Part of Marvel Studios' newly announced Phase Four slate, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has already created a buzz, not only because of the diversity of the cast, led by Simu Liu, but also due to the intriguing title.
For longtime Marvel fans, the Ten Rings will ring several bells, as they tie up one of the longest-running plot threads in the MCU. They've been here since the beginning, but Shang-Chi aims to show fans the face of the true Mandarin.
Who Are the Ten Rings?
Let's go back to the beginning of the MCU, with 2008's Iron Man, in which Obadiah Stane hires a group of international terrorists known as the Ten Rings to assassinate Tony Stark. Their apparent leader, Raza, is an ambitious man with dreams of creating a global empire. With Stark in hand, they demand Stark and his cellmate Yensin manufacture Jericho Missiles for them. That results in Stark creating the first Iron Man armor, and Yensin dying.
However, the Ten Rings later begin to overtake a region in the Middle East, which drives Stark, now Iron Man, to stop them. Come the end of the film, Stane steals Iron Man Mark I from the Ten Rings, and killing Raza and the others. So far, the Ten Rings appear only to be a small, yet heavily fortified, terrorist cell.
Working in the Background
After their defeat, the Ten Rings remained hidden. Every Ten Rings member wears a Ten Rings tattoo, so eagle-eyed viewers noticed them cropping up in Iron Man 2 (helping supply Ivan Vanko with tech) and Ant-Man (with some members being a part of Hydra).
In the tie-in comics, however, the Ten Rings remained a bigger presence. They were on the radar S.H.I.E.L.D., which launched a campaign to shut down the society each time time a new base cropped up; most notably, Black Widow meddled in their schemes. Rumors spread of their enigmatic leader, the Mandarin, whom many of the society almost worshiped as a god.
The Mandarin and AIM
Iron Man 3 seemed to finally offer a glimpse at the Ten Rings' enigmatic leader, the Mandarin. Every video message sent by the film's villain presented the Ten Rings logo. He appeared to be launching a multi-pronged attack across the globe.
However, as everyone knows, the real villain of the film was Aldritch Killian, the leader of AIM. The "Mandarin" was an actor named Trevor Slattery, played by Ben Kingsley. All of the Ten Rings imagery used by AIM was stolen and appropriated to manufacture a war of terror that would create a need for AIM's Extremis virus.
Needless to say, the real Mandarin, and real Ten Rings, didn't take kindly to AIM and Slattery stealing their names and branding. In the short, "All Hail the King," the real Mandarin sends an associate to kidnap (and possibly kill) Slattery.
So Who is the Mandarin?
The Mandarin (the real one) is one of Marvel's most vicious villains. The character possesses (yes) 10 alien rings that can create magical spells. He is primarily known as an Iron Man villain, but, now that Tony Stark in the MCU is deceased, it's unlikely the Mandarin will ever face him.
However, over the years many readers of Asian descent have expressed concern about the Mandarin, as he's long been viewed as an offensive stereotype rooted in the "Yellow Peril." For that reason, many people seemed nervous about the character's adaptation to live-action.
However, director Destin Daniel Cretton seems to have found a way to bring the Mandarin to the big screen, with Hong Kong actor Tony Leung playing the villain. Longtime MCU fans will finally meet the villain who helped create Iron Man, tried to steal Hank Pym's technology and infiltrated Hydra. And it seems only Shang-Chi can stop him.
Starring Simu Liu, Awkwafina and Tony Leung, director Destin Daniel Cretton's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings opens Feb. 12, 2021.