This is definitely not the comic-book version.
If you've been following the development of Iron Man 3 for a while, you'll remember that for a long time the filmmakers were denying that Mandarin would even be the villain. Back in 2011, writer/director Shane Black dismissed the idea, calling the character a "racist caricature." Here we are, nearly two years later, and we've ended up with Mandarin as Tony Stark's latest nemesis anyway, but as Black made clear in a new interview, this is a very different Mandarin from the one we've seen in comics.
"[Mandarin] has an intelligence background. His nationality is not even clear because he's shrouded in secrecy, but at some point, this field officer went nuts and became a student of warfare and ancient Chinese symbology and drew from South American insurgency tactics and has created around himself this little world of warfare," Black said. "The only unifying principal of which seems to be a hatred of the United States, so he represents every terrorist, in a way. But specifically, he's crafted himself in the manner of the Mandarin, of a warlord."
Mandarin's original comic-book origin casts him as the son of a wealthy man in Imperial China, who one day found a crashed alien craft, where he picked up his 10 rings of power and his ability to exploit various human technologies through his knowledge of alien technology. Recently, writer Matt Fraction altered the origin slightly to cast Mandarin as a child born of a prostitute in a Chinese opium den (though it's made clear that that story may be something Mandarin made up). But origin stories aside, Black also had to address past depictions of Mandarin that many consider to be racist. Instead of making him a Chinese caricature, Black has instead created a man who draws power from Chinese philosophy.
"I think that's great, because you get to do the comic book, but you don't have to deal with the specifics of Fu Manchu stereotyping," Black said. "We're not saying he's Chinese. We're saying that he in fact draws a cloak around him of Chinese symbols and dragons because it represents his obsession with Sun Tzu and various ancient arts of warfare that he has studied."
So that explains Kingsley's very nonspecific accent in the trailers, as well as a costume that blends Chinese robes and combat boots. Still doesn't explain where those rings came from, though ...
What do you think? Is Black on the right track with this re-invention of a classic Iron Man villain, or should he have stuck closer to the comics?