By Danielle Broadway and Rollo Ross
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Michelle Yeoh, the first Asian actress to win an Oscar, is excited to introduce her friends, and the world, to a television show based on Chinese myths, “American Born Chinese.”
“We had these mythological well-known characters that I grew up with and this may be a nice way to introduce them to my friends here (from America) who might not have the knowledge yet,” said Yeoh, who portrays Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy in the show.
The TV series, an action-comedy-drama combination, is based on the 2006 graphic novel of the same name by Gene Luen Yang and premieres on Disney+ streaming service on Wednesday.
Yang told Reuters he resisted adapting his graphic novel to the screen for a long time due to the serious topics, including Asian stereotyping in America, that the story explores.
He changed his mind, however, after being reassured by show producer Melvin Mar and series creator, Kevin Yu, and seeing the dedication of the Asian-led cast.
The show includes cast members that also starred in this year’s Oscar-winning film “Everything Everywhere All at Once” – Yeoh and fellow Oscar winner Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu and James Hong.
“I’m really proud of the fact that Disney+ already had this way before what happened to Ke and myself and Stephanie for the Oscars, that they already knew that these were important stories to be told about people who looked like us,” Yeoh said.
The TV series follows high school student Jin Wang, played by Ben Wang, who struggles with his identity as he navigates both school and home life.
Everything that he knows to be true is tested when he meets Wei-Chen, played by Jim Liu, a new Taiwanese exchange student that happens to need Jin for an epic battle between Chinese gods.
“American Born Chinese” draws from Chinese folklore and Chinese and Japanese animation that is based on the 6th century Chinese novel “Journey to the West.”
Beyond the kung fu action story, the show focuses on the challenges of Jin understanding his Chinese and American identities, while also going through the tribulations of being a teenager.
“I think the problem is when you’re a teenager, you’re finally smart enough to be able to see all the problems with yourself and with the world, but you’re still not smart enough to do anything about it,” Wang told Reuters.
“So, you feel really impotent, really powerless,”
(Reporting by Danielle Broadway and Rollo Ross; Editing by Mary Milliken, Marguerita Choy and Aurora Ellis)