he was able to follow them and continues to follow them. (This isn’t spoiler information, since it’s in the movie’s trailer.)

Michael names the dog Arthur, after King Arthur. This mutt isn’t just a travel companion. Arthur’s keen senses help Team Broadrail get out of some dangerous situations. And he obviously has a great sense of direction. The performances by the principal cast members (including the dog) are very realistic, even if you know some scenes were fabricated for the movie. The bickering between Michael and Leo adds to the realism. The movie’s action scenes are competently filmed and acted.

The best parts of “Arthur the King” are in the last third of the movie. There’s a life-or-death situation that is meant to be both tearjearking and heartwarming. “Arthur the King” is not subtle at all in its message about how life’s disappointments can unexpectedly lead to even greater rewards. However, this message is easier to take when knowing that it happened in real life and involved a very special and adorable dog.

Lionsgate released “Arthur the King” in U.S. cinemas on March 15, 2024.

Review: ‘Simulant’ (2023), starring Robbie Amell, Jordana Brewster, Alicia Sanz, Simu Liu and Sam Worthington

June 4, 2023

by Carla Hay

Robbie Amell, Simu Liu and Jordana Brewster in “Simulant” (Photo courtesy of Vertical)

“Simulant” (2023)

Directed by April Mullen

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the sci-fi action film “Simulant” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians, African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A computer hacker illegally gives simulants (human clones with artificial intelligence) the ability to completely think on their own, and a government enforcer tries to track down and disable these rogue simulants. 

Culture Audience: “Simulant” will appeal primarily to people who won’t mind watching derivative sci-fi movies about human clones on the loose.

Sam Worthington in “Simulant” (Photo courtesy of Vertical)

“Simulant” is this title of this bland and poorly acted sci-fi action flick, but it could also describe how this lackluster movie is pretending to be a creative story. It’s another “human clones must be stopped” movie with no real suspense. Even if the movie’s poster didn’t give away the weak “plot twist” of “Simulant,” it still would be very easy to guess this plot twist within the first 15 minutes of the film.

Directed by April Mullen and written by Ryan Christopher Churchill, “Simulant” begins by showing a married couple—named Evan (played by Robbie Amell) and Faye (played by Jordana Brewster)—having what appears to be a stable and loving relationship, somewhere in an unnamed U.S. city. (“Simulant” was actually filmed in Canada.) The biggest problem in their marriage is that Evan keeps having a nightmare that he and Faye were in a major car accident where he was the driver and she was the passenger in their car. In this dream, the car skids and crashes into another before skidding into a lake.

The dream is so vivid, Evan thinks it’s real. However, Faye insists that nothing like that ever happened to them. But in a movie called “Simulant,” which is about trying to control human clones (called “simulants”) from thinking for themselves, you can easily predict what Evan’s nightmares really mean. It’s explained early on in this completely unoriginal movie that these simulants can be purchased by people who want clones themselves or their loved ones.

The simulants have artificial intelligence that allows them to look and act like real human beings, if the simulants are programmed that way. Brains of the simulants must keep active, or else the brains will atrophy, just like human brains. Most simulants are purchased to be employees, such as Evan and Faye’s housekeeper simulant named Lisa, who wears a creepy mask that makes Lisa look more like a robot than a real human being.

Simulants must also follow these four basic rules:

  • Do not inflict harm on another human being.
  • Do not modify themselves or other simulants.
  • Acts against international and local laws are forbidden.
  • Obey all commands from simulant masters.

When someone dies, a simulant can replace the dead person. It’s supposed to help people with their grief over a loved one’s death. But it’s also caused an underground resistance movement of people and humanoids who want the simulants to be free to make their own decisions and have their own lives, independent from the simulants’ masters. It’s led to a government crackdown where armed agents who work for the Artificial Intelligence Compliance Enforcement (AICE) are tasked with hunting down “rogue simulants.”

One of these AICE agents is named Aaron Kessler (played by Sam Worthington), a generic tough guy who spends a lot of time in the movie trying to find a rogue simulant named Esmé (played by Alicia Sanz), who has been hiding for more than three years. Esmé has superhuman strength, so the action scenes with her are very predictable. Aaron has a hatred of simulants because his only child was killed by a simulant. “Simulant” clumsily handles the Evan/Faye storyline and the Aaron/Esmé storyline with a character who comes into contact with all four of them: a computer hacker named Casey Rosen (played by Simu Liu), who is suspected of being one of the technology rebels who are setting simulants free.

“Simulant” is so lacking in suspense and is just filled with nonsensical chases, it reeks of lazy storytelling. None of the characters in “Simulant” comes close to being interesting, and the cast members’ performances are reflections of the characters’ hollow personalities. “Simulant” is another B-movie where the “b” could also stand for the boredom that viewers will feel while watching this pile of sci-fi mush.

Vertical released “Simulant” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on June 2, 2023. DirecTV premiered the movie on May 5, 2023.

Review: ‘One True Loves’ (2023), starring Phillipa Soo, Simu Liu and Luke Bracey

April 6, 2023

by Carla Hay

Phillipa Soo and Simu Liu in “One True Loves” (Photo courtesy of The Avenue)

“One True Loves” (2023)

Directed by Andy Fickman

Culture Representation: Taking place in Massachusetts, Maine, and California, over the course of 17 years, the comedy/drama film “One True Loves” features a white and Asian cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Four years after her husband goes missing in a helicopter crash and is declared dead, a woman gets engaged to a man who was her best friend in childhood, but then the missing husband shows up and expects to continued his married life with the woman. 

Culture Audience: “One True Loves” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the book on which the movie is based, and will appeal to people who like very corny love stories where people act unrealistically.

Phillipa Soo and Luke Bracey in “One True Loves” (Photo courtesy of The Avenue)

“One True Loves” is a disappointing, missed opportunity to turn a popular book into a classic romantic comedy/drama movie. The principal cast members do their best in their attempts to make this story convincing, but they are undercut by screenwriting and direction that make this sappy film look like the cinematic equivalent of a cheap and often-unrealistic romance novel. The “One True Loves” movie (which is based on Taylor Jenkins Reid’s 2016 novel of the same name) fails to balance the comedy and drama, which results in the film having an off-kilter and awkward tone.

Directed by Andy Finkman, “One True Loves” has a screenplay co-written by Jenkins Reid and her husband, Alex J. Reid. A few elements of the movie’s story are based on Jenkins Reid’s own life. (She’s from Acton, Massachusetts, where most of the story takes place.) This movie is an example of how people who are too close to the source material sometimes aren’t the best people to adapt the source material into a movie screenplay. Although “One True Loves” has its charming moments, thanks largely to the talent of the principal cast members, so much of the movie looks too phony to have the intended impact.

Another problem with the “One True Loves” movie is the jumbled narrative. There are several flashbacks, and some of them aren’t very well-placed. In addition, the characters in the love triangle, who are supposed to be in their 30s for most of the movie, often act like the immature teenagers they are in a few of the movie’s flashbacks. It’s all very grating. And it further lowers the quality of what could have been a more meaningful and relatable film about adults.

“One True Love” begins with a flashback to a nighttime house party attended by high-school-age teenagers in Acton, Massachusetts. Emma Blair (played by Oona Yaffe) and her best friend Sam Lee (played by Phinehas Yoon) are standing by themselves and looking kind of like outcasts. Emma and Sam are in the backyard, near the swimming pool, where athletic and good-looking Jesse Lerner (played by Cooper van Grootel) is emerging from the pool. Jesse is a star of the school’s male swimming team.

Emma has a big crush on Jesse and is ogling his toned body as he walks out of the pool. It’s later revealed that Sam has been in love with Emma for years, but she has kept him in the “friend zone,” and he has been afraid to tell her his true romantic feelings. Sam sees Emma leering at Jesse. Sam responds by saying in a sulking voice, “It’s really not fair that he throws around his swimming skills at a party.”

The party gets broken up by police. Most of the teenagers scatter, but Emma and Jesse are arrested for underage drinking. At the police station, Jesse flirts a little with Emma, who is awestruck and flattered that he’s paying attention to her. It doesn’t take long for Emma to let Jesse know that she wants to date him. What happens in the Sam/Emma/Jesse love triangle then jumps back and forth in time in the movie.

The next thing that viewers see is 15 years after this party, Emma (played by Phillipa Soo) and Sam (played by Simu Liu) are living together and have gotten engaged. Emma and Sam are happily celebrating the engagement with a small family get-together at the home of Emma’s parents. Emma’s relatives at this gathering are her parents, her sister and her sister’s husband. Sam’s family members are not seen or mentioned in the film.

Emma’s parents—mild-mannered father Colin (played by Michael O’Keefe) and talkative mother Ann (played by Lauren Tom)—own a local bookstore called Blair Books. Now a retired couple, Emma’s parents have passed on operation of the bookstore to Emma and her sister Marie (played by Michaela Conlin), who has a Type-A, perfectionist personality. Marie and her quiet husband Michael (played Tom Everett Scott) have a daughter who’s about 6 or 7 years old named Sophie (played by Oceana Matsumoto), who happens to be deaf.

When Emma was a teenager, she told Jesse that she had no interest in taking over the family bookstore when her parents retire. She wanted to travel and see the world. Flashbacks show that after high school, Emma became a travel journalist, Jesse (played by Luke Bracey) became a travel photographer, and they worked together on adventurous travel assignments that took them around the world. They were blissfully in love, got married, and lived in Venice, California.

But then, a tragedy happened. Jesse was in a helicopter that crashed over the Pacific Ocean. There were three people in the helicopter, including the pilot. Jesse was the only person whose body wasn’t found after an extensive search. Jesse was eventually declared legally dead. Emma didn’t want to believe he was dead, but she gave up hope after practical-minded Marie convinced her to move on with her life.

A depressed Emma had a hard time coping with her grief. Flashbacks show that after years of not being in contact with Sam, she happened to see him in a music instrument store. Sam is now a music teacher at the same high school where he, Emma and Jesse were students. Sam and Emma reconnected, a romance began between them, and they got engaged. But four years after Jesse disappeared, Jesse has been found. Jesse comes back to Acton, and he’s expecting his marriage to Emma to continue in the way that it was.

All this timeline jumping does a disservice to the story in the movie, which answers some questions too late and doesn’t answer some questions at all. It isn’t shown until the last third of the movie how the romance developed between Sam and Emma. The courtship of Sam and Emma should have been in the movie much earlier, to give viewers better context for why she fell in love with him.

Because “One True Loves” shows too early in the movie that Sam and Emma have settled into a life where they got engaged, it makes it too easy to figure out how this movie is going to end. A better-written movie would have shown everything in chronological order. It would have made the movie more suspenseful and less obvious about what Emma’s choice will be. “One True Loves” tries to make up for this scrambled timeline by doing a lot of exposition regurgitation, where characters give verbal summaries of things that were already seen in flashbacks.

But there are other big problems with this movie. When Emma gets the call that Jesse has been found, her reaction looks completely phony. She doesn’t ask anything about how he was found, where he was for all these years, and if he’s okay. Yes, she could have been in shock, but these are the questions that someone would ask about a loved one who was missing for years and presumed dead. Viewers don’t find out where Jesse was for the past four years until it’s mentioned later in the movie: He was stranded on a deserted island.

Emma’s reunion with Jesse also looks fake. He’s dropped off at his parents’ house, with no mention of how Jesse was found or if he needed any medical treatment after being stuck on a deserted island for four years. Realistically, a bunch of media people are waiting outside the house. Jesse’s mother Francine (played by Beth Broderick), Jesse’s father Joe (played by Gary Hudson) and Emma are also outside, in anticipation of Jesse’s return.

But then, the scene looks unrealistic again when Emma and Jesse go inside his parents’ house. Jesse and Emma sob and hug, but she still doesn’t ask a lot of basic questions that someone would ask a spouse who’s been missing for four years. All the drippy emotions that are overloaded in this reunion scene would have had a better impact if the filmmakers put more realism in the movie.

And speaking of destroying realism, the filmmakers make Sam look pathetic in multiple scenes where he uses his orchestra class as a way to have personal therapy sessions for himself. Instead of teaching his students, he pours out his angst and insecurities over the decision that Emma has to make in choosing between him and Jesse. What’s so idiotic about these scenes is that Sam brushes off journalists who want to interview him because he says he’s a “private person,” but he inappropriately dumps details about his love life on his underage students, as if these students wouldn’t blab and gossip about it to other people.

Sam’s students egg him on, because they want to hear all the soap opera-ish details of this love triangle. And can you blame the students for doing that? No. It’s a distraction from doing any work in the classroom. It’s really up to the adult teacher in the classroom to set boundaries, but Sam doesn’t set those boundaries. He’s more concerned about getting as many people as possible to feel sorry for him and root for him. It’s supposed to be the “comedy” part of the movie, but it just looks weird and idiotic.

How bad are these classroom “therapy” scenes? When the school bell rings for the students to go to their next class, the students say that they want to stay and listen to more of Sam’s self-pitying sob stories. And he says they can stay. Eventually, some teachers are seen in the classroom because they want to listen to Sam’s sob stories too. It’s just more moronic filmmaking on display. “One True Loves” also has a very unfunny recurring gag about Sam’s cell phone getting cracked because he keeps throwing the phone in anger and frustration.

At no point in time does “One True Loves” show Sam, Jesse or Emma seeking professional counseling from adults or getting free support from their loved ones about this big disruption in their lives. Sam, Jesse and Emma also don’t seem to have any friends to turn to during this very unusual love triangle situation. And that detail doesn’t match up with the scene of Emma and Jesse’s wedding, where there were plenty of people in attendance, and presumably not all of them were family members.

Instead, what viewers will see in “One True Loves” are tedious scenes of Emma being “torn between two lovers” and feeling guilty about having to choose one over the other. The movie has some heartfelt scenes, such as when Emma and Jesse take a getaway trip to Maine at the remote cabin where they had their honeymoon. Soo and Bracey do some of their best acting in the movie in these Maine scenes. (“One True Loves” was actually filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina.)

The courtship scenes of Emma and Sam are cute, but very lightweight. Liu has potential as a romantic leading actor with very good comedic timing. He also has impressive singing and songwriting talent: He co-wrote and performed the movie’s end-credits ballad “Don’t.” It’s too bad that this movie makes the Sam character look like the most immature and most pitiful of the three characters in this love triangle.

Emma and Marie had an argumentative sibling rivalry when they were younger. This rivalry is mentioned several times but is never really given much depth, although there is an attempt in a flashback scene where Jesse has been missing for several weeks. Emma is in California, on a building rooftop near the Pacific Ocean, while she is using binoculars to look for Jesse. It’s the scene where Marie arrives and tells Emma to stop looking for Jesse because he’s probably dead.

Although this scene is meant to be the movie’s biggest heart-to-heart moment between Emma and Marie, observant viewers will be distracted by the questions that this scene brings up. Why does Emma think that using binoculars would be enough to search for Jesse in an ocean? And why does Emma think that she can see him from this particular rooftop? Emma tells Marie that because Jesse was a champion swimmer, if he’s alive, Emma is sure he’ll find a way to swim back to Emma.

Just because Emma is this stupid doesn’t mean that the filmmakers of “One True Loves” have to treat viewers as this stupid. The cast members can have as much charisma as they want, but when the filmmakers have such disrespect for the average viewer who would be interested in this type of movie, there’s no redeeming it or excusing it. “One True Loves” is like a suitor who tries to come across as romantic, but is in fact very pandering and condescending. People who value their time and intelligence just don’t need that in their lives.

The Avenue will release “One True Loves” in select U.S. cinemas on April 7, 2023. A one-night-only sneak preview was held in select U.S. cinemas on April 5, 2023. The movie will be released on digital on April 14, 2023, and on VOD on April 28, 2023.

Review: ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,’ starring Simu Liu, Tony Leung, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Michelle Yeoh and Florian Munteanu

August 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Meng’er Zhang, Simu Liu and Awkwafina in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”

Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton

Some language in Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in China and in San Francisco, the superhero action film “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with some white people) representing heroes, villains and people who are in between.

Culture Clash: A Chinese man who ran away to the U.S. as a teenager, in order to get away from his ruthless overlord father, must confront his past and the power of 10 magical arm rings that are the source of the story’s conflict.

Culture Audience: “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and are looking for an enjoyable origin story that is not a sequel or a prequel.

Tony Leung and Fala Chen in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings” has plenty of heart and adventurous spirit to satisfy superhero movie fans. It’s too bad that the title character has a personality that’s duller than the average Marvel superhero. Shang-Chi is frequently outshined by his wisecracking female best friend/sidekick. And there’s a long stretch in the middle of the film that drags the pace down considerably.

Directed by Daniel Destin Daniel Cretton, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Rings” is an origin story that doesn’t dazzle in a spectacular way, but it gets the job done in a crowd-pleasing way that serves the movie’s target audience well. Cretton co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham. It’s yet another Hollywood studio superhero story about a superhero with “daddy issues.” The big difference this time is that the majority of the cast is Asian, mostly of Chinese heritage.

One of the problems with the movie is that the climactic showdown scene doesn’t offer much that most movie and TV audiences haven’t already seen before. To put it bluntly: This movie needed better villains. In “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” there’s a villain named Razor Fist (played by Florian Munteanu) with a machete as an arm. That pales in comparison to a “Stars Wars: Rise of Skywalker” villainous henchman named Cardo that had a shotgun for an arm.

Battles with dragons? Yawn. It’s very “Game of Thrones” and not much different from any recent big-budget live-action movie where the dragons are the big monsters that have to be defeated. And a hero going in a one-on-one duel fight against his villain father? Ever hear of “The Empire Strikes Back” or “Return of the Jedi”?

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is literally an origin story, since viewers see how, in China, his parents met, fell in love, got married, and had Shang-Chi as their first child. The movie shows Shang-Chi as a baby, as a pre-teen child (played by Jayden Zhang), as a teenager (played by Arnold Sun) and as an adult (played by Simu Liu). Shang Chi’s father Xu Wenwu (played by Tony Leung) was a corrupt overlord who came into possession of 10 magical arm rings (because bracelets must not sound macho enough) that allowed him to have immense power. His heart softened when he met Ying Li (played by Fala Chen), who charmed him after a sword duel that she won against him. It was love at first sight, and they got together soon after that.

Shang-Chi spent his entire life training to be a fighter and to follow in his father’s footsteps. Shang-Chi’s mother Li also gave him a special green pendant that she said he must never lose or give away. But tragedy struck when Shang-Chi was a teenager: His mother died. Wracked with griedfand despair, widower Xu Wenwu went back to his corrupt ways. There’s a part of the movie that reveals that Xu Wenwu also might have lost his mind to insanity.

When Shang-Chi was 14 years old, Xu Wenwu ordered him to complete his first “assignment” assassination. At age 15, Shang-Chi ran away from China to the United States. He ended up settling in San Francisco, where in high school he befriended a smart-alecky girl named Katy, and they’ve been best pals ever since. The movie does not show Shang-Chi’s American life during the time that he was in high school or in his 20s, but he and Katy have a few discussions about their past together.

Now in their early 30s, Shang-Chi (who changed his first name to Shaun) and Katy (played by Awkwafina) work together as parking valets at a ritzy hotel. They’re very educated and over-qualified for the job. He can speak four languages, while she has a master’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley. Katy has a mischievous and rebellious streak, since she’s the type of valet driver who will take a car out on a joy ride instead of parking it. That’s what she does when she gets handed the keys to a red BMW, which she takes to speed through traffic, with Shaun/Shang-Chi along for the ride.

Katy doesn’t know about Shang-Chi’s past until it catches up to him in one of the movie’s best action scenes. It’s when Iron Fist and some other thugs attack Shang-Chi and Katy while they’re on a moving bus. Katy is shocked to find out that her friend Shaun has superhero-level fighting skills. Later, he tells her that his real name is Shang-Chi.

But the “fight on the bus” scene kicks off the movie in a very thrilling way. The martial arts and choreography are top-notch. And there are some heart-pounding moments when Katy has the take the wheel of the bus and navigate through San Francisco’s hilly, narrow and crowded streets. It makes her daredevil joyrides as a valet look like an easygoing holiday in comparison.

Why is Shang-Chi being targeted by these goons, who seemed to come from out of nowhere? As he explains to Katy about his secret past, it means that his father must be looking for him, because the assassins took Shang-Li’s pendant. And you know what that means: Shang-Chi and Katy are going to China—Macau, to be more specific.

If non-talking monsters or aliens aren’t the main villains in a superhero movie, the talking villains better have a memorable personality. Unfortunately, as talented as Leung is as an actor, this type of formulaic, power-hungry overlord has been done in movies and TV so many times already. After watching “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” for the first time, the average viewer will be hard-pressed to remember one line of dialogue that Xu Wenwu said, although Leung certainly gives it his all in depicting a once-loving father who has since gone in an evil direction.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” does have moments of levity, mainly because of Katy’s sarcasm and the MCU re-appearance of Trevor Slattery (played by Ben Kingsley), a flamboyant British actor who was previously seen in 2013’s “Iron Man 3.” It won’t be revealed here what Trevor does in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” but it’s enough to say that a cute faceless and furry creature that Trevor has with him (about the size of a dog) will be one of the most remembered aspects about “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”

Dr. Strange sidekick Wong (played by Benedict Wong) is another MCU character who’s in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” although Wong’s screen time is a lot less than Trevor’s. New characters to the MCU include Shang-Chi’s estranged younger sister Xialing (played by Meng’er Zhang, making an impressive feature-film debut) and their aunt Ying Nan (played by Michelle Yeoh), who is the sister of Shang-Chi and Xialing’s late mother.

Before Shang-Chi and Katy go through predictable scenes of training for the big showdown battle that takes place at the end of the movie, there’s another standout fight scene that takes place on a skyscraper. In many ways, the skyscraper scene and the bus scenes are more unique and more thrilling fight than the final battle scene. This movie’s action definitely shines the most when it has martial arts between humans, rather than visual-effect-heavy battles with mythical creatures.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is a big step forward for Hollywood-made superhero movies that do not have a predominantly white cast. There’s plenty to like about the movie. But as an origin story, it relies a little too much on over-used, basic tropes. Except some of the fight scenes, there wasn’t a lot of originality in how this story was structured. The good news for people unfamiliar with the MCU, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is one of the few MCU movies that’s a true stand-alone film that doesn’t have a lot of references to other MCU films that you would have to know about to understand these references.

However, it’s not a good sign when one of those past references from an MCU movie (Trevor) is more entertaining to watch than the main hero and the main villain in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” Awkwafina might get mixed reactions in her role as Katy, since people seem to love or hate Awkafina’s off-screen personality. Liu is perfectly fine as Shang-Chi, but he doesn’t have the charisma to be in the upper echelon of beloved MCU characters. The rest of the cast is serviceable in their roles. This movie isn’t going to win any prestigious awards for any of the cast members.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” also has disappointing mid-credits and end-credits scenes. People really won’t miss anything if they skip the credits. However, it’s enough to say that the mid-credits scene does show Shang-Chi, Katy, Wong and two other MCU characters. As far as escapist entertainment goes, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” delivers enough to satisfy people who are fans of superhero movies or martial arts. But people who want more magnetic personalities in action heroes might have to look elsewhere.

Marvel Studios will release “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” in U.S. cinemas on September 3, 2021. A one-night-only sneak preview of the movie was screened in select IMAX cinemas in the U.S. and Canada on August 18, 2021.

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