Posts Tagged ‘Asian Stereotype’


Last week I reviewed Iron Man 3,

and my review was strictly non-spoiler. Now that some time has passed I’d like to talk about a few points of the movie, but even here I’ll try to avoid spoliers.

Around April of 2012 it was in the news that the government of China would be co-producing the film via DMG entertainment out of Beijing. We knew the villain was going to the the Mandarin, a Chinese villain from the comics. Not only that, just prior to the film’s release it was announced that China would in fact be getting it’s own cut of the movie. The China cut has extra footage including the appearance of Fang Bingbing, a popular actress in China.

However, once I saw the movie, I wondered why China had anything to do with it. I’d presumed, both because of the co-production by the Chinese Government, and because the lead villain being the Mandarin, that some of the movie would take place in China. However, absolutely none of the movie takes place in China. The character Iron Man himself spends the entire movie in America, with War Machine/Iron Patriot spending a few minutes on screen somewhere in Asia (but not China). This leaves me to wonder what could possibly have been in this China cut? What role could Fang possibly have had? Was she in those exclusive scenes? I can imagine her being in the film’s climax, but again who knows?

This leads me to what may be the most controversial plot twist in recent memory. I’ll still try not to spoil it here, but the actual use of the Mandarin is a hot topic amongst fandom. The Mandarin is a Chinese villain created in the late 1960s, who, especially in his earliest appearances, appeared to be a literary descendent of Fu Manchu and other stereotypical Asian “Yellow Peril” villains.

In Iron Man 3 Mandarin is played by white actor Ben Kingsley. I understand the concern over a Yellow Peril stereotype, but couldn’t you argue that it’s just as racist to have a Chinese character called the Mandarin played by a white man? This is an example of white-washing, having white people play characters that were originally not white. It’s also been called race-bending, in reference to the white cast of The Last Airbender. This website has it’s own take on the Iron Man 3’s Mandarin.

Not only that, but I feel the way the Mandarin was used also did not make sense due to the content of the first Iron Man film. In the first movie Tony Stark is captured by a terrorist group called the Ten Rings. That name was in reference to the ten rings Mandarin has, which in the comics are alien in origin. Said rings are present in Iron Man 3, but are just plain rings. Marvel also made a few comic books taking place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that also made use of the Ten Rings group. During one of which agent Coulsen said the Ten Rings have never made an attack on American soil. Given the prescence of the Ten Rings terrorist group in the first Iron Man, as well as their use in in-continuity comics, I presumed that Mandarin would be ramping up his group to launch and all out attack against America in Iron Man 3. Story wise it made perfect sense.

In my actual review I said Iron Man 3 is the first truly bad movie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. My reason for saying that isn’t because of the Mandarin plot twist per say, but because of what I feel it does to the movie. The beginning of the movie has a very serious, dark tone. Terror attacks are launced against the United States, people actually die, (but not actual cast members which I’ve previously objected to) and this looks to be a movie with super-heroes dealing with real world problems. Sounds great, but once the twist comes the tone of the movie shifts to being outright goofy.

Early on the Mandarin videos are chillingly awesome. He seeks to teach us “lessons” regarding the genocide of Native Americans, how fortune cookies are an American invention, and how the Mann’s Chinese theater in L.A. is a cheap American knock off of Chinese culture (he blows it up). It seems that, in the world of this movie, the Mandarin is the same thing. What does that say for the “lessons” he attempts to teach, which deal with the very real ugly past of the United States?

If you wanted to, you could read a lot into Iron Man 3 about Hollywood not taking terrorism seriously, and promoting leftist conspiracies that the War on Terror is actually a ruse by big companies for profit. Some people belief that anyway. Just throwing it out there.

According to the article regarding the Chinese co-production of the movie, in the first quarter of 2012, China overtook Japan as the second biggest film market behind the United States. 2011 was the tenth straight year for double digit growth of China’s box office. That year it’s box office was 2.08 billion, up 31% from the previous year. The same article notes that China has a cap on foreign films, but films co-produced by China do not fall under the cap and are also cleared by censors more easily.

What I am about to say is pure speculation, I have no way to confirm this. I would hate to think that the character Mandarin was used the way he was to appease China so the movie could be shown in the now number two box office market in the world.

In two less serious notes; the Marvel Comics Universe has always operated on what is known as a sliding time scale. Meaning the characters, some of which have been around for 50 years now, don’t age much and the newest stories are always presumed to take place in the present. This means that now and then character origins are updated to keep with the times. Iron Man Three has a prologue set in 1999, and specifically states later that 13 years have passed since then. The first Iron Man gives us the dates of the death of Stark’s parents, and in  Captain America Nick Fury tells Cap he’s been asleep for almost 70 years. It appears thus far that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not on a sliding time scale, but in fact is moving in real time. If this is so it is curious to see how things play out in ten + years. Iron Man 3 ends in such a way that it could be the last Iron Man film if Marvel decided it to be so. They have so many characters, that I wonder if they in fact to plan to just phase some heroes out over time in favor of new ones that haven’t been filmed yet.

Relating to that, in the comics whoever is President in the real world is always presumed to be President in the Marvel Universe. Iron Man 3 shows us the President and gives his name. (It’s not Obama obviously). This, along with the timeline, is a subtle but stark departure from the comic book universe it’s adapting. (Also the Vice President was in on the villain’s scheme? Really?)

Well that’s my 27 cents. What do you think?