Does anybody remember the Japanese tv show Monkey which aired for a couple of seasons between 1978 and 1980? It was basically a supernatural action show that followed the evolution of a lowly stone monkey who became a great sage in Heaven.
It's a cult classic and one that has spawned a modern (sort-of) follow-on show, American Born Chinese, which is now available on Disney+.
Directed by Kelvin Yu is an action-comedy based on the 2006 graphic novel American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang and creatively merges the ordinary life of a high school student with elements of Chinese mythology and epic adventures.
So what is it all about, and is it worth watching?
What Is American Born Chinese About?
The series is centred around an average teenager Jin Wang (Ben Wang), a tenth-grade student and the son of Chinese immigrants. Jin is a typical high school kid who is passionate about manga and wants to join the soccer team.
His life takes an unexpected turn when Wei-Chen, a new exchange student played by Jimmy Liu, arrives at his school. Wei-Chen, unlike Jin, is loud and confident and mostly embarrasses Jin.
But what Jin doesn't know is that Wei-Chen is not just any ordinary exchange student; he is the son of Sun Wukong (Daniel Wu), also known as the Monkey King, a legendary figure in Chinese literature.
Wei-Chen has come to Earth, disguised as a high-schooler, to search for the mythical Fourth Scroll, which he believes can stop an uprising against Heaven, led by Bull Demon (Leonard Wu). According to a prophetic dream, an ordinary teenager – Jin, in this case – is destined to aid him in his quest.
To help Wei-Chen on earth is Guanyin (Michelle Yeoh), the Goddess of Mercy who poses as his aunt to help him fit in and guide him on his mission.
But the quest for the Fourth Scroll is not an easy one, especially as Jin is more than reluctant to give up his newfound social status to help Wei-Chen.
So can they find the fourth scroll and stop Bull Demon from destroying Heaven? Watch American Born Chinese to find out.
American Born Chinese Official Trailer
Is American Born Chinese Worth Watching?
Chinese mythological gods have always been a source of inspiration for tv and cinema, and it's tricky to blend those ideas with a modern-day setting.
However, American Born Chinese has so well curated that not only is the blend perfect, but the creators have also managed to squeeze in plenty of subplots and storylines, ensuring that the series roars along at an incredible pace.
Jin's character, who is exceptionally well played by Ben Wang, evolves from a typical teen, desperate for a high school social life, to a key player in the grand celestial quest while also grappling with his own identity and personal growth.
And that idea of grappling with identity runs throughout the show. From Jin's parents, who don't feel like they fit into American life, to Wei-Chen, who is trying to step out from his father's shadow, the show really digs deep into its characters to great effect.
But aside from the introspection, American Born Chinese also steps up big when it comes to the high-octane action scenes, which are genuinely some of the best I've seen at tv level. They are astoundingly good and could have been plucked straight from Everything Everywhere all at Once.
Then again, so could the cast, which features both Oscar winners Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan as well as Oscar nominee Stephanie Hsu, who pops up in one episode.
Overall, I loved American Born Chinese. It is rooted in a solid story, is clever, funny, action-packed and seamlessly weaved mundane high-school life with extraordinary adventures.
Honestly, I binged all 8 episodes in one sitting, and I'm crossing all my fingers and toes for a second season!
American Born Chinese TV Series Cast
Ben Wang as Jin Wang, an average teenager juggling family and high school expectations.
Jimmy Liu as Wei-Chen, son of the Monkey King who arrives on earth posing as a foreign student in search of the mythical Fourth Scroll.
Yeo Yann Yann as Christine Wang, Jin's mother who is frustrated with her life.
Chin Han as Simon Wang, Jin's father a proud man but one lacking in confidence and zest for life.
Ke Huy Quan as Freddy Wong, a 90s sitcom character, (played by the character Jamie Yao) most known for being the butt of every joke in the fictional 90s show.
Sydney Taylor as Amelia, Jin's friend and love interest.
Daniel Wu as Sun Wukong, the Monkey King
Michelle Yeoh as Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy
Poppy Liu (Hacks) as Princess Iron Fan
Ronny Chieng as Ji Gong, an exiled monk now living on earth
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