Doctor Strange: Everything You Didn't Know About Wong

Doctor Strange - Benedict Wong as Wong

Marvel brings magic into their ever expanding cinematic universe with their newest film, Doctor Strange. Much like last year’s Ant-Man, Doctor Strange is one of Marvel’s riskier moves, focusing on a rather unorthodox superhero. The film started off on a bad foot with controversy swimming around due to Tilda Swinton being cast in a traditionally Asian male role. Seeing a vital role getting whitewashed only made fans more nervous of how Wong, Strange’s “butler,” was going to be portrayed.

Wong has been repeatedly criticized for perpetuating negative Asian tropes. He’s a manservant who is an expert in martial arts but also serves Stephen Strange’s every need. Thankfully, actor Benedict Wong has clarified that the character would be completely changed for the film.

Besides being Strange’s secretary, not many people know much about Wong. Throughout the years, he’s transformed from a one dimensional side character into someone worth caring about. He’s generally used as a plot device, but he ends up in some darkly comedic situations. He’s also contributed to the fight in many ways and has even saved Strange’s life multiple times.

Here are 15 Things You Never Knew About Wong.

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Benedict Wong Interview - Doctor Strange
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15 The Character Almost Didn't Make it Into the Film

Benedict Wong Interview - Doctor Strange

Before the first trailer even aired, fans were hesitant about seeing Doctor Strange on the big screen. The superhero was fun, but the content was riddled with Asian stereotypes, especially in the character of Wong. In a recent interview, director Scott Derrickson mentioned that he almost didn’t include Wong in the film because of the stigma behind him.

“I was very happy with that Tilda [Swinton’s] casting, but I was also very conscious that in doing that I was erasing a significant potential Asian role. I was going to leave Wong out of the movie at first; he was an Asian sidekick manservant, what was I supposed to do with that? But once the decision was made to cast Tilda, we brought Wong back because, unlike the Ancient One, he could be completely subverted as a character and reworked into something that didn’t fall into any of the stereotypes of the comics.”

And thankfully, it looks like he kept his word. Instead of being the sidekick, Wong seems to have a bigger role. Instead of partaking in martial arts, he will be a master sorcerer, helping teach Strange the concepts of magic. In terms of representation, this is a step in the right direction. Not only do we need more Asian American actors in films, but we need them taking on more diverse parts than the fighting experts.

14 He's an Expert in Martial Arts

Wong and Doctor Strange in The Oath

Wong may have trained with the Ancient One, but that doesn’t mean he has superpowers.  However, he does more  than tend to Strange’s household. During his time at the monastery, he became very adept in martial arts and helped train Stephen in hand to hand combat.  In different variations, we’ve seen him take on ninjas and other human adversaries while Strange takes on the more mystical threats. He mostly uses his fists and a staff (though he did use two cool looking short swords in the Spiderman Animated Series). For example, in Doctor Strange Issue #44, Wong helped fight enemy soldiers and gargoyles using only a staff. Brian K. Vaughan’s The Oath also showed a significant amount of action from Wong. He has deadpan one-liners and acts similar to a mob henchman. When Strange comes back to the regular world, he sees him dragging an unconscious body away. When asking him what he was up to, Wong simply states, “leave worldly concerns to me, Master.

13 He was Eaten by a Zombie Doctor Druid

Marvel Zombies Vs Army of Darkness

In 2007, Marvel struck a deal with Dynamite Entertainment and made a limited Marvel Zombies Vs Army of Darkness series. Yes, it’s as amazing as it sounds. In this alternate universe, we have our favorite Marvel heroes hungry for brains instead of justice. The comic has a wacky beginning, picking up where Army of Darkness’ comic, The Death of Ash left off. Our protagonist, Ashley G. Williams (a spin off of the horror icon Ash Williams) is in “Heaven” after dying in his previous story. He ends up in an alternate Marvel universe where the heroes are infected with some sort of virus and are killing each other.

In Issue #3, Doctor Druid goes to Stephen Strange’s mansion to get a cure after he’s been bitten. Despite trying to control his urges, Druid is caught in the act devouring Wong. Ashley responds by shotgunning him in the head and moving on like nothing happened. This is a brutal series to read but has all of the Evil Dead quirks that we know and love.

12 Had his Face Mutilated by Urthona

Wong and Urthona in Doctor Strange

Wong will do anything for his master, but it’s pretty sad how much he goes through to save the Sorcerer Supreme. One way or another, he ends up hurt or dead in many of Strange’s shenanigans (but not without Strange making it up to him in some huge way). In Doctor Strange #78, he once again gets the short end of the stick. When Strange is busy fighting off a demon, an alien sorcerer named Urthona transports Strange’s mansion to a different dimension to steal his magical items. However, it turns out that Wong and an empath named Topaz were still inside.

Even though his physical body was technically dead, Strange used astral projection to possess an a novice apprentice named Rintrah to battle the evil sorcerer. When Strange decides to destroy his mystical items so Urthona can’t use them, the evil sorceror uses dark magic to brutally mutilate Wong’s face in retaliation. Instead of explicitly showing his face, the panels just show blood shooting out of a bundle of light. If Topaz didn’t explicitly say otherwise, it would be easy to think that Wong brutally died by spontaneous combustion. Fortunately, Topaz is able to heal him easily, and Wong goes on like nothing has happened. Even though Wong is Strange’s most trusted friend, it’s sad how he is just used as literal target practice for the villains. He's like the Kenny of the Marvel universe. Thankfully, that has somewhat changed in recent years.

11 Ran Strange's Estate After Thinking He was Dead

Sara Wolfe and Wong

After destroying his mystic weapons in the fight with Urthona, Strange inadvertently gave demons access to the human world. In the next 19-issue series (called Strange Tales), we see the consequences of Strange’s actions. While his friends may be alive, demons are possessing everyone, leaving Strange with very tough choices to make. After having to kill an innocent man, he decides to fix his mistakes—without having to risk his friends’ lives again. In Strange Tales Issue 3, he casts a memory loss spell on Sara Wolfe and Wong,  having them believe he was dead. He makes Sara and Wong the joint administrators of the Sanctum Santorum, (now called the Stephen Strange Memorial Metaphysical Institute), a facility used for research of the occult. When Strange leaves, he’s simply Doctor Sanders to them, a random person in their minds.

After Strange spends the series tracking down the escaped monsters, he finds Wong and Sara and gives them their memories back. Instead of being angry, they warmly welcome him back as if he never left. Wong’s appearances may have been limited, but it shows that Strange sees him as more than a servant; he sees him as a possible heir to his estate.

10 Was in Love with Sara Wolfe but Married Imei Chang

Wong and Sara Wolfe in Doctor Strange

While Wong seems to only focus on tending to Strange’s needs, he is very popular with the ladies. Even though their friendship started as slightly antagonistic, Wong aided Strange’s secretary, Sara Wolfe, in healing and self defense techniques. Eventually, they started to fall for each other. However, Wong cut off any potential relationship because he has been betrothed to someone named Imei Chang.

Ever since he was a child, Wong had been arranged to marry Imei, but had to wait until they were the proper age. Unlike Wong, Imei does not have any special skills of her own. She is just a normal human who lives in New York City. But she isn’t the evil wife standing in the way of Wong and Sara’s love; she and Wong have a very happy marriage and even fight together in some issues. Unfortunately, their happiness doesn’t last long when Imei is literally drained of life by Sister Nil.

9 Became Mentally Unhinged after Imei Was Killed

It takes a lot for Wong to get angry at Strange. Despite the numerous invasions and injuries, he always seems to trust him. However, the one time Wong  became angry was when Strange got his wife, Imei Chang, killed by Sister Nil in Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme #60. This left him mentally unhinged and motivated him to leave Stephen’s side and team up with Salome, a demon who was a former Sorcerer Supreme. She claimed that she binded Imei’s soul to a demon named Xaos and would resurrect her if Wong helped her kill Stephen.

Throughout the series, Wong tries to kill Strange multiple times until Strange shows Wong that Salome has been deceiving him this whole time. It turns out that Imei was truly dead, with Xaos only being used as a decoy. However, Strange made it up to him by taking him to visit her in the afterlife. After that issue, Strange starts to treat Wong as a brother figure. It’s one of the only times where we see them as equals rather than man and sidekick.

8 He Gets Killed by Dracula

Doctor Strange in Tomb of Dracula

Dracula is a name that is associated with horror, sexuality, and corruption. First appearing in Bram Stoker’s novel of the same name, Dracula has become a horror icon. He’s appeared in countless numbers of books, tv shows, and films. Even though he’s mostly known for his classic film appearances, he’s also become quite prominent in the Marvel comic book world. Created by Gerry Conway and Gene Colan, the Marvel “Vlad Dracula” made his debut in his Tomb of Dracula series in 1972. He’s faced a countless number of Marvel heroes, including Stephen Strange. Tomb of Dracula Issue #44 starts off with Strange trying to summon Wong.  He finds him dead with puncture marks in his neck, almost completely drained of blood. After diving into Wong’s mind, Strange witnesses Dracula biting into Wong’s neck after being caught killing another woman. Strange uses that vision as clues to find Wong’s murderer.

After a grueling two issues, Strange manages to kill Dracula and resurrect Wong from the vampire’s curse. Even though he was merely used as a plot device, it showed that Strange was willing to (literally) die to save his only friend.

7 Was First Named in Strange Tales #147

Wong in Strange Tales #147

If you go back to the early era of comics, you will definitely see a vastly different attitude towards minorities and women. Women were often referred to as “the females,” as if they were a different species, and minorities were mainly portrayed as exaggerated stereotypes. Throughout the years, Wong has been heavily criticized for being an Asian manservant for a white man, and it’s pretty clear why. Even though he was technically introduced in Strange Tales Issue #110, he wasn’t actually referenced by name until Issue #147. And the only reason he was named was because  Strange was berating him for not paying the pharmacy bill! The rest of the  issue has illustrations of him bowing to every need and simply being labeled as “devoted manservant.” He literally had no character to him beyond a stereotype. Thankfully, that has finally started to change with him getting prominent roles and backstories that feature more than just serving tea.

6 Voiced by George Takei in the Spiderman Animated Series

George Takei as Sulu in Star Trek

When the casting for The Ancient One was announced, the fans erupted (and not in a good way). Instead of the stereotypical wise Asian man, the movie's producers cast Tilda Swinton in the role. While it was nice that the Ancient One was a woman, people were angry that studios didn’t cast someone of Asian descent. National treasure, George Takei, sternly addressed his thoughts on his Facebook page.

He said, “So let me get this straight. You cast a white actress so you wouldn’t hurt sales … in Asia? This backpedaling is nearly as cringeworthy as the casting. Marvel must think we’re all idiots."

Well it turns out that Takei is a little more intimate with the property than we thought. In the 1990s animated Spider-Man series, he voiced Wong in his only appearance. While searching for Mary Jane, Peter Parker saves Wong from a group of ninjas. It turns out that the ninjas are brainwashed under Baron Mordo. Parker enlists the help of Wong and Strange to break Mordo’s trance. Wong actually gets to partake in some action with two awesome looking short swords and his cunning wit. Even though it was only for one episode, it gave us a taste of his fighting abilities. 

5 Wong was a Doctor in New York City

Doctor Strange - Wong from the Marvel comics

In most variations, Wong has been introduced as someone trained from birth to serve the Ancient One or Sorcerer Supreme. However, in the six issue run, simply titled Strange, the writers decided to put a new spin on Strange and Wong’s backstory.

In the limited series, Wong is introduced as a young Tibetan boy, rendered mute after seeing the brutal death of his parents. Several years later, he meets Stephen Strange, who’s a medical student volunteering in Tibet. He fixes his broken arm and gives him a watch as a sign of his friendship. Strange promises he would return and visit Wong after he graduates from medical school. Strange’s origin story starts to get more familiar from there as he becomes an arrogant plastic surgeon and forgets about Tibet all together. After his tragic accident (which, in this version, occurs while skiing instead of driving), he goes broke trying to find a specialist to fix his hands.

He then finds out that Wong is now a practicing hand specialist residing in New York (who also happens to be under the name Stephen). When he goes to seek him out, Wong is completely westernized, sporting long, silky hair and a black turtleneck. Instead of treating his hands, he introduces Strange to the concept of magic and the Ancient One.

Unlike most comic series, Strange focuses almost entirely on the origin story. It isn’t until the last few panels that Stephen fully embraces his powers as the next Sorcerer Supreme. Instead of being assigned to him, Wong voluntarily stays to serve Strange, simply saying, “My place is with you.

In his eyes, Wong wouldn’t be where he is without Strange’s help and he wants to return that favor.

4 Is a Descendant/Lookalike of Kan

Kan in Doctor Strange #44

Wong’s bloodline was unknown for many years, except for his immediate family. We knew that his family had served the Ancient One for generations, but nothing about his ancestors. In The Oath, it’s revealed that he stems from monks living in Kamar-Taj, an isolated community in the Himalayas. He’s a direct descendant (and lookalike) of Kan, a Chinese monk who studied the occult. In Doctor Strange #44, Wong explains the origins and significance of his ancestor.

After discovering a strange temple, Kan is pulled through a magic mirror into an alternate dimension. There he meets, Prince Jehan, his sister Princess Shialmar, and their court magician, Vung. They think that Kan was sent to help them fight the Wizard Kings and get their kingdom back from oppressive rule. However, Vung  was secretly using him as a pawn to further the Wizards Kings’ influence on the world. To help fight, Shialmar sacrificed her soul to kill both Vung and the Wizard Kings. As a result, she turned into the evil Shadow Queen, who banished Kan (who was in love with her) to his world.

Because he felt awful aiding such an evil cause, Kan made sure that every first born son after him would serve mystics who used their forces for good.  This event is what leads Wong to start serving mystics at such a young age.

3 Trained From a Young Age to Serve Mystics

Doctor Strange (2016) - Tilda Swinton and Benedict Cumberbatch

Wong’s family has been acquainted with the Ancient One and Sorcerer Supreme for generations. Beginning with his ancestor, Kan, it has been tradition for all the first born males of Wong’s family to serve the Ancient One. Kan started this because he wanted to make sure that his family was always serving the good side of magic.

We don’t know much about Wong’s family except that his father, Hamir, also followed this tradition. Since Wong was the first born son, he dedicated his life to serving the Ancient One since the age of 4. He was taken to his remote monastery and trained in how to both serve Sorcerer Supremes and fight in hand to hand combat.

When he reached adulthood, The Ancient One sent him to the United States to attend to Stephen Strange’s needs. However, he quickly became Strange’s closest friend and helped him in both house and fighting matters.

2 Had Terminal Brain Cancer

Wong in the Oath

Brian K. Vaughan is known for hits such as Saga and Paper Girls, but not many people know about his Doctor Strange run. Vaughan is known for his offbeat humor and manages to naturally mesh it into the superhero genre. Illustrated by Marcos Martin, The Oath is darker than some other Doctor Strange issues, juggling the themes of morality and medicine. The comic dives into the criticism of pharmaceutical companies but also manages to include medical and insurance jokes at the same time.

When Stephen is bested by a mysterious villain called Brigand, he realizes that the robber stole one magical artifact: the cure for cancer. And it just so happens that Wong was recently diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor and needs that potion to survive. He would like to live out his days serving Strange the best that he can. However, Strange won’t allow that to happen. Instead, he and the Night Nurse go to the ends of the universe and try to get the potion back. Vaughan and Martin show a more affectionate side of Strange in this graphic novel. We know that he is pompous and arrogant, but The Oath goes deeper into their friendship and illustrates the sacrifices that he will make for his best friend.

1 He Absorbs Stephen's Pain

Wong in Last Days of Magic

To introduce Doctor Strange to casual comic fans, Marvel released a new series, The Last Days of Magic, in 2015. With surreal illustrations,  The Last Days of Magic introduces darkly humorous themes with this mysterious superhero. In Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo’s world, Stephen Strange is sort of like the community witch doctor. If your child is suddenly walking around like he/she is possessed, he’s the person you need to call. Aaron and Bachalo go beyond the surface and dive within the deep meanings of magic.

When a race called the Empirikuls vow to erase all magic in the name of science, Strange must enlist the help of other sorcerers to keep the magic alive. While Wong may take on the role of secretary in this series, his role is a bit more imperative. When Strange is on the verge of death, Wong enlists the help of those who were saved by Strange to take in his pain and divide it amongst themselves. Together, they chant, “his pain belongs to me now,” allowing Strange to transfer his pain to his believers and gather enough strength to save the world once more.

This version of Wong takes a much darker turn than others. While we have seen Wong take up magic more than martial arts, we haven’t seen him shift Strange’s literal pain onto himself. It’s almost cult-like and makes Strange seem more godly than he is usually portrayed.

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