'American Born Chinese language' evaluate: A coming-of-age story filled with coronary heart and surprising heroes

American Born Chinese language feels — respectfully — like an previous Disney Channel unique film. 

Primarily based on Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel of the identical identify, American Born Chinese language is a coming-of-age story sprinkled with fantasy. The present’s eight episodes comply with Jin Wang (Ben Wang), a median highschool scholar making an attempt to take advantage of out of the brand new college 12 months. His plans for climbing his college’s social ladder hit a roadblock when his principal introduces him to a international alternate scholar known as Wei-Chen (Jimmy Liu). At first, Jin thinks Wei-Chen is simply one other awkward nerd, however he quickly realizes his new pal is definitely the son of an historic Chinese language mythological god. 

Wei-Chen is the son of Solar Wukong, extra famously referred to as the Monkey King (Daniel Wu), and he is on a mission to save lots of the heavenly realm from destruction. There’s hassle brewing among the many gods, with the infamous Bull Demon (Leonard Wu) planning to usurp their emperor. It is as much as Wei-Chen, Jin, and another gods alongside the best way — together with the goddess of mercy, Guanyin (an unbelievable efficiency by Michelle Yeoh) — to save lots of the day. 

In some ways, American Born Chinese language feels resonant of the Disney Channel’s early-2000s heyday. When you’re anticipating a high-stakes fantasy journey, American Born Chinese language will not be that. The present is way extra involved with untangling identification and teenage woes, with its fantasy aspect used as a vessel for its characters to return to phrases with who they’re. It’s kind of like criminally underrated Disney Channel flicks Minutemen, Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior, or Sky Excessive, wherein stumbling upon secret superpowers was a part of the trail towards a protagonist’s self-acceptance. Plus, American Born Chinese language is extremely household pleasant, with the present’s humor leaning into the Disney Channel nostalgia of all of it. 

Above all else, American Born Chinese language shines as a singular coming-of-age story. There’s glorious visible storytelling, a solid of characters which can be filled with coronary heart, and an homage to kung fu movies of the previous. At instances, the present’s pacing could be gradual, nevertheless it’s an important watch nonetheless. 

American Born Chinese language is a superb visible expertise. 

A woman wearing a light green dress and headpiece gives something to a human turned monkey in a red forest.


Credit score: Disney / Carlos Lopez-Calleja

American Born Chinese language is unafraid to experiment with its storytelling. One episode sees the present paying direct tribute to ’70s-style kung fu movies for its entirety, with colourful title playing cards dispersed all through and dramatic close-ups on characters’ faces proper earlier than a combat. All through, the present is considerable with nice kung fu combating sequences in a much more child pleasant homage to the style than works like Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Invoice

The present will typically pivot to a ’90s sitcom format, because of its subplot starring Ke Huy Quan, who performs a personality on a sitcom discovering a resurgence in reputation. Sooner or later, Jin additionally imagines a situation that is performed out within the sitcom format, one other instance of the present’s nice use of various visible mediums to inform its story — and a means American Born Chinese language balances novelty and nostalgia. 

The The whole lot All over the place All at As soon as reunion is great. 

A collage of a woman in a green gown, a professor holding a book, and a woman wearing a pink shirt.


Credit score: Disney / Carlos Lopez-Calleja

In one other universe, Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, and Ke Huy Quan performed the Wang household. On this one, they’re scattered between taking part in gods and people, however the reunion is swell all the identical. Yeoh’s humor is electrical (to nobody’s shock), and her character serves splendidly because the present’s comedian reduction. Watching a sleek deity acquaint herself with the mundane duties of strange life, from assembling IKEA furnishings — she claims, succinctly, “I can’t be defeated by Swedish furnishings” — to having fun with the magnificence of all-you-can-eat Chinese language buffets is an totally joyful expertise. 

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On par with Yeoh is an equally stellar Hsu, whose function could also be small however is irrevocably memorable. The pair have a scene that is assured to make you snicker, as they flawlessly bounce off one another. You will neglect they as soon as acted out a strained mother-daughter relationship; as a substitute, you will solely bear in mind them as two goddesses with sufficient sarcasm to place Seinfeld to disgrace.

Quan‘s character serves an necessary function in a subplot that grounds the present’s exploration of Asian American identification. His character arc is woefully touching, and whereas its actual significance may not be revealed till the present’s finish, it is probably the most memorable nuggets in American Born Chinese language

American Born Chinese language looks like a prologue. 

A teenager wearing a blue shirt stands atop a table in a high school cafeteria.


Credit score: Disney / Carlos Lopez-Calleja

Quite than feeling like the primary chapter in Jin and Wei-Chen’s story, American Born Chinese language feels extra like a prologue — the second the 2 first grew to become pals, and the second Jin realizes the form of hero he could be, earlier than his higher journey. The present explores what it means to be an Asian American within the current second, wherein conversations concerning ethnicity and race are taking place, however real unlearning is not. Jin struggles with accepting his identification and usually offers with microaggressions, like when his classmates assume he’d get pleasure from consuming Panda Specific for his birthday. By the season finale, he figures out some massive issues about himself, however the present’s pacing to this point would not actually see the total extent of his character flourishing. 

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Just like the hero’s journey in myths like Hercules, Jin’s arc on this season is harking back to the second when the hero first will get known as upon. He hasn’t even gotten to the coaching montage but, however by the season finale, he is lastly in the mean time when he is keen to get out of the door and be a hero. The present’s story is just starting with this primary season propelling our protagonist into one thing higher and studying tips on how to take pleasure in his identification. Jin’s journey is way from over, and I am eager to see extra of it. 

American Born Chinese language premieres Could 24 on Disney+.(opens in a brand new tab)


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