“American Born Chinese” doesn’t quite have “everything” going for it


“American Born Chinese” feels like about three series crammed into one, which might explain why it takes so long to get into its history. Despite good times and the benefit of fortuitous timing – starring Michelle Yeoh and (briefly) Ke Huy Quan after their Oscar-winning work in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” – the intriguing mix of action, comedy-drama for teenagers and fancy never fully gelled.

Adapted from the graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang, the show begins quite promisingly with the story of the Monkey King (“Into the Badlands” star Daniel Wu) and his rebellious son (Jim Liu), who steals a magic staff. whose absence threatens to endanger their kingdom.

The story then shifts to Jin (Ben Wang), a teenager struggling with the vagaries of high school and the expectations of his immigrant parents (Chin Yan, Yeo Yann Yann), who seem to be constantly bickering, as mom pushes dad. seek a promotion at work.

The strands gradually intersect, and the action airy, heavily stylized – with writing overseen by Kelvin Yu (“Bob’s Burgers”) and a pilot directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”) – comes to include Yeoh, who plays Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, whose time on Earth amusingly includes struggling with assembling Ikea furniture.

Yet the fact that it takes at least three of the first season’s eight episodes for the plot to kick off, and that a later chapter is devoted entirely to the villain’s origin story, is one of those luxuries of a streaming series that can also be a trap – at least, compared to a movie, where there’s not as much time to roam around.

The more leisurely pace provides an opportunity to flesh out the parents, and Wang makes for a very interesting and engaging track. The series also takes a detour to include the renewed popularity of a 90s sitcom starring a largely comedic Asian actor (played by Quan), illustrating how racism and stereotypes can subtly seep into conversation, while leaving Jin wondering if he should be offended. by that or the deaf principal who instructs him to ride around a newly arrived Chinese student.

That’s a lot to juggle, and the tension of all that sewing thread shows it. To its credit, “American Born Chinese” represents a more ambitious take on the genre of teen series that Disney Channel has historically produced with regularity, as well as a nuanced take on the Asian-American experience that Disney+ has also explored with the recent movie “Chang Can Dunk”.

That said, given the creative auspices and talent (which also includes “Everything Everywhere”‘s Stephanie Hsu in another small role), the show doesn’t fully live up to its lofty expectations. Not bad, as far as it goes, but it tests patience, especially for a series that, on paper, seemed to have “everything” going for it anyway.

“American Born Chinese” premieres May 24 on Disney+.


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