Shang-Chi: Who Is The Mandarin?

Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) may be confused when they hear The Mandarin is one of the main characters in Marvel Studio’s new film.

However, the character in Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings is a lot different to the one audiences were previously introduced to in 2013’s Iron Man 3.

With lots of advance buzz for Tony Leung Chiu-wai’s performance as the character in the film (the first time the iconic Hong Kong actor has appeared in a Hollywood movie), we’ve broken down everything you need to know about The Mandarin before Shang-Chi releases in cinemas on 3rd September.

Origins In The Comics

Marvel Comics

The Mandarin’s origins in the comics were, shall we say, problematic. Debuting as the enemy of Iron Man in 1964, the character (created by Stan Lee and Don Heck) arrived at a time when racism towards Asian people was at a high, fueled by America’s steps towards war in Vietnam.

In his earlier incarnations, The Mandarin was also characterised in other stereotypical ways – he was a master at karate, and an expert in Chinese mysticism. However, as the years passed, the character was reimagined to be a more fitting adversary for Tony Stark.

In the 2000s, he was reintroduced as a Chinese businessman aiming to take down Stark by infiltrating the US government using his ten rings. Here he created his own terrorist group to get his own way (more on that later), but was eventually unsuccessful in his mission.

After his death, the Ten Rings took on a life of their own, although they were still eager to kill Stark.

The Mandarin has recently been rebooted again in the comics, appearing in The Punisher series.

What Are The Mandarin’s Powers?

Marvel Studios

The Mandarin’s main powers come from his ten rings, all of which have a different one.

In the comics, these powers are: flame throwing, energy projection, lighting blasts, air manipulation, psionic energy amplification, matter disintegration, ice formation, black/white light manipulation and matter manipulation.

In the comics, each of his fingers has a designated ring, but this has been changed slightly for the movie – they now wrap around the hands of the wearer.

But this isn’t the only superpower The Mandarin has. He can channel his energy into superhuman abilities, from strength and martial arts, and is able to go without food and water for years at a time.

The Mandarin In The MCU

Marvel Studios

The Mandarin may only be getting introduced in Phase Four of the MCU, but much of the lore has existed in the franchise from the very beginning.

In the first Iron Man film, Tony Stark is actually kidnapped by Ten Rings terrorists in the Middle East, which is what leads him to create his first Iron Man suit. But it wasn’t until the third film in that trilogy that The Mandarin was introduced – well, sort of.

When it was announced Ben Kingsley would be playing the role, there was widespread criticism that Marvel had “whitewashed” the part.

Writer/director Shane Black was one step ahead though, with the film’s twist revealing ‘The Mandarin’ was actually just a deluded actor called Trevor Slattery, who didn’t realise playing the role linked him to global terrorism.

Marvel Studios

In a bonus feature on the home entertainment release of Thor: The Dark World, a short film entitled All Hail The King sees Slattery interviewed in prison by Jackson Norriss (Scoot McNairy). In the clip, Norriss claims he wants to introduce Slattery to the real Mandarin who isn’t pleased with the actor’s depiction of him, while hiding the fact he’s an agent of the Ten Rings.

Like Marvel’s usual post-credits sequences, it appears this short was setting up a future movie, so it was no surprise that Kingsley was spotted at the premiere of Shang-Chi, and it has since been confirmed that he appears in the movie.

Seven years after that Marvel One Shot (the name of their short film bonus features), it’s finally about to pay off.

The Mandarin In Shang-Chi

Marvel Studios

The real Mandarin will finally appear in Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings where will be introduced as Shang-Chi’s father, a welcome change from his family lineage in the comic book source material.

Introduced in 1974, the original Shang-Chi comic books introduced the character’s father as Fu Manchu, a racist stereotype that predates the existence of Marvel, debuting in novel form in 1913.

When the company lost the rights to feature the character, they started overlooking Shang-Chi’s lineage, with this big screen adaptation offering a welcome change to that narrative.

Marvel’s film is about the conflict between Shang-Chi and his father, known as Wenwu, which translates into English as “Scholar Warrior”.

Much of the plot is being kept under wraps – but with Tony Leung Chiu-wai making his Hollywood debut in the role, it’s safe to assume that this will be a refreshing take on the material.

We’ll find out when Shang-Chi And The Legend Of the Ten Rings releases in cinemas on 3rd September.

For all things pop culture and the latest news, follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and TikTok.

Alistair Ryder

Alistair Ryder


Alistair is a culture journalist and lover of bad puns from Leeds. Subject yourself to his bad tweets by following him on Twitter @YesItsAlistair.