September 21, 2023

American Born Chinese is a compelling fantasy adventure while also being a powerful and relevant story about Asian immigrants. It is fun, moving and features amazing action sequences with a brilliant cast.”

After his successful Shang-Chi film, Destin Daniel Cretton is back with Disney as an executive producer and director for American Born Chinese. This is an 8 episode-series based on Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel of the same name. The series is now streaming on Disney +.


Ben Wang as Jin Wang in AMERICAN BORN CHINESE, exclusively on Disney+. ©2023

American Born Chinese is basically our world meets the Chinese folk tales. And this is a brilliant idea! It could have easily been your usual coming-of-age fantasy series but this one is different. It feels fresh and original. Jin Wang (played by Ben Wang) is just a normal kid at the Sierra Mona High School when he meets Wei-Chen (played by Jimmy Liu) who is actually the son of the Monkey King (played by Daniel Wu) on a quest to find the fourth magical Buddhist sutra before the Bull Demon (played by Leonard Wu) enacts his uprising. Jin has to balance his teenager life with the mythical adventure that Wei-Chen brings to him. And it is extremely compelling!

Beyond that, American Born Chinese tells a powerful and meaningful story about Asian immigrants. Jin is also on a journey to find his place within his peers and it is a struggle. He wants to fit in and be accepted but in order to do that, it also means he has to hide who he is and that’s not right. But it is not just about Jin, you can see that struggle with his dad (played by Chin Han) too. These stories matter, they need to be told and they are better told when the writers are people who have been through this. Asian immigrants will definitely recognize themselves through these characters. Us polynesians (and other Pacific Islander people) also have similar stories, I think generally anyone who is part of a “minority” will see themselves in this story to some degree.

On top of that, the series follows as the side story of Jamie Yao (played by Ke Huy Quan), a former actor of a classic sitcom. The problem is that Jamie played a character who was stereotypical and who was made fun of because of that. And that is all Jin had on screen to see himself – the portrayal of a stereotypical Asian. When you don’t have characters on screen to see yourself in it is difficult, there is no one that can tell you that you can be proud of who you are, that you can assert yourself. So Jamie’s story is so important to the overall story and how it affects a normal kid like Jin.

Moreover, the series goes beyond that and we get to meet the actor Jamie Yo and see what he went through. Portraying a character like this wasn’t easy. It has been a struggle for Jamie. There is a deeply moving interview scene that really sums up why diversity matters. It is a reminder that we need more stories like this.


Michelle Yeoh as Guanyin in AMERICAN BORN CHINESE, exclusively on Disney+. ©2023

Furthermore, this series brings back together a big part of the outstanding cast of Everything Everywhere All At Once – Michelle Yeoh, Stephani Hsu and Ke Huy Quan. Obviously, Michelle Yeoh is amazing as usual. She automatically makes everything better. And making her play Guanyin the Goddess of Mercy feels like perfect casting. She has a presence on screen that really captures everyone’s attention. She also brings a lot of heart to her character. So despite being a God, Michelle Yeoh is able to bring her character to a human level. On top of that, Ke Huy Quan playing this former actor feels so right. He delivers an heartfelt performance. And during that interview scene, there is something that feels very personal for him because of his real-life career struggle. I actually made me cry.

The two young leads Ben Wang and Jimmy Liu deliver impressive performances. Despite, the famous cast surrounding them, they still manage to stand out and be the heroes they are supposed to be. Finally, Yeo Yann Yann and Chin Han are fantastic as Jin Wang’s parents. They nicely balance the seriousness of their roles while also allowing some comedy moments.


(L-R): Michelle Yeoh as Guanyin and Jimmy Liu as Wei-Chen in AMERICAN BORN CHINESE, exclusively on Disney+. ©2023

Undoubdtedly, you can tell Destin Daniel Cretton directed the first and final episode of the season. His style can be felt all throughout the series but even more so in these two episodes. He is a talented director. And he surely knows how to direct action scenes. No shaky camera with him but a steady camera that allows us to fully enjoy and immerse ourselves in the fight. Like in Shang-Chi, the action scenes are clearly inspired by Hong Kong films with the use of martial arts and the way it is filmed. Moreover, the famous actress Lucy Liu directed episode 6. Overall, this is a great team of directors who each brought something to this series while still making each episode feel like a seamless part of the series.

Michelle Yeoh has definiely the best costume. It is the costume of a God. In fact, it does remind me of Galadriel’s sumptuous yet simple outfits in Lord of the Rings but in blue and with Chinese inspiration for the motifs. The other costumes of Chinese mythical characters are wonderfully made and so is the make-up. A lot of care has been put into the making of this series. For the costumes of our world, they went with modern American outfits.

However, the series weakness’ may be with the visual effects. Despite a beautiful cinematography, some of the visual effects feel unfinished at times like Sun Wukong’s transformations. I don’t blame the VFX team there but rather the seemingly lack of budget. A series like this deserved a budget like Marvel and Star Wars series. Indeed, it is a rich universe that should have a budget big enough for the creators to make everything they want to do.


Ke Huy Quan as Jamie Yao in AMERICAN BORN CHINESE, exclusively on Disney+. ©2023

Furthermore, Wendy Wang delivers a powerful score. She goes heavy with the percussion instruments during the action scenes which makes them even more energetic. Obviously, Wang uses Asian inspiration for her music and mixes it with a bit of electro at times which gives great results! On top of that, she delivers a perfect opening theme for the 70s inspired opening title of episode 4.


American Born Chinese is a compelling fantasy adventure while also being a powerful and relevant story about Asian immigrants. It is fun, moving and features amazing action sequences with a brilliant cast.

You may have noticed the removal of several Disney + originals from the streaming platform and with the current cost-cutting at Disney, I am going to be honest, I am truly afraid this series won’t be renewed. So if you haven’t watched it yet, please do so, it will be worth your time. Considering how season 1 ends, we absolutely need a second season. It would be a shame if it does end like this. Diversity matters, everyone needs to be able to see themselves on screen.

American Born Chinese is now streaming on Disney Plus.

1 thought on “TV Review | American Born Chinese

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