Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: Who is the Real Mandarin?

Due to the Coronavirus outbreak making its way around the world, Disney has decided to delay their Marvel film releases. Sorry guys looks like we won’t be getting the chance to see the first instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) Phase 4 films until November this year. The MCU’s new era of films look to be as eclectic as they are downright esoteric. Some of these properties and characters are only known by a handful of die-hard comic book aficionados. In the past, we did a deep dive into Marvel’s Eternals, the MCU’s upcoming group of immortal demigod heroes and why they matter. I think it’s time to take a closer look at Disney’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, namely at the film’s villain: The Mandarin. Some of you may be scratching your heads right now wondering why we’re even discussing a debunked fake foe from Iron Man 3.    

That’s the thing though, Ben Kingsley’s Trevor Slattery is merely a fraudulent stand-in for a very real and very powerful Mandarin existing within the MCU. A character shrouded in mystery. One whose influence and story goes as far back as 2008’s Iron Man. A hidden enemy that could spell bad news for the heroes of the MCU.   

The History of the Mandarin

As I’ve stated earlier, there’s a lot about the character of the Mandarin we don’t know. The only real nugget of information we know about him comes from a one-shot short film called All Hail The King found primarily on the Blu-ray release of Thor: The Dark World’s special features. We’ll get to that later. There is however a lot of history behind the character of the Mandarin based on his comic book origins and history. So before we dive into his connections to the MCU, let’s do a quick crash course on one of Iron Man’s most formidable nemesis, the Mandarin.  

In Marvel comics, the Mandarin was borne to an English prostitute in pre-Communist China in an opium den. There in the den, he spent most of his childhood under forced labour alongside his mother. One day when his mother had died from an overdose, he went on a mission to avenge her by killing her dealer. It’s also implied that he was the Mandarin’s father.

Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Anyways, he then went on to pursue a life of crime and became a wanted man after the Communist regime came to power. During his time on the lam, he hid within a cave in the mystical Valley of the Spirits, knowing few would follow him there. Within the cave, he encountered an alien ship which housed ten rings, each possessing the spirit of a fallen cosmic warrior. They were forged by an ancient dragon-like species called the Makluans, who are rumoured to have inspired human mythology relating to dragons. 

The spirits within the Ten Rings would then influence the Mandarin to attempt to bring them back from the dead. In turn, they would grant him immeasurable power. These powers range from matter manipulation to energy projection and electromagnetism. He also had elemental abilities such as pyrokinesis, cryokinesis, light manipulation and wind manipulation.

They also provide him with the ability to cast vivid mental illusions and cripple one’s mind. He’s essentially a one-man army. The Mandarin has been traditionally known to be an Iron Man villain and has no real interaction with the mystical martial artist, Shang-Chi. With the MCU’s Tony Stark out of the picture, what connections does he really have with Shang-Chi and the MCU for that matter?  

Connections to the MCU

With films like The Eternals, Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder lined up for Phase 4, it’s clear that Disney is looking to take the MCU into a more cosmic and mystical direction. The race of Eternals were crafted by great cosmic gods known as the Celestials. The Sorcerer Supreme is set to explore the eldritch horrors of this universe and beyond. The Norse God of Thunder has taken to space with a band of intergalactic outlaws. One thing I can’t help but notice here is the link between cosmic alien forces and Marvel’s magical aspects. And now we have Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

A film that has a martial artist known to channel the mystical bio-energy of Chi go up against a villain who utilizes ancient alien artefacts possessed by the spirit of dead warriors. In the context of Phase 4’s wider theme, I understand why Shang-Chi has the Mandarin as its main villain. Furthermore, the Mandarin’s terror organization, the Ten Rings, has had a real presence in the MCU. They were the ones responsible for kidnapping Tony Stark all the way back in 2008’s Iron Man.

They tried to attain James Rhodey’s War Machine suit during a battle in Hong Kong as seen in a comic book leading up to Iron Man 3. After the events of the film, one of their agents by the name of Jackson Norriss kidnaps Trevor Slattery after the failed actor got himself imprisoned for pretending to be the Mandarin. 

Norriss even gives Trevor a quick history lesson on the Mandarin, claiming that his master is a “warrior king who inspired generations of men during the Middle Ages” and possibly beyond that. Based on Norriss’ quote, it seems that the MCU’s version of the Mandarin is far older than that of his comic book counterpart. Could the MCU’s Mandarin truly be an immortal warrior? Or is Norriss merely playing up his master’s legend? The Ten Rings of the Mandarin (the weapon, not the organization) already provide the man with a whole myriad of powers. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to have immortality be one of them. 

I predict that the plot of Shang-Chi will have the Mandarin emerge out of hiding seeing that his greatest foe has been vanquished. The Mandarin’s activities will then draw the attention of Shang-Chi, who may or may not have a history with the character and his terrorist organization. Shang-Chi will then leap into action to put an end to the Mandarin’s evil plan.

Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

As for what that evil plan is, I’ll hazard a guess that it’s the resurrection of the spirits in the Mandarin’s rings. In All Hail The King, we hear Norriss describe the Ten Rings as a “faith” implying that it is a somewhat religious organization. Bringing back cosmic warriors from the dead sounds like something like a terrorist cult might do. It would also fit in line with Marvel’s Phase 4 theme.  

Truth be told, I was actually quite excited for Iron Man 3 when I heard that the Mandarin would be making an appearance. So you can imagine my disappointment when Shane Black decided to have the character be a fictional persona played by a drunken oaf. Alas, the Mandarin is finally getting the cinematic depiction he deserves come May 2021. 

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