Home Film & TVFantasy American Born Chinese: The Coming-of-Age Story We Needed in the Past, Present and Future

American Born Chinese: The Coming-of-Age Story We Needed in the Past, Present and Future

by Andrew Nguyen

American Born Chinese stars Ben Wang, Jim Liu, Sydney Taylor, Chin Han, as well as Academy Award winners Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan, Academy Award nominee Stephanie Hsu, and Daniel Wu as Sun Wukong/Monkey King. The series tells the story of Asian-American teenager Jin Wong as he navigates through the challenges of high school, which has become all the more difficult as he gets caught in a mission to save Heaven itself with Sun Wukong’s son, Wei-Chen from the Bull Demon King.

After seeing the trailer for American Born Chinese at D23 of Summer 2022, I have been looking forward to this project and I must say it did not disappoint. Among all the Disney + projects that I have seen, this is definitely my favorite.

*This will be a spoiler-free review, so please read on*

In America, most people grew up reading about Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, The Avengers, and etc. Growing up, I grew up watching hours and hours of the live-action adaptation of Journey To The West which is a story based off of Sun Wukong/The Monkey King and his companions’ pilgrimage in finding the Buddhist sutras.

In Vietnamese/Chinese culture, Sun Wukong is basically our Superman. He was the main inspiration of Goku from Dragon Ball. Daniel Wu’s performance as the Great Sage Equal to Heaven is one of the MANY highlights of the series, although no one can beat Dicky Cheung’s portrayal in the 1996 series in my heart, sorry Mr. Wu. Whoever casted Michelle Yeoh as Guanyin, The Goddess of Compassion definitely deserves a raise because I could not think of a better choice. By the way, keep an eye out for our very own Dorkaholics friend, Brian Le, his appearance is a real treat.

Throughout each episode, there were a lot of references to the mythology and it was very well done. Although I am not familiar with Gene Luen Yang’s work prior to American Born Chinese, he introduced characters that I knew in a different way that would fit his narrative but also still remain faithful to the source by Wu Cheng’en. I want to give major kudos to the make-up & costume department because there was definitely inspiration and admiration of the 1986’s television adaptation. Additionally, the stunt choreographers and the cinematographers deserve similar praise, because there were plenty of exciting fight scenes and it is hard to even narrow one to call my favorite. Trust me, if you were a fan of the fight scenes in Marvel’s Shang Chi, you are in for a treat. When you finish American Born Chinese and have the itch to learn more about the mythology of these characters, I definitely recommend watching any of the Journey To The West adaptations, they are timeless.

American Born Chinese does a spectacular job in balancing character development and universal themes of identity. At the core of this story, it is diving in on the crisis that most of us in the AAPI community have undergone during our adolescent years as well as maybe now. How many of us at one time or another have rejected our cultural background and upbringing to conform to western ideologies so that we would be able to fit in?

The series explored these instances through Jin’s eyes in such a relatable way as he discovers who he really is rather than what he wants to be. The story also emphasizes the importance of speaking up which is often seen as “taboo” among many traditional AAPI cultures. In addition, I will not delve too much into Ke Huy Quan’s Freddie Wong character but it was fantastic to see the actor’s real life experience in Hollywood incorporated into an integral part of the overarching story. If that still isn’t enough to get you to watch this show, just remember the ensemble cast of the highly acclaimed Everything Everywhere All At Once are all in it! As well as being directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Shang-Chi) and the iconic Lucy Liu.

Ever since the success of films such as Crazy Rich Asians and Everything Everywhere All At Once, a new era of AAPI representation in the Western media has been ushered in. I dare to say that this show should also be up there as well. Not only does it accurately represent what most teenagers and families from the AAPI community go through but it also introduces our childhood fantasy stories to a new generation that will hopefully enjoy it as much as we did.  I wish when I was a teen that I could have experienced this and be reminded “don’t be normal, be exceptional.” but I am ecstatic to even see it now.  Even though the title says American Born Chinese, everyone and anyone should take the time out to watch this show, you certainly will not regret it.

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