If Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings does not put the MCU over $4BnUSD at the China Box-Office, it’s going to get it pretty damn close!
SUB-ARGUMENT: It is a common misconception that Marvel is retconning The Mandarin from Iron Man 3 for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. As it has been confirmed by Iron Man 3 and All Hail the King Marvel One-Shot writer Drew Pearce that himself and Kevin Feige talked, during the Iron Man 3 development process, of more appropriate plans for the “Yellow Peril” villain. This hesitation on the part of Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios will aid Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings box-office grosses not just in China and in Asia, but that in North America’s as well.
By Ryan Carroll, Editor-at-Large
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has made $2.8BnUSD to-date at the China Box-Office and with two films being released before Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, its performance could put it at $4BnUSD over the Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) release date of February 12th 2021.
We should expect $115MMUSD from Black Widow which is the average for Marvel movies in China and possibly $150MMUSD to $$200MMUSD for The Eternals as it should play more along the lines of Captain Marvel.
The Eternals is being directed by Chinese-born, American/U.K. educated Chloe Zhao, which could give the film a bump at the China Box-Office putting it above the Captain Marvel range of $154MMUSD.
The Eternals also featuring a more diverse cast, including female superheroes a sub-genre that is widely overlooked at the China Box-Office, and a top Korean star, that may provide some additional benefit as well.
This would put the Marvel Cinematic Universe China Box-Office between $3BnUSD-$3.1BnUSD unless Black Widow’s popularity among Chinese moviegoers is more than it appears, and the Female Superhero factor comes into play. To which we could see a $150MMUSD box-office putting the figure just under $3.2BnUSD for the MCU in China.
A clear possibility for the Black Widow solo film given the popularity of female superheroes and the MCU films in China.
It is a stretch to say that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will put Marvel Studios over the $4BnUSD mark at the China Box-Office, as we would be looking at the film needing to gross between $800MMUSD, matching Wolf Warrior 2‘s box-office record of $854MMUSD, to $1BnUSD. Something that not even Star Wars: The Force Awakens was able to do in North America $936MMUSD.
But, one thing is for certain about the China Box-Office is, that the February 12th release date being the first day of the Chinese New Year / Chun Jie / Spring Festival. Is that it is the biggest box-office going period in the world.
It would be like rolling all of our holiday box-offices into one, with 2019 seeing 8 local Chinese films bringing in huge figures over this time period.
The Mandarin – In Tony Leung Chiu-wai We Trust
The casting of Tony Leung as the Marvel super-villain The Mandarin is by-far the most exciting casting news one could expect. There were rumors that Donnie Yen was in talks with Marvel, maybe for this role – some speculated for that of Shang-Chi, but he’s way too old (56, two years older than Robert Downey Jr.) for the character and those who are in the know would know better – but, the veracity and gravitas that a character like The Mandarin would command. Demands an actor of the caliber of Tony Leung Chiu-wai.
A martial arts (and honestly acting talent for an action star) such as Donnie Yen, would best be served as a one-off Shang-Chi villain rather than one of the caliber of The Mandarin. It would be a shock to not see Donnie Yen in a future Shang-Chi sequel, in some character capacity or another.
The SCMP did a decent write-up on why Tony Leung’s casting is a big deal. Not just because he’s an actual Asian actor from Asia (he’s from Hong Kong), but because he is (in this author’s ‘not humble’ opinion) the only Asian actor who has that old school Hollywood quality to him, and with his command of English. It is a surprise he has not broken out in a Hollywood film yet, like many Japanese actors have before him (whose English tend to have a much stronger accent, and not as naturally fluent).
Though Tony Leung is not a martial artist he has trained diligently for many action roles over his 30 year career. Even playing Bruce Lee’s real life teacher Ip Man in Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster – showing that he ‘does know kung-fu’ – his casting is a major hint that The Mandarin is going to be an important villain in the MCU, potentially even beyond Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Ring and its sequels.
Tony Leung has almost always played a good guy (if you have never seen In the Mood for Love you are missing out on one of the most beautiful and romantic films of the past 30+ years!) and him going full super-villain is too good to not be excited about. His casting also highlights Marvel Studios and its President, Kevin Feige’s, commitment to bringing to life a character that is pivoting away from its “Yellow Peril” roots.
The Mandarin’s first appeared was in Marvel Comic’s Tales of Suspense #50 in February of 1964, two-years and eleven issues after the debut of Iron Man in the same title.
Though, The Mandarin is associated with being one of, if not the arch-nemesis, of Iron Man, it was a conscious choice by Marvel and Feige to find a more culturally appropriate place for The Mandarin in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Than pitted against a white savor in the Iron Man movies. A more applicable choice is obviously Shang-Chi, The Master of Kung-Fu.
But, in the Shang-Chi comics, The Mandarin is neither Shang-Chi’s main antagonist nor is he is father. That honor goes to another, even more “Yellow Peril”, character (and arguably the forefather of the modern day super-villain) Dr. Fu Manchu! Who when created by author Sax Rohmer in 1913 came up with the anecdote that he used a Ouija board to create the character and when he asked the board (spirits 精神 ?) they spelled out:
Marvel Comics in recent years has retconned Shang-Chi’s father to be an ancient sorcerer named Zheng Zu, and this has nothing to do with the racist underpins of Fu Manchu but because the rights to the fiendish character were let laps in the mid-80s. And, this author just presumes that it was just not worth the hindrance of licensing the IP back….and not all that “Yellow Peril” nonsense!
The Mandarin as a villain, and father, is a more appropriate character for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – even though he is also rooted in the Yellow Peril scare as Fu Manchu. The Mandarin as a character evolved in ways that the Fiendish Doctor did not.
The origin of The Mandarin himself is much more appealing and can link up to the cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that is already well establish. Even allowing him to tie-in to the Multiverse side that Doctor Strange and the upcoming Disney+ WandaVision will tap into, due to the alien Ten Rings that provide him his powers.
Power of the Ten Rings
The Mandarin gained his Ten Rings off of dragon-like alien species, a Makluan named Axonn-Karr, from planet Maklu IV that he had discovered at the alien’s ship crash site. Taking the Ten power Rings off the alien after killing him, and through his own intellect The Mandarin discovered a way to mentally link with them to harness each of their individual powers.
Another more famous Marvel Makluan super-villain is rumored, by reputable sources, to make an appearances in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. That being none other than the giant and dangerous dragon-like powerful alien being Fin Fang Foom.
NOTE. This author does not believe the name Fin Fang Foom has any Chinese meaning or has any basis in being a real name at all, but that of Stan Lee’s imagination thinking back of a film he saw when he was a child. This author would also speculate, if this rumor be true, that the appearance of Fin Fang Foom could be that of a post credit seen and not in the movie itself.
The most interesting note here about the origin story of The Mandarin, is that the ship crashed landed at the “Valley of Spirits” in China. While the newest Marvel Comic’s Chinese Superhero Sword Master, that debuted last year in China via NetEase Comics in the title Warriors of Three Sovereigns, gain his magical sword, that gives him (Lin Lie) powers, from the “Valley of a Thousand Tombs” (translated from Chinese).
Highlighting the link from our previous article that the extended agreement between NetEase and Marvel Entertainment to include not only games (NetEase is the second biggest game company in China, and one of the biggest in the world) and comics, but also Marvel television series (obviously for streaming) for the Chinese market and beyond.
What this could mean is that the Marvel Chinese Superheroes Sword-Master and Aero, whom both made their comic book debuts in the United States in July, may be getting their own Chinese streaming television series. That could potentially connect to the larger MCU and the Shang-Chi movies via Disney+.
If this is the case, then having The Mandarin (and casting Tony Leung in the role) as Shang-Chi’s father and arch-nemesis may have more impact on the MCU than just Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and its sequels.
And though, The Mandarin has traditionally been an Iron Man villain. The Mandarin wields incredible power via his rings, while also being an eminent genius and an expert martial artist. Putting him up on multiple occasions against the pantheon of Marvel characters in the comics, so finding a more appropriate MCU film, that being Shang-Chi, was a decision not taken lightly by Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige back during the Iron Man trilogy.
Stay Calm and This is Not a Retcon
The presence of The Mandarin has been around since Iron Man as his Ten Rings terrorist organization was the one that kidnapped him for Obadiah Stane (aka Iron Monger played by Jeff Bridges), and held him captive in the cave through much of the beginning of the film. Setting in motion the transition of Tony Stark from being a weapons making playboy industrialist to the superhero Iron Man.
This was not only or last time the Ten Rings organization would appear in an MCU movie, showing up multiple times across multiple films in mostly Easter Egg roles; from helping Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) get out of Russia and to Tony Stark at the beginning of Iron Man 2. To the Ten Rings bidding on Pym Tech from Darren Cross (Yellow Jacket played by Cory Stoll) in Ant-Man, before getting punched in the face by Ant-Man himself.
Accumulating in Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) co-opting the organization’s name in Iron Man 3 having a washed-up actor Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley) play a faux version of The Mandarin (thinking he is not real) in a plot to deploy his Extremis weapon – with the added bonus on getting revenge on Tony Stark.
Resulting in what many think is a retcon by Marvel from the the backlash of the Iron Man / Mandarin fans, in the last Marvel One-Shot we have received All Hail the King. Where Trevor Slattery is broken out of prison by the Ten Rings on the orders of the ‘real’ Mandarin himself – establishing that he does exist in the MCU.
In a recent interview with Cinemablend Iron Man 3 & All Hail the King writer Drew Pearce confirmed (again) that during the writing process of Iron Man 3 himself and Marvel Studios President, Kevin Feige, discussed the issues of adapting The Mandarin. In particular being cast against a white protagonist, and in an all white cast film.
There are modern interpretations of The Mandarin that I think can work in the context of, particularly of a Marvel movie that has a much more grounded basis in Asian culture and has, frankly, Asian filmmakers and other Asian actors in its ensemble, and driving the story. In our Iron Man movie, as you and everyone else knows, it was my feeling that if we did The Mandarin in many of the forms that he is most commonly known as, we were playing into the racial stereotypes that generated the character in the beginning. Yellow peril, you know. … That idea was what inspired our take on the Mandarin.Drew Pearce – writer of Iron Man 3 & the Marvel One-Shot All Hail the King
Drew Pearce also stated that he envision The Mandarin as being an “ancient mantle” and not a single person. Though, it is not clear if this will be carried on in the Shang-Chi film, or if they will follow the Shang-Chi comics where both Fu Manchu and Zhen Zu are older than any normal person can be. Either through science or sorcery.
This could be carried on with the film version of The Mandarin with his longevity being derived from the alien Ten Rings, that are the source of his immense powers.
The introduction of the ‘real’ Mandarin as not-a-retcon in the MCU is not the first time Drew Pearce or Kevin Feige has brought this up, as both have discussed this particular “Yellow Peril” dilemma they faced back in the mid-2000s while they were in pre-production of Iron Man 3.
Feige also pitched to Robert Downey Jr. Tony Stark’s death around the time of filming Captain America: Civil War, so there never seemed to be a plan at Marvel Studios to have a future Iron Man movie where he would square off against The Mandarin. It appears that Feige had the foresight to do what what most appropriate with one of Marvel Comics most interesting villains.
Making the decision to wait and introduce The Mandarin, with an actor such as Tony Leung in the part, is a positive for the box-office potential not just here in North America. Where the character would face political correctness, but at the China Box-Office as well. Where, though he is the villain, the character would connect more strongly with the MCU loving Chinese movie going audience.
The Ten Rings Faces Some Serious Hollywood GIJOE Kung-Fu Grip Behind the Scene Talent!
Kevin Feige and his Marvel Team are taking the lessons that they learned from the highly successful and acclaimed Black Panther and they are obviously applying them to Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Hiring Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12 and The Glass Castle) to helm the film as director and David Callaham as the screenwriter (Godzilla, Wonder Woman 1984, and Into the Spider-Verse 2).
Destin Daniel Cretton was born in Hawaii and is of Japanese and European descent. While David Callaham is from California and is of Chinese descent, and is a martial arts practitioner (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu).
Behind the camera legendary cinematographer Bill Pope (The Matrix, Spider-Man 2, and a whole host of other big films) has joined the team.
With costume design being handled by Kym Barrett (Aquaman – which was fantastic! – and The Matrix).
Production Designer is Sue Chan (Art Director of Punk Drunk Love, Gone Girl, and Hollow Man).
With Shang-Chi being Marvel’s preeminent kung-fu master and also a James Bond like MI-6 agent one would expect the level of fight sequences to be far and beyond that of any MCU film so-far, and to out do the hand-to-hand (plus knife and shield) fight sequences of Captain America: Winter Soldier.
Marvel Studios has the best fight, stunt, and second unit teams in the business working for them. Repeatedly bringing in people like Fight Coordinator James Young (Captain America: Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy 1 & Vol. 2, and Avengers: Infinity War & Endgame), along with Sam Hargrave working as either a fight coordinator, stunt coordinator, or even moving up to second unit director on Avengers: Infinity War & Endgame.
Marvel has even brought in the John Wick (and Matrix) guys Chad Stahelski and David Leitch for Captain America: Civil War.
So Destin Daniel Cretton and Marvel have the Best of the Best to tap into for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings that should please Chinese movie goers for action sequences. Though, this author is sure there will be some that will complain that it is not wuxia enough (meaning wire-fuey).
Shang-Chi Himself: Born in China, Raised in Canada
After several actors were rumored, or auditioned, for the role of Shang-Chi, one of them was said to be Donnie Yen which this author does not believe to be true and suspects that he may have been considered for the role of The Mandarin (Tony Leung is a better choice, due to his acting abilities, and Donnie Yen would likely appear in a later sequel). Marvel went with an unknown actor from Canada named Simu Liu.
The 30 year old actor was born in Harbin (Dongbei aka Manchuria during WWII) China, and moved with his family to Canada at the age of 5 where he grew up. He caught the acting (and stunt work) bug after being an extra on Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim, and changed his career from an accountant. He’s most notably know for the Canadian sitcom Kim’s Convenience which airs on Netflix in the U.S.
China appears to be excited that an actor of Chinese descent has been cast in the role after a Variety reporter’s Twitter post went viral on Weibo.
Simu Liu has a stunt background in his acting career and even though he has the abs, it would be likely that Marvel would send him to workout with someone like Superhero Trainer Don Saladino. To get that “Bruce Lee” physique.
Whoever Marvel brings on board for helming the fight team, Simu would be training with the fight team for at least three months. Making sure that there is no Iron Fist debacle such as Netflix created for itself.
With all of these elements put together the potential for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings at the China Box-Office is only comparable to that of Avengers: Endgame, and with a Chinese New Year / Spring Festival release date it could put the MCU franchise over $4BnUSD. Making it, not only the biggest MCU movie to-date in China, but the highest grossing Hollywood film by far. A possibility that is clearly in reach for the Master of Kung-Fu.
Post Script: If Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings plays like Avengers: Endgame then the MCU is looking at a tally of $3.6-3.8BnUSD at the China Box-Office. If Shang-Chi plays like Avengers: Infinity War then we are looking at $3.36-3.56BnUSD, after the Spring Festival of 2021.All figures compiled by author, from Box-Office Mojo and MCU averages in China.
If you enjoyed this post please check out – Why Keanu Reeves Should Be Moon Knight & How The Fist of Konshu May Connect to Shang-Chi & The Mandarin’s Alien Ten Rings!
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About the Author
Born and raised in the Missouri-Ozarks Ryan studied Film Production, and East Asian Culture, at the University of Kansas where he was a UGRA recipient that led him on a seven-year long, Journey From the West, to China. Where he worked with Warner Brothers, the China Film Group Corp. and the National Bureau of Statistics of China. Before returning to the States, where he specializes in Chinese Anime & Comics, China’s Box-Office, and Chinese entertainment-tech industries. He has a dog in China, Abigail, and a dog in the Arkansas-Ozarks, King Blue, who help ease his anxiety of suffering from the “Two-Dimensional Complex” that is trying to understand the Culture Industry landscapes of the Middle Kingdom.