Among the interviews and set reports flooding in about Doctor Strange today, a few have focused on the character of Wong, Strange’s best friend, confidant and, let’s face it, servant, in the comics. The racist cliche of the Asian manservant goes a long way back in literature, at least as far as Kato in the original Green Hornet series, and Wong has played into that since his inception. Modern writers have tried to update the character to deal with this, giving him more of a Watson dynamic to Strange’s Sherlock, making Wong a fellow trainee in the mystic arts, making Wong and Strange equally good at different things, and so forth, but underneath it all Wong has remained the guy who does Strange’s laundry and fixes him his tea.
Unsurprisingly, the movie has taken the attempts to rework Wong’s character even further. As we’ve previously reported, he’s being played by Benedict Wong as more of a mystical drill sergeant who puts trainee sorcerers through their paces. Today’s interview has revealed even more:
SlashFilm: We heard from Kevin Feige that this take on Wong is going to be very different from what we’ve seen in the comic books. With that in mind, how much of your character development has come from hearing about the backstory, and how he’s been used there versus just from this script?
Benedict Wong: Well, I kind of think things like “manservant” and “sidekick,” we’re just gonna leave back in the past now, I think. I’m very much into looking forward into our modern take and back in on the beginnings of this origin story, now. So, you know, let’s turn a whole new page.
SlashFilm: Well, then who is this version of Wong? Since the one that we know is no longer in play, who is this character now? Where do we first meet him? What is his story?
Benedict Wong: Wong is in our world now a master at Kamar-Taj training the fellow disciples and sorcerers, and [he’s a] protector of the Sanctum relics and these ancient ritual books, and it’s where we’ll see Wong and Doctor Strange come together and become, really, allies to fight against these extra-dimensional forces.
So the movie version of Wong is, in addition to being a drill sergeant, a librarian, and protector of dangerous relics. As we’ve mentioned before, Strange’s secret base from the comics, the Sanctum Sanctorum, seems to have been reworked for the movie as a safe house for dangerous magical items collected by the sorcerers of Kamar-Taj. If Wong is the caretaker of this facility, it easily explains how he and Strange might go from teacher and pupil to bosom buddies: once Strange becomes Sorcerer Supreme he relocates from Kamar-Taj (based in Nepal) to the Sanctum (based in New York) and hey, Wong’s already there.
Of course, Strange becoming the Sorcerer Supreme, moving the headquarters to New York, and turning the massive operation of the Ancient One (played by Tilda Swinton) into a two person show would require a pretty big shake-up. One of the most interesting things about the interview is what’s not said. The interviewer tries a couple of times to get at Strange and Wong’s relationship and how it evolves, but Benedict Wong is evasive:
SlashFilm: Can you tell us a little bit about Wong’s personality? Is he serious? Is he funny?
Benedict Wong: I don’t know. Uh, is he serious? Is he funny? I mean, yeah, he does…Is he serious? He’s very serious about what he’s doing because it’s kind of, it’s almost like — it’s like a huge door that these extra-dimensional forces are now battering through, and there is a fight that no one is really seeing. So I think there’s a real importance about, in terms of his training, and the importance of that everybody is prepped, really. So there is a seriousness about him.[…]
SlashFilm: If Wong isn’t a sidekick or a manservant, what does Wong become to Stephen in the story? What kind of relationship is it?
Benedict Wong: It feels like Wong at the time is of a higher ranking, and then obviously with Strange discovers that he has these powers…It’s really hard to sort of circumnavigate for me. Things are gonna happen in the film where, as I said before, that I feel a sense of how these two — they’re quite an odd couple, really. They’re quite an oddball couple, and it’s how they become allies together. I think that’s what we’re sort of converging, and then we’ll just see how it evolves and how they explore it in the next one.
In a lot of the interviews about the movie coming out today, the cast and crew have been evasive about the back half of the film and the trailers seem to primarily show sequences from the first half of the movie. The more surreal, extra-dimensional spaces shown in concept art haven’t been on display in any of the footage we’ve seen. This isn’t surprising: of course Marvel wants to keep the climax and plot twists secret – but it leaves Wong something of an enigma. In the comics he’s always been defined by his relationship with Doctor Strange and that relationship probably won’t truly develop until near the end of the movie, when the Ancient One’s status quo has been disrupted. The true Wong/Strange dynamic probably won’t begin to take shape until a sequel comes along.