UNITED STATES NEWS

From Xerox to TV box, long awaited adaptation of ‘American Born Chinese’ book hits Disney+

May 23, 2023, 7:11 AM

Gene Luen Yang remembers feeling pumped in 2007 when Hollywood came calling about his trailblazing graphic novel “American Born Chinese.” But that excitement turned into exasperation when it became clear the interested party completely missed the point of the book.

“It came out that the reason why they were interested is because the Beijing Olympics were coming up in 2008. And they wanted some property that had the word China or Chinese in it,” Yang said in a recent interview. “Every now and then there would be an inquiry. But I really think the world needed to change in order for there to be an appetite for a story about an Asian American protagonist.”

Change has finally come. After 17 years, the cartoonist is seeing his American dream play out.

“American Born Chinese” debuts on Disney+ on Wednesday with a mostly Asian cast that now includes two new Oscar winners — Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan. The show, which also boasts Asian American showrunners, centers on high school soccer player Jin Wang (Ben Wang) growing up amid pressure to reconcile his American and Chinese sides. Mixing elements of teen drama, fantasy and fight sequences, the show, like the book, jumps between Jin’s storyline and one involving the Monkey King, an iconic character in Chinese folklore. The story threads eventually intertwine.

“It feels like a very surreal moment to have this book that I did as Xerox copies that I would put together at my local Kinko’s eventually become a show on Disney+,” Yang said.

The first two episodes have been screened around the country from San Francisco to New York City to the White House, partly to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The predominantly Asian American audiences have praised the show’s heartfelt and at times humorous portrayal of an Asian American family

“‘American Born Chinese,’ you can’t do it in one long movie,” said Yeoh, who’s proud of how the series turned out. “There’s so many different aspects of it that need to be shown, it needs that space and time on screen.”

Yeoh, who made history as the first Asian to win her Oscar category for “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” plays Guanyin, the goddess of mercy. She was invited to the project by her “Shang-Chi and the Legends of the Ten Rings” director, Destin Daniel Cretton, an executive producer.

In the show, Yeoh gets to don a sweeping gown and headdress as well as sweats and a baseball cap. Being a revered Chinese folklore figure, many people already have an image of Guanyin. The Malaysia-born Yeoh didn’t dwell on the pressure of playing someone larger than life.

“What I do think about is how we have to be very respectful of this goddess of mercy because she represents so many things to so many followers all around the world,” Yeoh said. “We gave her the gravitas the she deserved and the respect to show you what we love about her.”

Yeoh and Quan had already James Hong also guest-star in an episode. The best picture winner premiered in the middle of production and then “we watched the whole world change,” executive producer Kelvin Yu said.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Wang is the star after doing mostly one-episode guest spots. He still isn’t quite used to seeing himself on posters. Having grown up seeing little on-screen Asian representation, it’s a novel concept that he could be an example for a teenage Asian American boy today.

“It’s very surreal and strange,” Wang said. “I still can’t believe that it’s me. I just feel like it’s someone who looks like me, which is double weird. It’s like seeing your doppelgänger.”

The television adaptation comes in the wake of other teen shows with an Asian American lens. Disney+ also has “Ms. Marvel” featuring a Muslim American female superhero. Jenny Han’s two book series, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” and “The Summer I Turned Pretty,” have been hits for Netflix and Amazon Prime, respectively. The fourth and final season of “Never Have I Ever,” about an Indian American high schooler, drops in June.

“We’re standing on the shoulders of those kinds of things, going back to ‘Joy Luck Club’ … all the way up to ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ and shows like ‘Never Have I Ever,’” Yu said. “We’ll take all that momentum. We’ll take all that sort of education for an audience to get used to faces like ours and we’ll embrace it and move forward.”

The graphic novel was landmark literature for Asian American millennials. Reviews lauded it as a fresh take on adolescence, bi-cultural identity and racism. It won several accolades and was a National Book Awards finalist.

For many young Chinese American readers, it was the first time they had seen themselves and the Monkey King — a legend they likely heard about from their parents — in that genre. The character first appeared in the epic 16th century Chinese novel, “Journey to the West.” The tome has been adapted several times including a memorable 1980s TV series created by China Central Television (CCTV). The super-powered simian is well-known across Asia like Batman or Spider-Man, according to Yu.

Daniel Wu, who grew up in California but began his acting career in Hong Kong, plays the Monkey King. This project brings him full circle from when he dealt with his own “American-born Chinese” issues.

“Even though I was warmly accepted by the audiences there, I always felt like slightly being an outsider because I was American,” Wu said. “Because we knew we were trying to tell Gene’s story of what it’s like to be of both sides, there was this kind of special energy that was on set. We knew that we were trying to tell authentically what our story was.”

___

Terry Tang is a member of The Associated Press’ Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ttangAP

United States News

Associated Press

10 years after armed standoff with federal agents, Bundy cattle are still grazing disputed rangeland

BUNKERVILLE, Nev. (AP) — The words “Revolution is Tradition” stenciled in fresh blue and red paint mark a cement wall in a dry river wash beneath a remote southern Nevada freeway overpass, where armed protesters and federal agents stared each other down through rifle sights 10 years ago. It was just before noon on a […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

1 dead after shuttle bus crashes at a Honolulu cruise ship terminal

HONOLULU (AP) — One person died and multiple people were injured when a shuttle bus collided with pedestrians and concrete barriers at a Honolulu cruise ship terminal, authorities said Friday. The crash occurred when the shuttle bus driver mistook the gas pedal for the brake, Honolulu police said in statement. The driver had dropped off […]

8 hours ago

Former President Donald Trump, center, appears in court for his arraignment, Tuesday, April 4, 2023...

Associated Press

Manhattan court searching for jurors to hear first-ever criminal case against a former president

Jury selection is set to start Monday in former President Donald Trump's hush money case — the first trial of the presumptive nominee.

8 hours ago

Emergency personnel arrive on the scene after a  an 18-wheeler crashed into the Texas Department of...

Associated Press

1 dead and 13 injured in semitrailer crash at a Texas public safety office, with the driver jailed

A driver rammed an 18-wheeler though the front of a building where his renewal for a commercial driver’s license had been rejected.

9 hours ago

Associated Press

Officer who fatally shot Kawaski Trawick 5 years ago won’t be disciplined, police commissioner says

NEW YORK (AP) — Two New York City police officers involved in the fatal shooting of Kawaski Trawick inside his Bronx apartment five years ago will not face internal discipline, the city’s police commissioner, Edward Caban, announced Friday. In a statement, Caban said the officers, Brendan Thompson and Herbert Davis, “acted within the law” in […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

Dallas doctor convicted of tampering with IV bags linked to co-worker’s death and other emergencies

DALLAS (AP) — A Dallas anesthesiologist was convicted Friday for injecting a nerve-blocking agent and other drugs into bags of intravenous fluid at a surgical center where he worked, which led to the death of a co-worker and caused cardiac emergencies for several patients, federal prosecutors said. A jury convicted Raynaldo Riviera Ortiz Jr., 60, […]

10 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

(KTAR News Graphic)...

Boys & Girls Clubs

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.

From Xerox to TV box, long awaited adaptation of ‘American Born Chinese’ book hits Disney+