In the comic books the Mandarin was born in China around 1920 and raised by his aunt after the death of his parents. He used his brilliance and family wealth to attain prominence in the Kuomintang Party’s reign over China. The Communist Revolution of 1949 ousted him from power, but the people he once commanded still regarded him with nigh-mystic awe. He continued seeking invincibility by other means, and found it in an ancient spaceship equipped with ten mystical rings. Those rings became his arsenal against Iron Man.
Iron Man 3 will give The Mandarin a different backstory. Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, told EW: “A lot of this movie is about characters going back into the shadows for various reasons and characters who have been in the shadows coming out and into the light for the first time. It is Tony [Stark] who, for various reasons, finds himself receding into the darkness. I don’t mean emotional darkness, I mean literally ducking out of the spotlight. And we’ll see other characters stepping up who have pulled strings from the background, starting to show their hand.”
The filmmakers aim to make Kingsley’s character more multi-cultural and not focus on the Chinese ancestry of the comics. “It’s less about his specific ethnicity than the symbolism of various cultures and iconography that he perverts for his own end,” Feige told EW.
Kingsley might be known for playing good guys, but he has said that he desperately wants to put on the black hat. Several years ago during a radio interview he told of his desire to be square off against 007. “I would like to make it known, on this program, loud and clear, that I would absolutely embrace with all five of my arms being a Bond villain.”