The Geeky Parent Guide aims to highlight media that both kids AND their grown-ups will be able to enjoy. This year, the GPG is focusing not only on the joy of the content itself, but on digging deeper to determine why media is of interest to various members of the family, as well as the valuable (and challenging) aspects of its messaging. As families grow and evolve, so, too, do their interests, and we hope to provide fun and thoughtful ways for families to sit back, relax, and enjoy new books, movies, comics, TV, and more.
American Born Chinese is a series we all need to watch. There is a vast mythos wrapped within a high school student’s world, so viewers get to watch wonderful acting, compassionate displays of friendship, mean kids, relatable hardships, and outstanding Kung-Fu sequences that are mesmerizing on the TV screen.
If you have not watched American Born Chinese yet, please consider this your limited spoiler warning.
American Born Chinese
Release Date: 2023
Origin: Based on Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel, American Born Chinese (2006)
What Is American Born Chinese About?
American Born Chinese is a Disney+ series following Jin Wang, a high school student (played by Ben Wang) whose life already seemed tough before meeting new student Wei-Chen (played by Jimmy Liu). In a seemingly harmless act of having the new student shadow him around school, Jin soon finds himself in the company of a mythological world where The Monkey King (and his son) fight to save heaven from an Earth-shattering uprising.
The wonderful series highlights not only wonderful performances from the cast, but stark realities regarding life as teenagers, parents, and those who face ridicule based on appearance, name, or how they sound. American Born Chinese finds meaning to these tough realities while guiding a path for those who might feel similarly in their lives, which leads to powerful realizations and captivating, emotional moments throughout the series.
The series has eight episodes in its first season, with most episodes lasting between 30 to 40 minutes, and the longest episode landing at 45 minutes with the series’ premiere. The incredible cast includes Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan, with Yann Yann Yeo and Chin Han playing Jin’s parents.
Why It’s the Best Show in 2023 for Parents
Being a parent means putting so much time and energy into your children. Life goes by quickly with household chores, driving duties, grocery shopping, and putting dinner on the table – even if everything feels like time is standing still. American Born Chinese highlights Jin’s parents, Christine and Simon, who settle into a routine where risks aren’t taken anymore, truths aren’t always told, and life itself doesn’t feel the same.
They love each other, they love their son, but it’s clear the burdens of living have left Jin in a household where headphones help to block out the arguing. This story doesn’t just highlight the difficulties, it highlights what it means to try to work together and figure out a path forward. Their bond represents so much to each other and their son, so watching them navigate a somewhat distant relationship back toward something they both find familiar is a wonderful lesson in moving together in life rather than drifting apart until there’s nothing recognizable around you.
On top of that, we see Jin’s parents stand up for him and tell him how much they believe he’s capable of many great things. The series presents such a realistic look at parenting: how life can twist and turn your hopes and dreams, but that you never truly lose sight of what is most important and doing what’s necessary to keep those closest to you from doubting their place in your lives.
Why It’s the Best Show in 2023 for Kids
As difficult as it might be for parents to watch other parents disagree or argue, it’s also important for kids to know such things do exist. It’s also important for kids to see the ins and outs of high school, where some kids will be mean just to be mean. Ultimately, life does not work perfectly without any hiccups along the way.
Jin is a joy to watch, because he epitomizes teenage life. Does he want to chaperone a new student? No. Does he also lie to Wei-Chen about wanting to be friends, because he doesn’t want to be mean? Yes. Whether you’re a parent or a kid, you feel how Jin is feeling. Kids will also watch as Ke Huy Quan’s character, Jamie Yao (who plays fictional TV show character Freddy Wong within the show), as he struggles with his character’s depiction as a “punchline.”
Kids will see how one line, “What could go ‘Wong’?” leads to a life filled with that constant reminder of feeling humiliated by such a line and how it’s still considered acceptable in today’s world. American Born Chinese shows kids that it only takes one thing to cause a traumatic experience that never truly leaves a person which, hopefully, will emphasize to a younger (and older!) audience that words matter. It’s important what you say, and, sometimes, things cannot be taken back – especially if it leaves someone feeling like a punchline.
Parental Concerns or Limitations
American Born Chinese does have high-impact fight sequences, but there is nothing that stands out to hold back kids in this PG-rated show. There is a scene where a character has an injury due to a mirror shard puncture, but this show should be completely accessible to the age group.
American Born Chinese presents an all-too familiar world where some people make fun of others or how people can be perceived a certain way because of stereotypes. The series reminds viewers that, sometimes, people may not realize they’re doing harm or that they simply do not care. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s always worth discussing how simple it is to act kindly rather than cruelly, and – above all else – that being a hero comes in many different forms.
Words Matter with Lifelong Impact
Ke Huy Quan’s character does so much more than provide us a glimpse into his amazing acting ability; he lets viewers of all ages realize that people want to be heroes. More importantly, it’s necessary for everyone to be able to see themselves as a hero. When someone appears in a major TV show or movie and they play a hero, it’s vital for others to see someone who looks similar to them onscreen.
As his character states, “People who look like me weren’t on television.” It’s always important to highlight how impactful stories are for viewers to connect with those we want to emulate. I’m not saying I want to go back to high school, but Quan’s character shows us how much pain can come from being typecasted and how one line can lead to an endless cycle of turmoil.
It’s also important to highlight such things because everyone might not understand that shows made 30 or 40 years ago might not work today, because they rely so heavily on humor that makes fun of someone based off their appearance, accent, culture, or simply misusing someone’s last name. Ke Huy Quan is a treasure in this role, and he gives viewers one of – if not the most – emotionally impactful moments of the entire season.
“When I say I wanted to play a hero, I mean I just wanted to be someone who goes on a journey. Shows some courage. Helps others. A hero can be a person with superpowers or they can just be, can be someone who fights for something that matters. My parents were heroes. But as I said, people like that weren’t on TV back then…”
“…And I hope that there’s a kid out there watching this who feels he doesn’t have to be a punch line. Who believes that he can be the hero.”
High School Is Hard (Even Without the Eternal Battle in Heaven)
Jin struggles. He wants to be a “normal” teenager where he hangs out with friends, plays soccer, and doesn’t get his name mispronounced or made fun of because of an accident-turned-meme. He’s also dealing with parents where he’s uncertain of their relationship and the strain it puts on him. He wants to be a good friend, but he also wrestles with the fears of failing or simply not feeling good enough to take on whatever challenges are presented to him.
I highly recommend American Born Chinese for both parents and kids. There is such a challenging reality surrounding these early years in life where everything seems uncertain. Jin has to come to terms with Wei-Chen being the son of The Monkey King, and there being a battle to save those in Heaven and on Earth. Not only that, he has to do all of these things while struggling with self-doubt, anguish over how he’s treated friends, and simply not knowing if he’s the right person to help Wei-Chen.
Additional Recommendations After Viewing American Born Chinese
American Born Chinese is full of mythological characters who have incredible powers. The story is exceptionally written, and the cast is nothing short of perfect in their roles. In a year full of incredible shows (a la Ahsoka and The Mandalorian), I kept thinking how relatable this show is and how important it is in our day-to-day lives.
If you are looking for a show to be incredibly impactful, with amazing storytelling and meaningful characters, then consider watching Ms. Marvel, as well. This is a fun story with relatable teenage years where parents are doing their best to be active in their children’s lives, while amazing action sequences elevate the story in a way that highlights that anyone can be a hero.
What do you think of American Born Chinese? What are some of your favorite moments? Share your thoughts in the comments below or share with us over on Facebook and Twitter. Plus, if you would like more content like this on the GPG, make sure to like this and share it with all of your geeky friends.
Until next time, happy parenting and happy geeking!