The stories of Marvel Studio's struggle to get The Avengers in theaters (and change the face of blockbuster movie franchises) are now infamous - but did you know that some major Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase 4 characters were almost in the film? That's right, apparently, in the move to get Avengers financed (and potentially into Chinese film markets) Marvel Studios met with Chinese film group DMG, and made them an attractive offer: Marvel would create a button scene at the end of Avengers to debut one of two Asian characters to the MCU: Shang-Chi or The Mandarin, who will soon (finally) get their MCU Debut in Shang Chi: Legend of the Ten Rings!
Sites like Bleeding Cool have been digging into a new book called Feeding The Dragon by Chris Fenton, who serves as president of DMG Entertainment Motion Picture Group (as well as other major positions). In recounting his mission to get Hollywood into the Chinese markets, Fenton recounts how Marvel Studios' former Chief Operating Officer Tim Connors approached him about adding the button scene with Shang-Chi or The Mandarin - whichever character DMG preferred:
"They did offer us the opportunity to create a teaser at the end of Avengers for the China market," Fenton explains. "That would give us a chance to tease a potential character, either The Mandarin or Shang-Chi. It's our decision as to which."
However, DMG (like Marvel Studios) knew there was a potential major controversy waiting with one of those choices: The Mandarin:
"A Marvel antagonist like The Mandarin was risky. It posed a high-stakes gamble, not just for us, but also for Disney and Marvel," Fenton continues. "If it backfired, it could prohibit a release of the film in China. Even worse, it could prevent both studios from gaining any traction in China for other films coming later. Worst case, a temporary blackballing… For us, the wrong use of a character like The Mandarin could shut DMG down forever."
The other issue that stands out in the anecdote was how the Chinese government affected the character choice:
The development team in Beijing felt Shang-Chi was the safer role to promote since he was a "good guy" and a hero, while The Mandarin was clearly a nemesis to Iron Man..." Fenton explained. "You always wanted the Chinese character to be a good guy or a hero, not a villain. Remember to them, China is good, and the West is bad... The country was spreading its wings globally, and it wanted to be viewed as a friend to the world, not an agitator or adversary..."
However, Fenton also fairly points out that Marvel (and Hollywood as a whole) didn't always approach Asian characters in the most respectful way:
"American hubris, and often ignorance, commonly led to studios putting the Chinese in an antagonist role. Additionally, Hollywood didn't want to waste the part of a hero on a Chinese actor. But a villain role? No big deal. And simply putting Chinese people in a film was mistakenly thought of as the guaranteed price for admission to China's lucrative market. So, studios did it."
The story is even more interesting when it gets to the topic of Iron Man 3 once again using Mandarin. And it makes you wonder just what lessons Marvel has learned, in order to make Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings properly (including its "true" version of The Mandarin).
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings hits theaters on May 7th, 2021.