Buried way down in this press coverage of the new Marvel movies announced at ComicCon, there’s mention of Ben Kingsley portraying the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 and how this is one exception where whitewashing is a good thing.


I’m a bit conflicted. On the one hand, it really sucks to have Asian characters erased from fiction because Hollywood studios don’t think audiences will watch us. On the other hand, the Mandarin isn’t exactly an Asian character I’d like to see in anything ever. Don’t get me wrong. I like me an Asian villain. I really enjoyed the way Irrfan Khan portrayed Rajit Ratha in The Amazing Spider-Man. So fucking sinister and evil but in such a cold, calculating way. I can’t wait to see him in the next two films. But the Mandarin is more a caricature than a character. He was born of an era that was fearful of the eastern YELLOW PERIL. In an age where conservative blowhards are irrationally predicting the end of our economic dominance thanks to the coming of the great Chinese buyout, do we really need a reminder of that era?

Still, movies reinvent characters all the time. Peter Parker got parents in this latest incarnation. That’s something that even the comics haven’t dealt with. It’s possible that Iron Man 3 could reinvent the Mandarin so he’s not a pastiche of an Asian villain but rather an actualized person. The best villains in fiction never believe they are the villain. A sympathetic take on the Mandarin could be kind of awesome which is ultimately why I’m disappointed that he’ll be portrayed by Ben Kingsley. Not to dis Kingsley, but the Mandarin could be raised to levels of unparalleled awesome if portrayed by someone like Andy Lau. He’d be my first choice. He can totally pull off the sympathetic villain role. Or if you want a name that Westerners will recognize, Chow Yun-Fat would be freaking awesome.

There’s a real missed opportunity here. Kingsley will certainly be a draw, especially for non comic fans. But the Iron Man films have already won over throngs of non comic readers.

No, Comics Alliance, it’s not okay.

From: Comics Alliance

  • http://twitter.com/aniistoll Annie Stoll

    Chow Yun-Fat is so awesome. I agree with you on your points here.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    I’m with you on all of this, but here’s something I learned when I watched GANDHI. Sir Ben was born as Krishna Pandit Bhanji. His father was a Gujarati just like Gandhi. I know that’s not the same thing, but I thought it was interesting.

  • http://ypcomic.com Jamie Noguchi

    Oh, I know he’s part Indian which is rad. I guess the title should be none-Chinese washing or something like that.

  • http://twitter.com/mahoumelonball ジニー

    “Peter Parker got parents in this latest incarnation. That’s something that even the comics haven’t dealt with.” That’s not true at all. The comics went around his parents in the late 60s for a brief moment, and then actually RETURNED in 1992. (Even though, SPOILER ALERT, they were robots in 1994. Really depressing.)

  • http://twitter.com/DrezzRodriguez Drezz Rodriguez

    They couldn’t find an Asian who could mimic an English accent? Seriously? This is why guys like Ben Kingsley get written into ‘ethnic’ roles, because they want the character to sound sophisticated and educated.

    Apparently there is a stereotype behind elitist snobbish educated villains – they all have to speak with an English or German accent. Its fucking ridiculous.

    I’d love to see The Mandarin as a rival to Stark Enterprises out of China, but with my luck it will end up being a jingoistic nightmare.


  • http://ypcomic.com Jamie Noguchi

    His parents were robots?! That’s kind of a kick in the balls. Poor pete.

  • Kyle Wright

    I’m pissed. I had predicted that Mandarin would be in this movie and was looking forward to it. While the personality of the character in the comics is like you said, you have to admit he’s one of Iron Man’s biggest rivals. I was hoping for the more in depth, reinvented mandarin myself. That or the extreme of him not speaking at all and just fucking people up with magic rings. Think about how awesome the parts of the mummy were where there was no talking, just magical death!

  • http://ypcomic.com Jamie Noguchi

    Oh man, silent but deadly. Even more reason to cast Andy Lau. His eyes, man. His deadly fucking eyes!

  • Kyle Wright


  • http://twitter.com/NathanAllworth Nathan Allworth

    Sorry, but I disagree that the best villains in fiction don’t know they’re villains. I present to you, Professor Chaos.

  • utica

    Yellow Peril, the reason Marvel did not pick a Chinese actor was because THE CHINESE government would censor it and not allow the movie to be released in China, the second largest cinema market in the world. Picking Kingsley was done to assuage the Chinese govt. They were actually INVOLVED in the picking of Kingsley.

    Secondly, though Mandarin was a racist caricature in the 1960`s, good writers (like Fraction and Nauf) have made him a complex and fantastic nemesis. He is both sympathetic and frightening.

  • Alon Rand

    Well, no, not exactly. Imposters who were robots, but believed they were real, were “released from secret Soviet prison” (the storyline from the 60s established that the Parkers were spies! that died in a plane crash) and repatriated to the US, whereupon they showed up on May’s doorstep. They moved in with her, got jobs as Russian interpreters at the UN, and were present during, among other pivotal stories, Maximum Carnage.

    Then they turned out to be fakes, planted by the Chameleon at the secret behest of Harry Osborn, as the second Green Goblin, before he killed himself (this was the first hint that the Green Goblin, mostly in the form of the original Norman, was going to ultimately be retroactively responsible for every bit of woe in Peter Parker’s life), and tried to kill Spider-Man. Only their programming was so real, they eventually killed themselves instead (awww), and the whole episode was the first step in the mental breakdown that was clinched several months later by Aunt May suffering a massive stroke and falling into a coma. This caused Peter to abandon his real identity for a while and try to be Spider-Man full-time. Then more crazy shit happened with clones (that Norman Osborn, secretly not-dead, was secretly responsible for. Secretly).

    The mid-90s were basically “fuck Peter Parker sideways with a rusty rake” for about 3 years.

  • http://ypcomic.com Jamie Noguchi

    Man, I guess that’s the way it goes when you’re making a big budget flick. I imagine China’s market is significant enough to warrant these decisions, but it’s a damn shame.

  • awesomemvs

    I am white so it’s not my place to talk about this, but in my stupid, overreaching opinion Asian or Asian-American actors deserve to be more than a stupid villain or some techie in movies. I’m not a superhero comic or movie person at all, but the producers would get a lot of love from a huge fan base for giving the role of hero and love interest and best friend all to top Asian/Asian American talent and *gasp* NOT HAVE THEIR ROLES BE STEREOTYPICAL. Pull that vanilla bean out of your ass and show the cinema world an awesome Asian trio in a big movie.

  • FmF

    I think this might be a sly lil joke to be honest.I all ways thought the mandarin was kind of a rip off (or inspired by)of Ming the merciless and Kingsley look a lot like the actor who play Ming in the Flash Gorden serials.

  • Mark W.

    I’ve been waiting for The Mandarin to show up ever since the whole Ten Rings terrorist cell in Iron Man 1, so hopefully this will be genuinely cool rather than painful to watch. I agree that there’s no reason not to cast an Asian or Asian-American actor in an Asian role these days, although utica may be right about mollifying the Chinese government with this casting decision–I have no idea, honestly. Hopefully, even if The Mandarin isn’t played by an Asian actor, there will be some good supporting roles for Asian and Asian-American actors in the movie.

    I gotta say, I’m now more interested in the Ant-Man movie since they’re basing it on one of my favorite Iron Man stories from the justifiably beloved Layton/Michelinie era.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fbromley Frank Bromley

    not saying it ISN’t white washing but Mandarin’s back story is so full of holes it’s not even funny the only civilian names hes ever had were in the 2 cartoon series in the 90′s he was Arnold Brock(and was white) and in the new cartoon were he’s a teanager he’s Gene Khan/Xin Xhang.

    also his comic back story (the son of one of the richest men in pre revolution China) well that makes it possible that he’s only half Chinese or even fully English

  • kevin

    I’m a little late to this party, but while Kingsley was born in England, he is of Indian descent, which makes him Asian, if not East Asian. I agree, that they should have picked someone like Andy Lau, this isn’t the first movie where the “Chinese” threat has been changed (see Red Dawn,) and it’s a case of politic encroaching on cinema.