Tag Archives: Awkwafina

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

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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Time: 132 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Simu Liu as Xu Shang-Chi/Shaun
Awkwafina as Katy
Meng’er Zhang as Xu Xialing
Fala Chen as Ying Li
Florian Munteanu as Razor Fist
Michelle Yeoh as Ying Nan
Ben Kingsley as Trevor Slattery
Tony Leung as Xu Wenwu
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Martial-arts master Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) confronts the past he thought he left behind when he’s drawn into the web of the mysterious Ten Rings organization.

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I was interested in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. For the first time in a while, it would be a new movie in the MCU following a character I’m not familiar with, and I liked the trailers and the look of the movie. I was expecting to enjoy it, as I enjoy most MCU movies. However I actually ended up liking it even more than I expected to.

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One of the refreshing aspects about this movie is how self-contained it is as an origin story, it doesn’t feel like a stepping stone to set up more movies. It doesn’t even tie into the multiverse event that some of the recent MCU projects have been moving towards. It’s very much its own thing, and which already has me on board. Another refreshing part is that is feels like a very different entry into the MCU, even to the point where it doesn’t feel like a Marvel movie at times. Once it started with the incredible opening sequence, I knew that I would really like it. In a way the plot is formulaic (not just to other movies in the series, but other action, fantasy, and martial arts films), however it was way more nuanced than I thought it would be. At its core the movie is focussing on a complex family dynamic, and with that there as a lot of thought put into the character work and history of this family. As the emotional core, it exceeds. In terms of the writing for the characters, it’s definitely some of the best in the MCU. In a way this movie is flashback heavy, that doesn’t sound good on paper, but each flashback feels purposeful and is done to flesh out this family story. The humour was generally alright, a lot of it really didn’t land but this is honestly the first MCU movie in a while where it didn’t feel like the humour took away from serious moments or stop the flow of the movie. The third act does feel a bit overstuffed with too many things, and it does have a formulaic CGI filled climax, which was a bit of a shame considering it pivots away from what is essentially a fantasy martial arts movie. However, it does have some incredible moments and it works well enough, it just felt like it came out of left field. There is a mid credits scene and a post credit scene, both setting up follow ups to this movie and the MCU, and they are worth sticking around for.

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The performances from the cast were generally great. Simu Liu played the lead role of Shang-Chi quite well from his grounded family life to the actual fighting. Initially Liu was just alright in the part, but by the end I thought that he was a great fit for the character. Awkwafina is also here in one of the main roles as Shang-Chi’s friend, who goes along with him on his adventure. She does act in the way that you’d expect her to if you’ve seen her other performances (especially with the humour). It doesn’t always work, but it wasn’t as distracting as it could’ve been, and the chemistry between her and Liu was believable. Meng’er Zhang was also really good as Shang-Chi’s sister, and Michelle Yeoh was a really good addition. However, by far the highlight performer is that of Tony Leung as Wenwu (the real Mandarin in the comics), the main villain of the movie and the father of Shang-Chi. He had such a strong onscreen presence, and you end up sympathising with the character, both through the performance and the motivation. Definitely one of the best Marvel villains, and honestly its worth checking out the movie for him alone.

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Destin Daniel Cretton is the director of Shang-Chi, I know him from his work on Just Mercy, and his first action movie was quite good. The cinematography here by Bill Pope made this one of the most visually stunning MCU movies. Aside from some washed out visuals at times, mainly in the third act, it looks very good, especially with the sets and environments. The action is also a highlight, with some top notch, fantastically choreographed and energised fight sequences that rank among the best in the MCU. A lot of the action set pieces are well thought out and put together. The CGI could be a bit of a mess at times in the third act, but I still enjoyed those scenes. The music was solid too, particularly the score from Joel P. West.

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Maybe it’s just because I’ve been finding most of the recent movies in the MCU to range from okay to just good, but there was something about Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings I loved. I enjoyed the visuals and the very entertaining action scenes, the acting was really good, with Tony Leung being the standout. However, I even really liked the story and characters, and the way everything progressed. I will definitely need to see it again to see if it still holds up beyond the first viewing. However, from the initial viewing I really liked it, and it ranks amongst the best of the series. Honestly, while it does tie into the MCU for sure, it is standalone enough that you can go into it having not seen the prior movies. It is worth checking out for sure.

Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) Review

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON

Raya and The Last Dragon

Time: 107 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Violence
Voice Cast:
Kelly Marie Tran as Raya
Awkwafina as Sisu
Izaac Wang as Boun
Gemma Chan as Namaari
Daniel Dae Kim as Chief Benja
Benedict Wong as Tong
Sandra Oh as Virana
Thalia Tran as Little Noi
Lucille Soong as Dang Hu
Alan Tudyk as Tuk Tuk
Director: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada

Long ago, in the fantasy world of Kumandra, humans and dragons lived together in harmony. However, when sinister monsters known as the Druun threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, those same monsters have returned, and it’s up to a lone warrior (Kelly Marie Tran) to track down the last dragon and stop the Druun for good.

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I had heard about Raya and the Last Dragon for the past months, it’s the latest Disney animated movie and it looked pretty good from the trailers. I wasn’t really sure what to expect going in, but the movie actually turned out better than I expected it to be.

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Raya and the Last Dragon is an exhilarating and beautifully told fantasy adventure. The storylines and characters that inhabit this world were unique and interesting to watch (although I could’ve done without the baby and monkeys). The movie does move very fast, and I was quite invested in the story. There were some moments where the film could have slowed down a little, but on the whole the fast pace works to the film’s benefit. I liked the movie from the very start, but it really finds its footing when the main group of characters begin to get assembled. As Raya meets these new characters, she has to learn to trust them and pretty quickly, you can pick up that trust is the main moral and message of this story. With the addition of each new character, Raya learns a lot from her new friends and takes the first step in putting her trust in someone else. So thematically, the movie has plenty to offer. It does quite well in terms of world-building, and by the end I actually wanted a bit more from this world. One thing to note is that the movie doesn’t have musical numbers where characters suddenly burst into song, and while it’s to be expected from Disney animated movies, I actually like that they don’t have them here. It is a risk for them when they have such a wide target audience, but I’d say it pays off. Something that has been said about this movie which I will repeat myself as well is that the plot is very predictable and derivative, and structurally it may appear to be similar to other Disney animated movies like Moana or Tangled. The fetch quest, band-forming and lesson-learning genre has been done to death by now, but that didn’t make it any less investing for me. Despite its familiarity, it manages to keep it at least a little interesting throughout. Its humour doesn’t always land as well as it potentially could’ve, especially with how they implemented it in the movie and overall story. It’s not necessarily bad and it isn’t a dealbreaker, but truth be told, only some of the jokes really hit. There are some essential exposition dumps that could’ve been done slightly better, but it’s at the level of most modern day animated movies and again aren’t a dealbreaker.

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There’s a solid lineup of characters in this movie, and the voice cast are great playing them. Kelly Marie Tran is perfect as protagonist Raya, Awkwafina is a scene stealer as Sisu (the last dragon), and Gemma Chan is also a standout as the character of Namaar.

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Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada directs Raya and the Last Dragon greatly. First of all, the animation is stunning, this is probably some of Disney’s best animation, absolutely stellar and gorgeous. There are a number of settings and places here that are immaculately presented here. Each location, character, object, or detail feels so profoundly gorgeous. What particularly stood out was the action, which was insanely good. The swordplay and hand to hand combat is sleek, and the combination of martial arts techniques were used so effectively. With this and the film’s incredible lighting, Raya and the Last Dragon makes for an awesome visual experience, and honestly it is worth watching the movie for that alone. Additionally, James Newton Howard’s score is powerful and enthralling, especially during the action sequences.

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Raya and the Last Dragon is a solid and very well-made animated movie. It has a familiar and somewhat predictable story but it’s entertaining and works for what it is, with some enjoyable characters. Additionally, the voice cast are great and it’s beautifully animated. Definitely worth watching.

The Farewell (2019) Review

Time: 100 minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Adult themes
Cast:
Awkwafina as Billi Wang
Tzi Ma as Haiyan Wang
Diana Lin as Lu Jian
Zhao Shuzhen as Nai Nai
Lu Hong as Little Nai Nai
Jiang Yongbo as Haibin
Director: Lulu Wang

A headstrong Chinese-American woman (Awkwafina) returns to China when her beloved grandmother (Shuzhen Zhao) is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Billi struggles with her family’s decision to keep grandma in the dark about her own illness as they all stage an impromptu wedding to see grandma one last time.

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I’d been hearing about The Farewell a while ago, and I’ve been meaning to get around to it for some time. I just knew it as the movie where a family don’t tell a grandmother about her cancer, very difficult to forget that premise. I heard some great things about it, and having finally gotten around to it, I can confirm that it is very good and for sure worth seeing.

First thing to establish, the story of The Farewell is based off writer and director Lulu Wang’s own life, with a situation where she had to pretend along with the rest of her family that her grandmother didn’t have cancer, while staging a fake wedding so that they could secretly say a final goodbye to her. Knowing this adds a personal level to the movie, and it feels honest throughout. If you looked at the significant events that happen over the course of The Farewell, not much actually happens. It’s a much quieter movie, none of it feels melodramatic or pretentious, and it feels quite real. This is a slower paced and dialogued focused movie, with the dialogue being very well written, witty, emotional, and very strong on the whole. There are some interesting conversations throughout, such as about whether the grandmother should be told about her cancer or not, or the differences between living in China and America. It doesn’t really take sides about any of it, just showing the characters’ perspectives on the topics. From the premise, it sounds like a depressing movie but it’s actually quite funny at many points, while also effectively delivering on the heartfelt moments. Although The Farewell is around an hour and 40 minutes long, you might find this to be slow if you are expecting the runtime to fly by and for it to be very eventful, because that’s not the case. I was expecting a slower and quieter movie, and as that I thoroughly liked it, and it did its job well. Now I think I should just come out and say that I didn’t connect with much that happened, not that I couldn’t empathise with the characters and what they’re dealing with, but I’m fully aware that this movie meant a lot more to others. As for me, I respect it greatly, but I wasn’t as emotionally invested as maybe some other people who love the movie.

I just knew Awkwafina from Crazy Rich Asians and Ocean’s Eight, generally more comedic roles. However with The Farewell she establishes herself as an impressive dramatic actor, such a genuine and real performance. Another equally great performance is that of the grandmother played by Shuzhen Zhao, she was fantastic here. The bond and chemistry between the two are fantastic. The rest of the cast mostly make up the rest of the family are also pretty good, but it’s Awkwafina and Zhao’s movie really. While I get that, I do wish some of the other characters were developed a little more than how they were.

This is Lulu Wang’s second film, and she’s really directed this well. It’s very well shot, and she really captured the locations well (especially with the movie being almost always set in China). With The Farewell being a dialogue driven movie, Wang did a good job at directing these scenes particularly, keeping the conversations flowing.

The Farewell is a solid, empathetic and heartfelt dramedy. It’s very well written and directed by Lulu Wang, and the acting is great, especially from Awkwafina and Zhao Shuzhen. Even if you’re a little iffy about the premise, trust me when I say that it’s well worth watching, definitely deserving of all the acclaim it has been receiving.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018) Review

Time: 120 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Contains coarse language
Cast:
Constance Wu as Rachel Chu
Henry Golding as Nick Young
Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor Sung-Young
Gemma Chan as Astrid Leong-Teo
Lisa Lu as Shang Su Yi
Awkwafina as Goh Peik Lin
Harry Shum Jr. as Charlie Wu
Ken Jeong as Goh Wye Mun
Director: Jon M. Chu

Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is happy to accompany her longtime boyfriend, Nick (Henry Golding), to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. She’s also surprised to learn that Nick’s family is extremely wealthy and he’s considered one of the country’s most eligible bachelors. Thrust into the spotlight, Rachel must now contend with jealous socialites, quirky relatives and something far, far worse — Nick’s disapproving mother (Michelle Yeoh).

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Crazy Rich Asians was a movie I had been hearing about for some time. Romantic comedies are probably one of my least favourite genres of movies but some of them are great like 500 Days of Summer and The Big Sick. Obviously one of the things that stood out about this movie is that it has a mainly Asian cast and done by a major studio, and so I was interested in checking it out. Crazy Rich Asians is a pretty solid romantic comedy that can feel very familiar to other romantic comedies. However it is definitely something significant for representation, is quite funny, has a lot of heart to it and it is definitely worth checking out.

Crazy Rich Asians is actually based on a book of the same name (which was also followed by two sequels), however I haven’t read it so I can’t really say how the film adaptation differs from the novel. Like I said, this is a romantic comedy, and a lot of the tropes associated with romantic comedies are present here. It’s also not one of the more unpredictable romantic comedies out there and doesn’t really do anything too differently from others (outside of the different culture). Even with a different setting and maybe slightly different characters, it does still feel very familiar a lot of the time. On top of that, I will admit that the first half is nothing too special but decent and it’s the second half is where it picks up. It is genuinely heartfelt however, especially towards the third act. It’s also quite funny (as to be expected) and the dialogue is really good. At 2 hours it does feel a little overly long, I’ve only seen the movie once and I can’t pick any particular scenes to cut out, but there is definitely a length or pacing problem. It’s probably why the film improved in the second half, at that point it picked up in the story a lot.

The whole cast are great in their roles. Constance Wu and Henry Golding are likable as the leads and share some very strong chemistry. Other actors like Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina (she in particular is a standout here) and others do great work as well.

Director John M. Chu hasn’t done a lot of great work, the only other film of his that I’ve seen was Now You See Me 2, but he also directed Step Up 2, Step Up 3, Step Up Revolution, GI Joe Retaliation and Jem and the Holograms. However, I think he did a solid job with Crazy Rich Asians. One thing that Crazy Rich Asians really does well is show off the culture really well, from the locations, the music, the food (so much food), all the culture is on display and I’m glad that they really took advantage of that for the movie. The only bad aspect of the direction was that there was one scene early on involving texting/social media with this weird editing and visual effects which really felt out of place from the rest of the movie. You’ll know which one it is and it really stands out but it’s a minor issue nonetheless.

Crazy Rich Asians is funny and heartfelt and worth watching. It’s second half is better than the first, and it’s not that different from other romantic comedies (falling into many of the same tropes and clichés) but overall it’s still good. It’s also undeniably significant with all the representation. I’m glad to hear that there is a sequel in the works already, and I’m on board for it.

Ocean’s 8 (2018) Review

Time: 110 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Offensive language
Cast:
Sandra Bullock as Debbie Ocean
Cate Blanchett as Lou Miller
Anne Hathaway as Daphne Kluger
Mindy Kaling as Amita
Sarah Paulson as Tammy
Awkwafina as Constance
Rihanna as Nine Ball
Helena Bonham Carter as Rose Weil
Richard Armitage as Claude Becker
James Corden as John Frazier
Director: Gary Ross

Five years, eight months, 12 days and counting — that’s how long Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) has been devising the biggest heist of her life. She knows what it’s going to take — a team of the best people in the field, starting with her partner-in-crime Lou Miller (Cate Blanchett). Together, they recruit a crew of specialists, including jeweler Amita (Mindy Kaling), street con Constance (Awkwafina), suburban mom Tammy (Sarah Paulson), hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), and fashion designer Rose (Helena Bonham Carter). Their target — a necklace that’s worth more than $150 million.

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I was a little sceptical about Ocean’s Eight. It had a lot of potential, with it being a spinoff of the famous Ocean’s series directed by Steven Soderbergh and having a huge and talented cast including Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and Anne Hathaway. At the same time the advertising for the movie made it look just okay and I was unfortunately not as excited for the movie as I feel I should be considering all the talent involved. Nonetheless I was curious enough to check it out and I’m glad I did. Ocean’s Eight was actually quite a bit of fun with the cast and was yet another reasonably well done heist movie. It does have some faults but its easy to overlook most of them.

I watched the Ocean’s trilogy many years ago and I don’t have the best memory of it but I do remember liking it. Ocean’s Eight does similar things that other heist movies have done (like the original Ocean’s trilogy), it has a similar structure, and it has some similar sequences like the team recruiting montages and the twist montages where it reveals everything that happened. It doesn’t really do anything new but it does everything rather well. The first two acts do have moments where it drags and you aren’t as entertained or interested but it does pick up again within a few scenes later. Generally however, it is entertaining, and I was consistently entertained in the 3rd act.

As previously mentioned, Ocean’s Eight has a great cast, with Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Sarah Paulson, Anne Hathaway and more and they play their roles well. Some give better performances than others, and they aren’t giving some of the best performances of their careers but they are good here. They have great chemistry and play off each other really well. The two standouts for me though were Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway, they really were highlights of the film. The weakest performance of the movie was James Corden, he doesn’t have a massive amount of screentime and he’s not bad, not even annoying or anything. But he is very distracting and feels miscast in the role, he plays it like he’s James Corden and not a character.

Gary Ross directs this movie well enough but you do feel the lack of Steven Soderbergh. It does have some stylistic moments and it’s fine and all but it’s missing something. I’m not saying that Steven Soderbergh himself needed to be directing this movie, and Ross’s direction isn’t bad but I think Ocean’s Eight would’ve benefited from better direction.

Ocean’s Eight was a lot of fun. Even if you haven’t watched the original Ocean’s trilogy, that won’t negatively affect your experience of the movie. The cast was great and it was entertaining watching them come together to pull off a heist. It does have some issues but it’s not enough to take away from the overall experience. I do hope that we get at least a couple more movies with these characters, it definitely has potential.