American Born Chinese
By Ashley Moulton,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Tween drama/fantasy mashup celebrates Chinese culture.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
Positive social-emotional skills are modeled. For kids unfamiliar, some light learning about East Asian Buddhist goddess Guanyin and Chinese mythological figure Sun Wukong.
Positive messages around doing the right thing, being true to yourself, and not giving in to peer pressure.
Positive Role Models
The main characters are realistic portrayals of teens who mess up, but then apologize and make up for their mistakes. Main character Jin has a good moral compass but sometimes gives in to peer pressure, though he gets better at resisting it throughout the series. Wei-Chen is trying to stand up to his father and save the universe at the same time, under quite a bit of personal risk. There are mean and racist characters, but their actions are clearly presented as wrong.
Most of the characters are Chinese Americans. While some of the second-generation Chinese immigrant storylines are familiar, they are textured and fully fleshed out. The show fully celebrates Chinese culture, and the fantasy element centers Chinese mythology and religion. There are White characters who are racist toward the Chinese characters; the show clearly explains how and why that's wrong. Sometimes it softens these episodes as careless microagressions that may not be understood as well by younger kids. The creative crew is mostly of Asian background. The show is also great on gender representation; both boys and girls defy gendered stereotypes.
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Violence & Scariness
The fantasy scenes often involve fight scenes. Much of the fighting is martial-arts based, but weapons like a long staff are used to hurt people (no blood or gore are shown). The fantasy scenes all have an element of peril, but you never really feel like the heroes will be harmed. Overall, the show is about people fighting for the fate of the universe, so there's a larger existential dread. In the realistic high-school scenes, there's some pushing, shoving, and verbal hostility, including some teenaged putdowns and discrimination based on characters' Chinese heritage.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Main character Jin has a crush on one of his classmates.
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Mild/moderate profanity like "crap" and "ass" not used very frequently. Some insults like "dumb" and "turd."
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Products & Purchases
Some visible depictions of real-life comic book characters and brands.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that American Born Chinese is part high school drama and part fantasy. It's based on the popular graphic novel of the same name with an an all-star cast (including Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan). The fantasy element often involves fight scenes. The fighting is martial-arts based and features weapons, but no blood or gore. The fantasy scenes are a bit scary but always seem like they will end well. In the high school scenes, there is some pushing and shoving. Language wise, there's infrequent language like "crap" and "ass." There are some putdowns like "dumb" and "turd" as well as discrimination based on characters' Chinese heritage. The show tackles anti-Chinese racism head on, but some of the scenes are subtle enough that younger kids might not get the complete message without parental support. Overall, the show is a fun family-friendly watch.
Where to Watch
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American Born Chinese
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What's the Story?
In AMERICAN BORN CHINESE, Jin Wang (Ben Wang, Chang Can Dunk) is a comic-loving 10th-grader desperately trying to fit in with the cool crowd. He's also one of the only Chinese kids in his school until new student Wei-Chen arrives. At first Jin is annoyed that dorky Wei-Chen is hindering his popularity quest, but Jin soon learns that there's more to his new friend. Wei-Chen is the son of the heavenly Monkey King, and he's come down to Earth to thwart the Bull Demon's uprising. The Monkey King isn't happy with his son's decision to come Earth-side, so the goddess Guanyin (Michelle Yeoh) comes down to smooth things over. Meanwhile, a racist clip from a 90s sitcom has gone viral, starring character Freddy Wong (Ke Huy Quan). Jin and Wei-Chen realize that they have to use the power within to navigate the three somehow-connected worlds of high school, heaven, and TV -- and rescue humanity in the process.
Is It Any Good?
The fun conceit and superb acting make American Born Chinese a great family watch. Everything Everywhere All at Once stars Yeoh and Quan shine alongside star Ben Wang. The high school and family "real life" scenes are fairly subtle, without the eye-roll-inducing cliches of many tween-oriented shows. Fantasy scenes can be a bit cheesy with some subpar special effects and weird monkey/human makeup. That said, there's a lot of heart to the show with its message of self-acceptance and working through family conflict.
While some of the second-generation Chinese immigrant storylines are familiar, they are textured and fully fleshed out. The show fully celebrates Chinese culture, and the fantasy element centers Chinese mythology and religion. American Born Chinese is a fun watch for any fantasy-loving families with tweens.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how Jin and Wei-Chen's Chinese background influence how they're treated at school. How do you think things like everyone mispronouncing their names and assuming that they'd be friends because they're Chinese make them feel? Do you think you've ever made an assumption based on somebody's race, even if you didn't mean it?
Jin really wants to fit in at school, and sometimes that feeling makes him do things that he's not very proud of. Do you find it hard to be your true self sometimes, or do you think you have more confidence like Wei-Chen?
- Premiere date: May 24, 2023
- Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Ronny Chieng, Ben Wang, Daniel Wu
- Network: Disney+
- Genre: Action
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, High School
- TV rating: TV-PG
- Award: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: May 24, 2023
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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