It sounds like a specimen from the wuxia genre, about martial arts warriors in ancient China, rather than the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe – and plays out like one too. Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings includes throwbacks to other films in the ever-expanding superhero franchise as well as a prominent cameo by a Marvel character. But at heart, the newest MCU production is a classic battle of fisticuffs and wills.

Hong Kong acting legend Tony Leung and Malaysian action star Michelle Yeoh – both of whom have appeared in martial arts films – join Asian talent from Hollywood for an adventure that involves time travel, parallel realms of power and magic, dragons and a relatable debate about the weight of expectation placed by father on son.

Short Term 12 director Destin Daniel Cretton, one of the American indie talents to be hoovered up by Marvel Studios, largely sticks to the template. Cretton, who has written the 132-minute film movie along with Dave Callaham, Andrew Lanham, moves smoothly between time periods and continents before tackling a typically Asian question: does daddy always know best?

Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) has been in hiding for ten years from his authoritarian father Wenwu (Tony Leung). The leader of the Ten Rings organisation and the wearer of the magically endowed orbs that circle his arms, Wenwu likes to be in control at all times.

Tony Leung in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021). Courtesy Marvel Studios.

Ditching some Asian stereotypes while holding on to others, the movie works just fine when in action mode but slumps when it pauses to examine the convoluted family dynamics. Wenwu summons Shang-Chi and his estranged sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) from their respective hideouts on a mission to reunite with their mother Jiang Li (Fala Chen).

Shang-Chi’s friend Katy insists on accompanying him on his journey of self-discovery – a most excellent thing, since Katy is played by Awkwafina and is the source of hilarious fish-out-of-the-water humour.

A transplant from Iron Man 3 is Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley). Stuck in Wenwu’s lair with a faceless furball named Morris, Trevor earns his keep both as plotting contrivance and comic relief.

While Simu Liu makes for a charismatic action hero, the star attraction, Tony Leung, brings dignity, malice and a touch of sadness to his portrayal of Wenwu. Yet, even the master of understatement and subtlety cannot crack the mystery behind Wenwu’s often confusing behavioural shifts.

The martial arts displays are impressive, but some of the visual effects are murky, especially in the climactic battle. The most effective action set-piece is the one in San Francisco on a bus, in which Shang-Chi drops his mask and proves himself to be his father’s son.

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