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American Born Chinese Review: An Ode to the Chinese Culture

American Born Chinese Review – We live in a global society where opportunities more often than not have depended on what color one’s skin and where they come from. In this society, anything apart from the one main standard is dubbed as crazy and unimportant. In places like the United States which is often considered a melting pot of global cultures, it is disheartening to see the utter disrespect and veiled racism happening against those of color. There is a stereotypical representation which is swept under the rug saying that it is a joke or that it is simply very exotic. 

Hollywood seldom gave recognition or opportunities to the people who wanted to start a career in acting. There was always one stereotypical role which essayed the person speaking in a heavy accent English, wearing clothes which were cheaply made, sporting spectacles and being an ace in the academics, especially mathematics and science. In the recent months we have seen a shift in those patterns. Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan won the Oscars and set a new precedent in the film industry. People have become more sensitive to the veiled racism that is deeply rooted in the society. Patterns of racist behaviour are being actively identified and fought against to make the society truly balanced and equal.

American Born Chinese Review
Michelle Yeoh and Jimmy Liu in ‘American Born Chinese’. Credits: Disney+/IMDB

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In line with the AAPI month, Disney brought a new and interesting series which celebrates Chinese culture and also comments on the veiled racism in the society. The series is titled ‘American Born Chinese’ and is adapted from comic books series of the same name by Gene Luen Yang. This show tells the story of a teenage Asian-American boy named Jin Wang as navigates high school and fights heavenly bodies.

American Born Chinese Summary

Jin Wang is a typical high school going teenage boy who is a fan of manga, like soccer, is shy around girls, is socially awkward and most of all, seeks validation from his fellow seemingly ‘cool’ classmates. He is the son of Simon and Christine Wang, a Chinese immigrant couple. Having grown up in an American society and detached from his roots, Jin is more American than Chinese and it is clearly seen in his behaviour as well.

The Monkey King aka Sun Wukong is one of the most popular tales from the Chinese legends of the 16th Century. In the show, we see that these characters from the legends have reached the mortal world with an agenda of their own. Sun Wukong’s son Wei Chen had a dream and he came to Earth to fulfill it. Wei Chen is Jin’s opposite – he is loud, bold and not shy to speak about his hobbies in public.

He befriends Jin much to Jin’s chagrin, but eventually makes Jin understand what is going on around them. Jin comes to his senses and helps Wei Chen out with his best friend Anuj’s help. But fighting Ni Mowang was only a temporary relief. There lie more challenges for Jin Wang as he gets more involved with the heavenly bodies.

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American Born Chinese Review

‘American Born Chinese’ is a great attempt at translating the page to the screen. The narration style echoes an ode to the Chinese and Chinese American community. The episodes open with English and Mandarin lines from the folklore. The graphic effects with Sun Wukong’s staff and Guanyin’s magic are quite delightful to see on screen. Ben Wang does a great job as the socially awkward teenager Jin. Michelle Yeoh appears as Guanyin and displays a balanced portrayal of a goddess and a mentor. Ke Huy Quan as Jamie Yao serves as a catalyst to point out the veiled form of racism that the community is subject to even today. 

The story is set in modern day America and it is quite interesting to see characters from legends and myths dressed in modern attire and utilising modern equipment. Guanyin’s obsession with the coffee table from IKEA is humorous in nature and it serves as a great element of relatability as the Swedish furniture brand is known for its appealing furniture but difficult manuals. It is a running joke among those who have had run-ins with setting up DIY IKEA furniture.

Official poster for 'American Born Chinese'. Credits: IMDB
Official poster for ‘American Born Chinese’. Credits: Disney+/IMDB

Throughout the show we see Jin’s parents involved in various activities to keep in touch with their roots. They switch between Mandarin and English when conversing with each other. Jin barely understands Mandarin so he just sticks to English. Wei Chen, Sun Wukong, Guanyin, Ni Mowang and other characters also speak Mandarin and English. The switch between the languages is interesting because when the characters want to make a heartfelt expression, they speak their mother tongue but otherwise resort to English as the story is anyway set in America. 

Overall, the show serves as a heartfelt ode to the Chinese (and also Asian) heritage and roots. Most of us have grown up watching American superheroes and European legends, so it is quite endearing to see Asian legends also coming to the forefront. The show is a beacon to the Asian American community and a message to the world at large that Asians can be much more than typecast characters. Everyone is equal and deserves equal opportunity in all fields. It also works as an inspiration to the young generation that the mangas are also ‘cool’ and beyond just nerdy.

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Will American Born Chinese Get a Season 2?

Not sure for now. The possibility of a American Born Chinese season 2 hasn’t been confirmed by Disney Plus or the creators of the show yet.

Will there be a sequel to American Born Chinese?

Yes, to those who want to see more of the American born Chinese teenager Jin Wang and his adventures with the heavenly figures, might just get their wish granted! In the finale episode of season one, we see that Iron Fan has abducted Jin’s parents and threatens Jin to follow her if he wants to see them again. In season one, Jin and Wei Chen were battling against Ni Mowang aka the Bull Demon and in the sequel they might be seen pitted against Iron Fan. Wei Chen left for Heaven after the battle but since Jin’s parents are in danger, it is only natural that he will come down again to help his best friend. 

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Nandini Iyengar
Nandini Iyengar
A writer and translator by profession, Nandini is also known for using a lot of pun.

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