American Born Chinese
A teenager becomes friends with a new kid at school who happens to be the son of the fabled Monkey King from Chinese legends, who is on a quest to save his father's kingdom.
Spoiler Level: Mild
Jin Wang (Ben Wang) is about to start his tenth-grade year, and isn’t exactly the popular kid at school, but he is doing his best to fix that. This creates a rift between him and his best friend Anuj (Mahi Alam) who shares Jin’s interest in anime and comic books. The final nail seems to be hammered into Jin’s social life’s coffin when his principal asks him to show Wei-Chen (Jimmy Liu), a new foreign exchange student, around the school. Wei-Chen is confident and loud and ready to stick up for himself and his friends. This embarrasses Jin and he tries to distance himself from Wei-Chen. When a nasty meme about Jin starts circulating around school, Jin re-evaluates who he is becoming in his quest to discover who he is. He reconciles with Wei-Chen and attempts to reconcile with Anuj to make things right again. What Jin doesn’t know, is that Wei-Chen isn’t a normal teenager, he is actually the son of Sun Wikong (Daniel Wu) also known as the Monkey King and is actually from the heaven realm. He stole his father’s magical stuff and came to Earth searching for the fabled fourth scroll that could help in defeating an uprising against his father and Heaven. Wei-Chen had a prophetic dream that the fourth scroll existed and that an ordinary teenager would help him in his quest to find it. His father does not approve and in the first episode the two fight for the staff, and it is only when Guanyin (Michelle Yeoh) intercedes and approves of Wei-Chen’s quest, that his father acquiesces.
American Born Chinese is based on the 2006 graphic novel of the same name, by Gene Luen Yang and is inspired by his own adolescent years in the 1990s drawing on elements from Chinese folk talks, specifically from the Chinese novel Journey to the West. All eight of the episodes were released by Disney+ on May 24th, 2023. I really enjoyed the first episode; I know very little of Chinese mythology and found the hierarchy and the Heavenly characters fascinating. The special effects were adequate, but there were times when it didn’t seem believable. The story moves at a good pace and has a nice rhythm, and I really enjoyed the fight scenes.
But what really drew me to the show was the story and the performances. Jin’s struggle to find a balance in life resonated deeply with me. Ben Wang is fully believable as the teenager struggling to discover who he really is and is likeable but makes mistakes and has to deal with the consequences. He is a young boy on the precipice of manhood and doesn’t yet know who he is. He wants to fit in, but he also wants to follow his own interests, he doesn’t want to lose his old friends, but he wants to be in the popular crowd as well. At the same time, he has to deal with a more subtle form of racism based on cultural stereotypes. The overarching theme of the show deals with following your dreams versus life’s reality and the parental and societal expectations put onto us at a young age.
This was a fun show, with some good fight scenes, nice visuals, good performances and a lot of heart!
American Born Chinese: The Mythical Life of a Highschooler
- Writing - 9/109/10
- Storyline - 9/109/10
- Acting - 9/109/10
- Music - 9/109/10
- Production - 8/108/10
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