"I like to play with things a while, before annihilation."
- Ming the Merciless
Ming the Merciless was the Emperor of Mongo and arch enemy of Flash Gordon. He was the tyrannical dictator of the planet, bent on the conquest of Earth. When Flash Gordon and his companions, scientist Hans Zarkov and Dale Arden traveled to Mongo to prevent its collision with Earth, they were captured by Emperor Ming's forces. Soon, Emperor Ming's megalomaniac views brought him in conflict with the earthlings.
Original comic strip (1934-1946)
Ming the Merciless was introduced in the original 1934 run of the "Flash Gordon" comic strip written and drawn by Alex Raymond in the newspapers. He got introduced as just "The Emperor" and imidiately expressed desire to marry Flash's female companion Dale Arden. He forced Gordon into slavery and later forced him to fight in the arena. His daughter, Princess Aura fell in love with Flash Gordon and joined him in his fight against her father.Eventually, Ming got overthrown by Flash and his allies during the ceremony of marriage. Prince Barin became Mongo's new ruler.
"Flash Gordon" (1936-1940 serials)
When the comic strip got adapted in serial format for the cinema's in the 1936 serial: "Flash Gordon " the role of Ming the Merciless was played by Charles B. Middleton he was characterized as ruthless and slightly based on the character of Dr. Fu Manchu. Middleton reprized the role in two sequel serials: "Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars " (1938) and "Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe " (1940). This interpretation of Ming became one of the most well-known in pop culture for years to come.
"Flash Gordon" (1979-1982 TV series)In 1979 Filmation produced an animated series based on the comic strip. Ming the Merciless' voice was provided by famed voice actor Alan Oppenheimer. In the series he was known as a brilliant scientist and ruthless warlord who had a robot army to his disposal. He would engage in personal combat more than Middleton's incarnation. He was dispised my most races on Mongo but exacted control over his subjects due to the hatred between those races.
"Defenders of the Earth" (1986 TV series)
In the 1986 animated show "Defenders of the Earth " a more unstable and green-skinned version of Ming the Merciless served as the main villain. He faced off with Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician and other Golden Age comic strip heroes who came together in the show and had an army of "Ice Robots".
Feature Film (1980)
In 1980 "Flash Gordon" was adapted in a big budget feature film directed by Mike Hodges and produced by Dino DeLaurentiis and music composed by "Queen". It starred Sam J. Jones as Flash, Timothy Dalton as Prince Barin, Brain Blessed as Volton, King of the Hawkmen and veteran actor Max Von Sydow as Ming.Max Von Sydow's portrayal of Ming left a deep impact on popular culture and is regarded as the most popular version of the charachter. Von Sydow played him as a sociopath and megalomaniac while keeping the character courtly and elegant. Emperor Ming possesed a magical ring in the film with which he could force his will on others. He had as close associate, his Admiral, Klytus. He was also depicted as more sexual in nature.
At the end of the film, Ming appears to die after being impaled by a rocket ship but his laugh is heard just before the credits. The idea for a sequel was established but never produced.
Max Von Sydow's portrayal of Emperor Ming has become a beloved and well-recognised one.
"Flash Gordon The Animated Series" (1996 TV series)
In 1996, another animated series based on "Flash Gordon" was produced by David J. Gorbett in Canada. It depicted Flash and Dale as teenagers in a more futuristic setting. In this version, Ming was more reptilian and monstrous with an army of Lizard Men.
This depiction of Ming was also the widower of a deceased wife. The series was unpopular and produced only 26 episodes before being canceled.
"Flash Gordon" (2007 TV series)
In 2007 a 21 episode live-action television series was produced for the SyFy Channel , loosely based on the comic strip. The series followed "Steven Gordon" and his scientist companion Dr. Hans Zarkov who discover the existence of Mongo and its dictator Ming, in this series a white, brown-haired male who controls his subjects over holding the only clean water supply.
Ming was portrayed by actor John Ralston
Ming the Merciless is regarded as one of the classic comic strip villains. He has also become a famous wicked archetype. In the past, there have been claims of racism due to Ming's obvious Asian influence but the Flash Gordon series and its main villain have stayed popular since 1934.
Ming the Merciless was parodied in the British satire programme "Big Train " in 1998.
A photo of Ming features in the first episode of season 3 of 1990's Irish comedy Father Ted. Ming's appearance is in a slideshow run by Ted at Craggy Island's pub, to prove that he's not a racist (Ming is often though of as a negative portrayal of Chinese people, as the episode, entitled Are You Right There, Father Ted?, centered around Ted accidentally being racist towards Craggy Island's Chinese community).
In LEGO Minifigure series 13, the Evil Wizard is modelled after Ming.