American Born Chinese review: A masterful mash-up of fantasy and teen turmoil

Incoming sophomore Jin Wang (Ben Wang) is determined to elevate his social status this year. His plan: reduce his focus on comics and manga, earn a spot on the junior varsity soccer team, and perhaps win over Amelia (Sydney Taylor), the cute girl in his biology class. “I just want to blend in and do normal stuff,” he says.

However, in American Born Chinese, the exciting new action-comedy from Kelvin Yu (Bob’s Burgers), Jin’s efforts are constantly thwarted by reminders of his cultural background. A viral video featuring an offensive Asian stereotype character, Freddy Wong (Ke Huy Quan), resurfaces, adding to Jin’s challenges. Additionally, on the first day of school, Principal Kinney (Jennifer Irwin) mistakenly assigns Jin — whom she calls “Jim” — to assist new student Wei-Chen (Jimmy Liu), assuming they have much in common.

In reality, Jin and Wei-Chen are quite different. While Jin struggles with his identity as “the Asian kid” and tries to avoid standing out, Wei-Chen is confident, fluent in Mandarin, and unfazed by stereotypes. He also happens to be the son of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King (Daniel Wu), who has come to Earth to thwart an uprising by his father’s enemy, the Bull Demon (Leonard Wu). Wei-Chen enlists Jin as his guide, much to Jin’s chagrin.

Adapted from Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel, American Born Chinese seamlessly blends heartfelt coming-of-age humor with exhilarating martial-arts action. Jin’s embarrassment over his cultural identity is palpable, especially when he’s paired with Wei-Chen. Despite Wei-Chen’s urgent mission, Jin remains preoccupied with his own problems, including navigating his parents’ expectations and dealing with racism at school.

While the series occasionally stumbles with some underdeveloped elements, such as Jin’s strained friendship and a shallow portrayal of Amelia, its overall impact is captivating. The show effectively concludes with a climactic showdown that intertwines Jin and Wei-Chen’s worlds, highlighting the complexities of cultural identity and self-acceptance.

American Born Chinese is a refreshing addition to Disney+, offering a compelling narrative and engaging characters. It premieres on May 24 and is a must-watch for those seeking a blend of action, humor, and cultural exploration.

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