With Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, director Destin Daniel Cretton isn’t just crafting the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first feature with a predominantly Asian cast, he’s also presenting a narrative that explores the relationships that exist between Asian characters of related, but distinctly different, ethnic backgrounds.
In a recent interview with the Observer, Cretton explained how one of the things he’s most excited for about Shang-Chi is the simple fact that the film’s going to star a cast of Asian actors from a variety of backgrounds who are finally going to be able to play the kinds of superhero roles Asian actors historically have never really had the opportunity to:
“It’s really exciting to me to be able to fill a movie like that with a bunch of Asian faces and be able to see of sides of these character than what we have seen before. Growing up, I didn’t have a super hero that looked like me and it’s really exciting to give a new generation something I did not have. I couldn’t be more excited.”
Obviously, Simu Liu’s titluar Shang-Chi will be the centrepiece of the film, but Cretton explicitly mentioned the villainous Mandarin, set to be played by Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, as a character who he’s particularly interested in fleshing out in ways that will elevate him beyond his racist roots in Marvel’s comics:
“I think [Leung] brings a humanity that we need for that character. We are not looking to contribute anymore to the Asian stereotypes that we have seen both in cinema and pop culture.
We’re hoping to just show some different sides to both Asian-Americans and Chinese-Americans and Mainland Chinese characters. Tommy is such an incredible actor and I’m excited to have him help us break some of those stereotypes because that villain could easily become a punchline.”
While Cretton didn’t explicitly mention Iron Man 3‘s “spin” on the Mandarin played by Ben Kingsley, the director’s comments apply just as much to that iteration of the character as they do to his comics counterpart who was based on the racist Fu Manchu stereotype.
While Kingsley’s (false) Mandarin was markedly toned-down in terms of his overall Fu Manchu-ness, he was still presented as an alcoholic, drug-using lout for comedic effect, placing him squarely in caricature territory all the same.
The Mandarin’s become a much more interesting and less racist character in Marvel’s comics in recent years, and it sounds like Crettons intends to do the same for him in his MCU form — which, let’s be honest, is long, long overdue.