This Upcoming Disney Plus Show Is Everything My Chinese Teen Self Ever Wanted
Years ago, I stumbled upon a copy of American Born Chinese (by Gene Luen Yang) in my local bookstore, and it became one of my comfort books throughout my early teens. It struck a tone that was at once hilarious, entertaining, and real, sometimes painfully so. So when I heard that the story was being adapted for TV via Disney+, I knew I had to tell you guys about it!
The screen adaptation will come to Disney+ this coming spring, with the following show-stopping cast lineup confirmed:
Aside from the fact that this is such a banger of an AAPI lineup (featuring our darlings Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan!), I’m this excited because the story is actually kind of perfect for television. It follows three narratives that weave in and out, yet are inherently linked to one another.
We begin with the parable of the Monkey King, a classic figure in Chinese literature. The Monkey King wanted to ascend to godhood, being something of a kung fu god himself, but alas, he couldn’t, as he was a monkey. His story hinges on envy, as he continually attempts to become something other than a monkey, and ultimately suffers for it.
On the back end of these narratives is Danny, an “all-American” white boy who is so totally blonde and so totally radical. Everyone loves Danny, including his super hot all-American girlfriend and his super-cool all-American basketball team … but Danny’s luck starts to wear out when his Chinese cousin comes to visit. This cousin is so totally UN-American and ends up humiliating Danny over and over again—or so we think. This portion of the story is staged like a sitcom, almost Truman Show-esque, so you have to trust that there’s more going on here (and that there’s actually a reason the cousin’s name is “Chin-Kee”).
Finally, there’s the central narrative, the one the other two swirl around: that of Jin Wang’s, a teenager who’s forced to move from Chinatown SF to a predominantly white suburb. Jin is keenly aware of how others view him, and he doesn’t like it. They make “dog eating” jokes around him and constantly rag on his last name. So, Jin tries to his best to assimilate, even at the cost of his friendship with Wei-Chen, one of the only other Asian kids at that school (the other being Chen’s girlfriend, Suzy Nakamura). But the central source of his pain is how difficult it ends up being for him to date Amelia, a white girl that everyone seems to love … and whom everyone has opinions on regarding his interest in her.
The way these three stories tie in together is really something special, and sure, a part of me is feeling protective and worried that Disney won’t be up to the task. But overall, I’m really happy to see someone give this story a shot, and I’m looking forward to watching it. At the very least, I’m definitely going to be giving the original novel a re-read—and this is your cue to give it a read, too!
(featured image: Disney+)
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