If we’re only just being introduced to Shang-Chi in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there are elements of the mythology surrounding the character that have a long legacy on our screens. For one, the film’s full title is Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings – with the Ten Rings (or, a version of the Ten Rings) being the group that first captured Tony Stark way back in Iron Man. And then there’s The Mandarin. If he was initially promised as the main villain of Iron Man 3, that incarnation of the character was revealed mid-way through the movie to be a ruse portrayed by Sir Ben Kingsley’s ailing actor Trevor Slattery. Now, the ‘real’ Mandarin is entering the MCU in the form of Shang-Chi’s father, Tony Leung’s Wenwu.
And yet, while Marvel is doing The Mandarin for real this time, there may be more here than meets the eye too. “Our version of the character is not The Mandarin in the way that people are expecting him to be,” Shang-Chi co-writer Dave Callaham teases in Empire’s cover feature. “‘The Mandarin’ is a title that has been applied to him in the past by people that don’t understand his culture. But he’s a much deeper character than I think a lot of people would expect.”
The relationship – and tension – between Wenwu and Simu Liu’s Shang-Chi is set to be a central thread of the film, a key element that drew director Destin Daniel Cretton to the project. But bringing The Mandarin to the screen also came with a responsibility not to perpetuate racist archetypes that have endured through decades of popular culture. “It was for me the part of the Shang-Chi comics that I personally really connected to,” says Cretton. “It was really important for us to find the root of that anger and that pain. That was the goal from the get-go, and probably the number one fear of all of us was creating a Mandarin that was further contributing to the ‘Yellow Peril’ type of stereotypes that are still flying around.”
One way of helping make sure The Mandarin emerges as a fully fleshed-out character? Cast the legendary Tony Leung – veteran of Wong Kar Wai and John Woo movies – in a rare Hollywood role. “He’s Brad Pitt, Clooney, De Niro, all roles up into one,” laughs Liu. “He Ocean’s One! He came up to me and shook my hand with both of his, and I just about died in that moment.”
Read Empire’s full Shang-Chi cover feature in the upcoming issue, available on newsstands from Thursday 5 August. Order a copy online here. Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings comes to UK cinemas on 3 September.