As the first trailer for Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings hits, much of the focus is on villain Tony Leung’s Wenwu, aka the Mandarin, who is the father of the heroic martial artist.
Producer Jonathan Schwartz touches on the characters’ complex history and how his appearance in this film reconciles with his earlier MCU fakeout.
Who is the Mandarin?
Debuting in Tales of Suspense #50 in 1964, the Mandarin has long been one of Iron Man’s top foes.
His true name never revealed, he was a member of an ancient Chinese noble house who lost power during the Communist revolution. Fleeing into the jungles, the man found a temple housing an alien starship that had crashed to Earth centuries ago.
The ship had been used by Makulans, whose giant lizard-like appearance would inspire the legend of dragons. Inside, the man discovered ten rings, each boasting a unique power from flame throwing to ice blast to mind control and more.
Renaming himself the Mandarin, the man used the rings in his attempts to create a new Chinese empire. This led to countless conflicts between him and Iron Man.
The Mandarin has shifted over the years from a Fu Manchu-like mastermind to a more mystical figure to even taking on a businessman motif. Aside from the rings, he is also a master martial artist.
The Mandarin was the key villain of the 1994 Iron Man animated series and still plagues him today.
The Mandarin fakeout
It seemed natural the Mandarin would appear in the MCU, but it didn’t happen the way people expected.
The first Iron Man film mentioned the Ten Rings, a terrorist organization that answered to a mysterious master.
In Iron Man 3, Oscar-winner Ben Kingsley played the Mandarin as a shadowy figure making bold addresses to the public during attacks. There was controversy over the casting of Kingsley as this Asian villain.
In a shocking turn, when Tony Stark confronts the “Mandarin,” he learns he’s really Trevor Slattery, a boozing British actor who has no idea his “terrorist movie” is all for real. He’s simply the distraction of true villain Killian.
A short film had Slattery living it up in prison when he’s taken away by someone who says that the real Mandarin isn’t happy about having his name used this way.
The new Mandarin
In Shang-Chi, Wenwu (played by famed Hong Kong actor Tony Leung) goes by that name more, but it is mentioned he once used “the Mandarin” as an alias.
In the comics, Shang-Chi’s father was the legendary criminal mastermind Fu Manchu. That was dropped when Marvel lost the rights to the character.
Producer Schwartz mentioned to Entertainment Weekly how the producers are aware viewers may be concerned about another fakeout involving the Mandarin and that they’re using that to keep folks off-balance.
“I think people hear ‘the Mandarin’ and expect a very specific kind of thing, and that may not be the thing they’re getting,” Schwartz teases. “They’re hopefully getting a more complex and layered take on the character than that name would lead you to.”
Director Deston Daniel Cretton spoke warmly to EW on how Leung made Wenwu much more profound than expected, especially how the man, in his own way, truly loves Shang-Chi and wants him at his side.
“A character like Wenwu could have easily been a one-dimensional villain with no heart,” Cretton says. “Tony opened this character up [so] this is an antagonist who has a deep ability to love.”
While it’s unsure if this Wenwu utilizes those mythical ten rings, Marvel fans are hopeful to see a more traditional version of the Mandarin finally on the big screen.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings premieres in theaters September 3.