Shang-Chi can resolve one of the MCU's biggest unsolved mysteries by making Shang-Chi's father the real Mandarin. Several antagonists and villains appeared in the Iron Man trilogy, but the one character that caused divisiveness amongst fans was the Mandarin, who turned out to be Aldrich Killian all along. And he used a decoy in the public eye. But what if Marvel is saving the real Mandarin for an MCU Phase 4 movie?
Shang-Chi was the star of a Marvel Comics series from the '70s, titled Master of Kung Fu, where he used his incredible martial arts skills to fight against his father, who was the Marvel version of the famous Fu Manchu. Shang-Chi would eventually put an end to his father's evil schemes and has made recurring appearances in different books over the years, which included a stint as a member of The Avengers.
The original story of Shang-Chi was one of a son discovering that his father is evil and trying to stop him, even though it means harming a member of his own family. There are legal issues that could prevent Fu Manchu from appearing in the MCU, but there is another character who has yet to make an appearance who might be able to fill that void, while also answering some lingering questions that were left behind by Iron Man 3.
There Are Legal Issues Regarding Fu Manchu's Name
Dr. Fu Manchu was a Chinese supervillain who was created by British author Sax Rohmer in 1913. In 1974, when Marvel released the Master of Kung Fu series, they acquired the rights to use Fu Manchu from the Rohmer estate. Those rights, however, have since expired, which has led to him being reconceptualized as a character called Zheng Zu. The problem with using Fu Manchu in the MCU is with regards to a trademark. The original Fu Manchu novels have entered the public domain, but the Rohmer estate owns the trademark on the Fu Manchu name, which means that Marvel would either need to pay them to use the name or would only be able to use it in a limited capacity.
The Master of Kung Fu comic book series isn't that well-known outside of fans of the '70s era of Marvel and Fu Manchu rarely appears in modern works, so his exclusion from the Shang-Chi movie wouldn't be too difficult to work around. It would make more sense for Disney/Marvel to create a new character altogether, or maybe, use a character who has been lingering in the background since the days of Iron Man.
The MCU Mandarin Still Hasn't Been Introduced
Iron Man 3 was promoted as featuring the Mandarin as the main villain of the movie, with Ben Kingsley taking on the role. The big twist of the movie was that the Mandarin was actually a British actor who was hired to play the role of a villain and that the real Mandarin was Aldrich Killian. There were a lot of fans who were dissatisfied with the Mandarin twist in Iron Man 3. The Mandarin is considered to be Iron Man's main villain in the comics and the fans were expecting an epic showdown between the two, so the reveal that the Mandarin that was advertised was actually Ben Kingsley doing a bad Russell Brand impression didn't sit well with a lot of people.
Marvel responded to the Mandarin criticisms with the release of a short film called All Hail the King, which appeared on the Thor: The Dark World home release. It's revealed in All Hail the King that the real Mandarin has yet to reveal himself and that the Ten Rings terrorist organization is still active. All Hail the King has established that the real Mandarin exists, but it didn't reveal any information about him. And with Avengers: Endgame closing out the main Infinity Saga, there's potential for Phase 4 to develop lingering plot threads that were abandoned in favor of the larger story at hand - defeating Thanos and saving the universe.
Shang-Chi's Father Could Be The Mandarin
All Hail the King left the door open for the Mandarin to appear in the MCU, but there's no longer an Iron Man around for him to oppose. Tony Stark is gone (for the time being) following Avengers: Endgame and he was the main reason to bring the Mandarin into the MCU in the first place. A Shang-Chi movie would be the perfect opportunity to bring in the Mandarin. He's the leader of a powerful terrorist organization, yet his identity has remained a secret since the first Iron Man movie and none of the heroes of Earth seem to be aware that he is still out there.
The story of Shang-Chi discovering that his father is the leader of the Ten Rings could make for a suitable replacement for the Fu Manchu storyline of the original comics. The fact that the Mandarin is savvy enough to remain anonymous all this time makes it plausible for his son to be ignorant of his criminal activities. Shang-Chi's origin story involved him believing that his father was a benevolent person, before discovering the truth of his evil schemes and turning against him. It would be easy to use the Mandarin and the Ten Rings organization in the same way.
Fu Manchu & The Mandarin Are Problematic Villains
The reason Fu Manchu rarely appears in modern works is due to the problematic way in which he and his organization are portrayed. Fu Manchu is a product of a time where there was a hysteria concerning the idea of people from Asia invading the west (both in a literal and cultural sense), and he represents many of the negative stereotypes concerning Chinese people. The Mandarin isn't much better, with Iron Man 3 director Shane Black going as far as to refer to him as a racist caricature (via CBR).
The Mandarin was clearly inspired by Fu Manchu and suffers from many of the same issues, which is partly why the Iron Man 3 villain switcheroo existed in the first place (and why it was retconned due to fan response.) The introduction of a Chinese villain also runs the risk of offending the massive audience that the MCU has attracted in China. If Fu Manchu or the Mandarin appears in Shang-Chi in their original form, then they would alienate a huge part of the prospective audience of the film around the world.
Shang-Chi Can Update The Mandarin In A Different Way
If the Mandarin was introduced in Shang-Chi as the father of the protagonist, then it would allow the character to be introduced into the MCU without the baggage of his comic book counterpart. Shang-Chi could wash away the negative stereotypes of the old version of the Mandarin by changing him into something new.
The version of the Mandarin that could appear in Shang-Chi could be leading a double life - one where he is a loving family man and one where is the leader of a powerful terrorist organization. The Mandarin could be grooming his son for leadership, but his plans are upended when Shang-Chi discovers the truth of his father's activities when he encounters Sir Denis Nayland Smith - an MI-6 agent who had a prominent role in the Master of Kung Fu comic series. This would create a scenario where Shang-Chi is forced to turn against his father, while also giving the MCU the opportunity to portray the Mandarin as a far more complex character than he might have been as an Iron Man villain, in the same way that Black Panther did for Killmonger.
Shang-Chi has the chance to introduce the Mandarin into the MCU in a way that could both modernize the character and give him much-needed depth, whilst also avoiding any potential issues that could crop up from using Fu Manchu (or Zheng Zu) in his place.
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