Marvel's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings reveals Tony Leung as Wenwu, the father of Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and the real Mandarin, a "tricky" character Iron Man director Jon Favreau once planned for a third movie showdown with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr). The villain, Stark's alien technology-wielding archenemy in the Marvel comic books, nearly appeared in a post-credits scene ending 2012's The Avengers for the Chinese market, but the character was considered "risky" and a "high-stakes gamble" for Disney-owned Marvel. In 2013's Iron Man 3, "The Mandarin" is a terrorist persona adopted by Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley) on behalf of Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce).
After 2008's Iron Man introduced the Ten Rings as a terrorist organization when Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) hires Raza's (Faran Tahir) Afghanistan-based cell to kidnap Stark, Favreau revealed future plans for the Mandarin when comparing the villain to the shadowy Emperor from the original Star Wars trilogy in a 2008 interview with Superhero Hype:
The Mandarin is still the guy. He's the main guy, but we always remind ourselves that nobody liked The Emperor compared to Darth Vader in the Star Wars movies. He's got the same lightning bolts, but when the Emperor was this figure that you just saw obliquely it was like, 'Sh*t, Darth Vader is bowing to someone? That guy must be really cool!' But then as he talked more it was like, 'Alright, enough.' ... So it's really all how you treat the person and that's what informs what it's going to be. So the Mandarin, to have that kind of weight to him is really a matter of using all the narrative tricks to do it, but a dude running and jumping around in robes shooting these beams and rays that have powers that really, if you take them literally, would throw off the balance of the whole universe. So how do you do that and keep the whole thing together, but yet fulfill the expectations from the book?
On adapting the extraterrestrial-based powers granted to the Mandarin via his Ten Rings, Favreau said "a little bit goes a long way" in the at-the-time more grounded world of Iron Man, adding there are "a lot of other characters and a lot of other countries that have become very interesting lately that fit very well into our universe."
The Mandarin is such a tricky character for us because everywhere you turn it's a minefield. So we get into the mystical Asian dark arts and inter-dimensional travel and all the rings that do the different things and psychic abilities and stuff and it's like, 'That could be cool. Maybe it's cool. Maybe if we make it really authentic. Then you see the trailer for [2008's The Mummy: Tomb of the Emperor] and it's like they've got The Mandarin AND Fing Fang Foom in there! And they shot in China and it's like as authentic as you're ever going to get. It's like, 'Ooh, I don't know if that fits our film.' It was great for The Mummy, though. So where do you go with it? What are your rules and how do you stay consistent with them? What happens is that people get desperate as they're looking for inspiration to up the ante and so you start breaking your own rules, and that's when the movies start to lose their identity.
When Favreau exited the Iron Man franchise as director after 2010's Iron Man 2, new director Shane Black and co-writer Drew Pearce brought to screen a version of the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 who was unlike his comic book counterpart — who Pearce called a "yellow peril stereotype" in a 2019 interview with Inverse.
After an Iron Man 3 twist revealed Kingsley's character was a drug-addled actor — and not the criminal mastermind behind an organization pursuing global destabilization — Marvel Studios confirmed the existence of a real Mandarin in the Pearce-directed Marvel One-Shot All Hail the King. Before the studio officially began developing Shang-Chi in 2018, Marvel Studios president and producer Kevin Feige let it be known that "there have been talks" about introducing the actual Mandarin in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
"That's one of the reasons we wanted to do the fun short that Drew Pearce wrote and directed. That was to clarify, 'Hey, just because we did this thing doesn't mean this other thing doesn't exist,'" Feige told IGN in 2014. "And as we were making Iron Man 3 — and I think Drew's spoken about this — that was always our intention, was that Aldrich Killian was perverting the notion of these things he's heard."
Feige continued, "There's a little bit of that when he's doing his detective work in his lab after Happy's been injured outside the Chinese Theater. He's talking about, 'Okay, the Mandarin is taken from various iconographies and mythologies from across the world.' The idea was always there was somebody like this. There had been rumors of somebody like this, and Aldrich Killian just built on that, to make his version."
Marvel was careful to avoid Asian stereotypes in Shang-Chi, its first Asian-led feature, with director Destin Daniel Cretton calling the movie "a really beautiful update to what started in the comics a few decades ago."
"I think people hear 'the Mandarin' and expect a very specific kind of thing, and that may not be the thing they're getting," Shang-Chi producer Jonathan Schwartz recently told Entertainment Weekly. "They're hopefully getting a more complex and layered take on the character than that name would lead you to."
Starring Simu Liu as Shang-Chi, Tony Leung as Wenwu, Awkwafina as Shang-Chi's friend Katy, Michelle Yeoh as Jiang Nan, and fellow MCU newcomers Fala Chen, Meng'er Zhang, Florian Munteanu, and Ronny Chieng, Marvel's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings releases only in theaters on September 3.