A week or so ago, I went and saw Iron Man III with my friend David. Overall, it was a really enjoyable, interesting movie, and Ben Kingsley's performance as the Mandarin (or, more specifically, a drug-addled British actor hired to play the Mandarin in al-Qaeda-esque terrorist videos) was really funny.
That being said, the Mandarin is a character with an old and venerable tradition in the Iron Man comics. He's Iron Man's greatest foe and his appearance is foreshadowed by the not-al-Qaeda villains of the first Iron Man film calling themselves "The Ten Rings" and seeking to build a pan-Asian empire. For those of you less familiar with the comics, the Mandarin is a Chinese noble (of sorts) who has ten rings made from a fallen alien spacecraft that give him superpowers. Finally unveiling him as Tony Stark's most dangerous enemy yet would have been glorious. However, due to the incestuous freaky coupling of Hollywood's political correctness and Chinese investment, we end up with yet another white male military-industrial complex villain like Obadiah Stane in the first film and Justin Hammer in the second. Apparently for all its vaunted power, the MIC hasn't got a lobbying group or the ability to unilaterally deny Hollywood access to 1.5 billion customers.
I am not so insensitive that I can't see how the Mandarin could be perceived or depicted as some racist "Yellow Peril" cliche. However, it is possible to have a powerful Asian male villain who isn't some stereotype with foot-long fingernails, dragon robes, and a goofy-accented evil laugh whose mouth movements don't line up with the soundtrack.
So here's how I would have done him...
The comics' Mandarin was born apparently in the last days of the Manchu Dynasty of China. However, since Iron Man's Vietnam origins have been updated to Afghanistan, the Mandarin's can be updated to World War II. Instead of being the son of a Chinese noble and a British woman, he could be the son of a Chinese resistance fighter and a British woman he rescued from Japanese rapists. He grows up to become Communist China's super-villain (much like how in the Captain America film, Red Skull was Nazi Germany's) and to make things more fun, have him playing a part in the death of Tony's father Howard Stark sometime during Tony's childhood. All Tony knows is that his father left the family, but that might not be the whole story.
However, with China and the United States growing closer economically, the Mandarin becomes a liability. Hunted by his former masters as a dangerous loose end, he wanders off into the wilderness and finds a crashed alien spacecraft like in the comics. He gathers this technology into his own hands and begins assembling a following, intending to use the Ten Rings terrorist organization and various technological goodies (Stark Industries' weapons, captured Chitauri and Asgardian gadgets) to once more make China the center of the Earth. As the member of my alternate-history forum whose handle is Cambyses the Mad put it, he can be a competent, intelligent foil for Tony rather than some "HAHAHAHAHA" kung-fu movie cliche and to make things better, he can be played by an esteemed Asian actor. And as the movie Mandarin damned the United States for the Sand Creek Massacre, so my Mandarin could complain about the Opium Wars, China's division into spheres of influence by the Western powers, etc. and wax poetic about how China is one of if not the oldest civilization on Earth, the treasure fleets, etc. And if the Mandarin's scheme is foiled but he survives, he can show up for future Marvel Cinematic Universe adventures.
I'm not the only one who's willing to propose an alternative suggestion rather than simply complain. This fan here has plotted out his own Iron Man III story, which makes the Mandarin an especial bastard who gives Tony a very good reason to want to kill him and brings in the Hulk as well.
What do you all think?