Entertainment Weekly has revealed the exclusive first image of Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin in Iron Man 3. As you can see, it’s a “realistic” / faithful representation of the character, visually. It will be interesting to see what kind of approach Ben Kingsley takes with the role, but it’s just good to have a solid villain after the first two films mediocre attempts. In the comic books, The Mandarin is Chinese, which Ben Kingsley most certainly is not. Kevin Feige did shed some light on this though;
Kingsley is not, of course, Chinese, but Feige says they wanted to blur the background of this version of The Mandarin. “It’s less about his specific ethnicity than the symbolism of various cultures and iconography that he perverts for his own end,” Feige says. From his samurai hair, to his royal robe, to his bin Laden-esque beard, and the AK-47 he keeps at his side, Kingsley’s interpretation is a hodgepodge of various warrior motifs.
In the comics, his story goes like this;
The Mandarin’s parents died shortly after he was born. The Mandarin spent all of his vast inheritance training at science and martial arts. Doing so caused him to go broke at roughly the same time he reached adulthood. The Chinese government evicted him because he was too broke to pay his taxes. The bitter, broke, homeless, but extremely well trained Mandarin began to wander the earth. He found an alien space-ship during his wandering. He studied the ship to gain knowledge of advanced science, and stole rings he found within it. The Mandarin uses a combination of superhuman martial arts abilities, alien science, and the ten energy-blasting rings he found to wage a never-ending war on civilization.
Sources: EW & Marvel