During their first lunch together, Jin Wang (Ben Wang), the shy teen protagonist of Disney+ American born Chinese, notices something unusual about his new friend. Although Wei-Chen (Jimmy Liu) is new not only in school but also in the country, he seems to have no qualms about calling out the bullies who mock them, nor is he worried about making a scene. “You never really doubt yourself,” Jin notes, with a mixture of awe and embarrassment.
But Wei-Chen – the son of a deity and secretly new to human life – is stunned. “Why would I ever doubt myself?” he asks. That push-pull between uncertainty and confidence remains at the heart of American born Chinesethrough all kinds of drama, action and fantasy, with hugely entertaining and sometimes moving results.
American born Chinese
It comes down to
A wonderfully spicy update of the source material.
Creator Kelvin Yu views Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel not so much as a template for his series as a springboard. The key ingredients of the source material remain intact with a story that intertwines Jin’s earthy teenage woes, a Travel west-inspired fantasy epic and scenes from a classic sitcom featuring an offensive Asian stereotype (Ke Huy Quan). But the core elements have been updated, remixed and expanded. In this version, Wei-Chen has enlisted Jin to help his father, Wukong the Monkey King (Daniel Wu), foil a plot by the Bull Demon (Leonard Wu) against their Celestial Empire – while Jin struggles to complete his schoolwork. keep balance. , football, a strained family life and a hopeless crush, all of which somehow seem to make him feel incapable.
The new material turns what once felt like a personal story with powerful metaphorical flourishes into something more like a superhero story, all the better for filling eight half-hour episodes that will sit side-by-side. She-Hulk: lawyer And Mrs. Marvel on the streamer home screen. (And if the open season finale is any indication, American born Chinese hopes to return for more seasons.) For the most part, his big ambitions bring big rewards. Destin Daniel Cretton brings to the first episode the same ability to merge heartfelt drama and superhuman spectacle that he showed in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The show’s action is a particular delight, with physics-defying showdowns where characters spin through the air and literally run up walls as a camera zips up and down corridors – at least until the finale, also directed by Cretton, who takes an unfortunate turn toward Marvel-esque sky portal nonsense.
The show’s breathless momentum changes some of the characters’ relationships and motivations. For example, we never get details about Bull Demon’s nefarious plans – never mind that his grievances against Heaven (which looks pretty insufferable, based on a playful, episode-long detour to a celestial feast) can be justified at all. But it’s hard to notice much when American born Chinese has so much fun. Even as the stakes of the story rise to a higher level, the series finds room for clever pop culture references or silly bits of humor. Like when Guanyin (Michelle Yeoh), a glamorous goddess of mercy posing as a sweatpants-clad, buffet-loving aunt, is obstructed by an Ikea coffee table. “I have relieved the suffering of millions, soothed the oceans,” she snorts. “I won’t be beaten by Swedish furniture.”
Yeoh is perhaps the biggest star among a cast filled with beloved Asian and Asian-American talents, from Ronny Chieng, Jimmy O. Yang and Stephanie Hsu who chew landscapes like other creatures to Yeo Yann Yann and Chin Han who share a lifetime of shared love. and disappointment seep into their everyday human roles as Jin’s parents. Such casts may no longer be the rarity in Hollywood they were even a decade ago; the past year alone has yielded Asian-American projects as varied as Pachinko, Fire Island And Everything Everywhere Everything at once (to name a few). But American born Chinese know that the past casts a long shadow and bittersweetly accounts for the long history of American culture portraying Asians as foolish or abhorrent when it even bothered to look at us at all.
When Jamie (Quan), reflecting on his problematic role decades later, explains that he stopped acting because the only roles he was offered were “nerds, neighbors, and sometimes ninjas,” it’s all too easy to see him as a version of the parallel universe. from Quan himself – someone who never got to make his triumphant, Oscar-winning comeback Everything Everywhere Everything at once. And while Jin’s self-awareness is practically a universal teenage experience, the quiet humiliation on his face when he comes across old clips of Jamie’s character Freddy showing off his inescapable catchphrase (“What could go Wong?”) shows how much of his uncertainty stems from a painful realization of the way people who look like him have been seen so many times.
Where American born Chinese falls a bit short by expanding the focus from the individual characters to the harmful culture that surrounds them. While it evokes the micro-aggressions Jin faces at school, or the biased system that prevents Jamie from progressing professionally, it finds no villains among them; the only real threat is a demon whose inability to find the courage to chase his dreams has turned into resentment. The story is about how Jin deals with a racist meme, not tackling the classmates who pass on the meme to begin with; about Jamie struggling with his legacy, not about why his character was and remains “iconic” to so many fans.
The result is a show that feels like it’s hard at work without fully realizing that it’s doing so. If the fear and rage of Yang’s comic book landed like a slap in the face, Yu’s series feels like a push – still powerful and attention-grabbing, sure, but with a less acute sting.
But what lingers at the end of each episode isn’t the memory of the shortcomings, but the reinforcing sense of confidence. American born Chinese is essentially the story of Jin as he goes on a journey of self-acceptance and eventually realizes that he is enough as he is – that he doesn’t have to let the world tell him who he is or what he deserves or what he’s capable of. But in spirit, it’s much closer to the superhumanly confident Wei-Chen: unafraid to reach for the stars and show his true colours, and all the more inspiring for that.