The screen adaptation of Gene Yang’s graphic novel American Born Chinese is getting a thumbs up from early reviews following a sneak peek of the first two episodes at South by Southwest.
In the story, recent immigrant Wei-Chen, as played by Jim Liu, takes on the bullies at his new school without hesitation and to the amazement of the more reserved Jin Wang, portrayed by Ben Wang. Perhaps it helps Wei’s confidence that he is the son of the mythical Monkey King.
“Jim Liu is the indisputable breakout star of the first two episodes that were shown at SXSW,” said Rafael Motomayor of SlashFilms. “Wei-Chen is full of confidence, he is funny and cool, and he can kick all sorts of ass.”
The drama, action and fantasy series explores the confidence and insecurities of these two characters in a show that The Hollywood Reporter calls both “wildly entertaining and touching.”
“The show’s action is a particular delight, with physics-defying showdowns that see characters twirling through the air and literally running up walls as a camera zips up and down hallways — at least until the finale, also directed by Cretton, that takes an unfortunate turn toward Marvel-esque sky portal nonsense,” the Hollywood Reporter’s Angie Han wrote in her review.
The Austin Chronicle’s Jenny Nulf agrees that the adaptation does venture into Marvel territory, but also sees the show’s heart.
“The show gets to play in both worlds: sleek, choreographed fighting sequences that amp up the excitement and tender coming-of-age moments that ground its characters,” said Nulf.
American Born Chinese also benefits from a strong cast that includes Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan, reuniting from their Oscar-winning performances in Everything Everywhere All At Once. If that’s not enough, fellow EEAAO castmates’ Stephanie Hsu and James Hong come along for the ride with Crazy Rich Asians‘ actors Ronny Chieng and Jimmy O. Yang. American Born Chinese is directed by Shang-Chi’s Daniel Cretton and adapted by producer Kelvin Yu.
“We really focused on Ben and Jimmy,” said executive producer Melvin Mar of Fresh Off the Boat to The Daily Texan. “We thought of it as a relationship between two boys who were polar opposites, like a buddy comedy. Once we found them, it was the center of all of it. We aimed high, we got ourselves Michelle Yeoh, and it’s been great, but it all starts from the material, Gene’s book and Kelvin’s script.”
Wang said he channeled his real-life experience for his role.
“Honestly, most of it was just (being) the most awkward, terrified version of myself. Everything else fell into place. My friends in the show are my friends in real life, and my family in the show feel like my family,” said Wang.
AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on Facebook, X, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.