As revealed by former Chinese-based DMG Entertainment Motion Picture Group president Chris Fenton in his new book titled Feeding the Dragon, Marvel Studios’ then-Chief Operating Officer Tim Connors had been working with DMG at the time on helping get Marvel films into Chinese theaters and win over the powers-that-be.
Every Plot Thread the MCU Abandoned
Fenton recalled in his book that Connors, who currently serves as Senior Vice President at Blizzard, had some “good news” about a way DMG could help tailor Marvel’s The Avengers for Chinese audiences, at DMG’s expense.
“Assuming we pony up more money, [Marvel] did offer [DMG] the opportunity to create a teaser at the end of Avengers for the China market,” Fenton claimed. “That would give us a chance to tease a potential character, either The Mandarin or Shang-Chi. It’s our decision as to which.”
Shang-Chi was considered the more appropriate choice seeing as how he’s a “good guy.” The Mandarin, of course, is Iron Man’s archenemy.
As Fenton wrote in Feeding the Dragon (via Bleeding Cool):
“The development team in Beijing felt Shang-Chi was the safer role to promote since he was a ‘good guy’ and a hero, while The Mandarin was clearly a nemesis to Iron Man. Strictly thinking about how the ‘Ministry of Propaganda,’ which reports directly to the Politburo, would view it, you always wanted the Chinese character to be a good guy or a hero, not a villain. Remember to them, China is good, and the West is bad. The Politburo wanted white-knight messaging. The country was spreading its wings globally, and it wanted to be viewed as a friend to the world, not an agitator or adversary encroaching on long-established borders through an Imperialistic strategy.”
This kinder, gentler depiction of China and Chinese characters was a reaction to what Fenton characterizes as “American hubris, and often ignorance,” in Hollywood’s depiction of the country and its people as antagonists.
“Hollywood didn’t want to waste the part of a hero on a Chinese actor. But a villain role? No big deal,” according to Fenton. “And simply putting Chinese people in a film was mistakenly thought of as the guaranteed price for admission to China’s lucrative market. So, studios did it.”
Ultimately, there was no China-only post-credits scene created for The Avengers, with audiences everywhere seeing both the introduction of Thanos and the shawarma restaurant scene.The Mandarin would later appear in Iron Man 3, but the character was turned into a ruse, with it being revealed — SPOILERS — that the terrorist was actually a frontman for the film’s actual villain. “The Mandarin” turned out to actually be British stage actor Trevor Slattery (played by Sir Ben Kingsley). The “real” Mandarin was eventually revealed to exist in the Marvel One-Shot short titled All Hail the King, a move which director Shane Black deemed Marvel’s apology for Iron Man 3’s Mandarin twist.
DMG Entertainment served as a production partner with Marvel on Iron Man 3, although their attempt to become an official co-production partner in China didn’t pan out. Two versions of Iron Man 3 were produced, one for U.S. and international release and one version specifically tailored to China. The Chinese version featured four minutes of additional footage (not directed by Iron Man 3 helmer Shane Black) that did not go over well with Chinese audiences, with Chinese bloggers and critics calling out the jarring nature and shameless product placement of this localized additional footage.
As reported back in 2013, the Chinese version of Iron Man 3 includes “scenes revolving around characters Dr. Wu (played by Wang Xueqi) and his unnamed assistant (played by Fan Bingbing), neither of whom apparently play a particularly necessary role in the movie. There was also the bizarre addition of two advertisements at the top of the film: one for a Yili milk drink that poses the question, ‘What does Iron Man rely on to revitalize his energy?’ — Spoilers! It’s Yili milk — and another for a Chinese tractor and crane manufacturer.”Both the real Mandarin and Shang-Chi make their official MCU debuts in 2021’s Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Simu Liu plays the titular Master of Kung Fu, while Tony Leung portrays the Mandarin.
In the end, Marvel Studios did find box office success in China. The Avengers was the No. 1 movie of 2012 in China, and nearly every subsequent MCU film has grossed well over $100 million at the Chinese box office since.