In 2013, Marvel Studios had embarked on their second phase of films after the incredibly successful crossover film, The Avengers. By beginning the next chapter of the MCU with Iron Man 3, Marvel was attempting to not only use the popularity of Tony Stark to keep audiences engaged with the franchise, but they were also looking to build some important international relationships.
Marvel Studios created an exclusive cut of Iron Man 3 for Chinese markets in order to help the film perform better in an increasingly vital box office powerhouse. While a report recently revealed that this overseas partnership almost led to a Mandarin teaser at the end of The Avengers, a new part of the story has confirmed more specifics on the international relationship in Iron Man 3.
In another report from Bleeding Cool on Chinese film executive Chris Fenton's biographical novel Feeding the Dragon, which details Fenton's history with bringing American films into Chinese markets, new details have been revealed about Marvel's relationship with China in Iron Man 3.
According to Fenton, during a meeting with Marvel Studios executives Kevin Feige and Louis D'Esposito, their respective teams discussed a way in which Iron Man 3 could include a story element that mirrored the life of then soon-to-be Chinese President Xi Jinping. The excerpt of Feton's book reads:
"What's interesting about Xi Jinping is that he, like most rising Chinese government officials, spent a lot of time in the United States, not just on vacations or short trips, but also on extended exchanges. He lived with a normal American family in Iowa for a period. It allowed him to understand America and the way Americans live and think,"…
"Well, you have a kid in Iron Man 3. He lives somewhere in rural America, possibly in Iowa… Well, what happens if that kid is Chinese?"
The room was silent—crickets. No reaction whatsoever.
"What I mean is, what happens if we make that kid Chinese because his father, like Xi Jinping, is actually on an exchange in rural America and his son happens to be with him? Iron Man comes across the kid as he's struggling to find shelter. The Chinese kid takes him in and nurses him back to health. And then later, when Tony Stark is trying to save the day in the third act and he can't get his glove to complete the Iron Man transformation, this Chinese kid helps open the shed so that the glove can fly off to join Iron Man to save the world?"
"So you want us to put this guy Xi into our movie and have his kid be the kid who helps Iron Man?"
"Sort of, but it's not actually Xi, it just carries a storyline that is similar to his."
"That feels like an infomercial for China," Louis declared.
"It would if it made no sense, but it actually could be a viable, convincing subplot. A version of this happened in real life," I argued. "The economic benefit of something like this would be massive. Of course, around the world, we don't talk about what this subplot is, but in China... this subplot would be explained and exploited! They will love it! This movie could be the ultimate cultural bridge between the world's only two superpowers. And the result will be millions and millions of more dollars for Marvel and Disney from this movie alone, and billions for Marvel in the future! It will birth the greatest cinematic brand from the West in China. Marvel will dominate as the biggest, most successful IP in China for decades."
The silence hadn't lifted in the room, but you could tell people had heard my pitch. No one was willing to show a reaction though, at least not until Kevin or Louis did.
Chris Fenton later returned to meet with Feige and D'Esposito, in order to get their final reactions to the idea. The conversation went like this:
"Okay. I will admit that we fully intended to kill this deal today, but we won't," Louis started. Dan and I changed our posture for the better. Suddenly, a bit of positivity filled the room. "That said, your Chinese-kid idea is not happening."
"Why?" I asked.
"Because we're not interested in having the sidekick from Indiana Jones in Iron Man 3." Laughter filled the room. It was a moment of levity that was probably
needed. "It just feels 'too much' and heavy-handed, if you know what I mean," Kevin interjected. "We need to think about how that would look. And, in particular, we need to stay true to our IP, its mythology, and the hardcore fans that are so important to all things Marvel."
"OK. Makes sense."
Chris Fenton's team then asked what Asian character Marvel Studios planned to include in Iron Man 3 instead, to which Kevin Feige responded:
"A doctor. A Chinese doctor. And this doctor would be responsible for successfully removing the RT [Chest Repulsor Transmitter] from Tony Stark's body, allowing him to live without fear that the shrapnel in his body will destroy his heart," Kevin explained. "And his name will be Doctor Wu."
"Doctor Wu? Interesting. What's the significance to the name?" I asked. "Is it a character from the Marvel Universe?" Dan asked.
"No," Kevin responded. "Not Marvel-related. At least not yet."
"So why Doctor Wu?" I prodded.
"No real reason. It's just a great song by Steely Dan."
Everyone laughed again. And shortly thereafter, the meeting ended. No other items were addressed. No time to discuss lines that treaded on censorship issues. No time even for The Mandarin. As we left the room, Dan and I looked at each other. Not wanting to speak until we got to the car, our expressions displayed both relief and confusion. Our collective feeling was probably best described as bittersweet. Most importantly, we kept the deal alive.
WHAT THIS MEANS
Fenton's account of his experience with Marvel reveals a lot more insight into exactly how that China cut of Iron Man 3 came to be. It seemed as if Marvel Studios already had their minds set on introducing Harley Keener for the role of Tony's sidekick, but they were not willing to cast an Asian actor for the role, nor change Harley's backstory to fit Fenton's proposed narrative.
Instead, the Chinese character in Iron Man 3 ended up being Dr. Wu, who only had a couple brief appearances in the U.S. version of the film, and getting merely a few more minutes of screen time in China's version. With Dr. Wu's role being so small in the final film, it appears that Marvel Studios was not ready to make an Asian character so prominent in one of their films at the time, or at least not for the purpose of appeasing China's interests.
This was of course during an unfortunate period for the studio, when films like Black Panther and Captain Marvel were kept from production due to Ike Perlmutter's unwillingness to invest in blockbuster films with minority leads, but the report has no specifics on where Marvel's final decision ultimately came from. However, now that an Asian-led film like Shang-Chi is in production, it looks like Marvel Studios is finally taking the effort to represent their Asian audiences in a meaningful and exciting way.