American Born Chinese, which premieres May 24 on Disney+, is a sweet and stunning series that throws an awkward high schooler into the mystical world of Chinese gods. Based on the acclaimed graphic novel Gene Luen Yang and directed by Shang Chi‘s Destin Daniel Cretton, the new show follows the meek Jin, who is afraid to stand up for himself and doesn’t know where he belongs. When he reluctantly befriends the new transfer student Wei-Chen, he learns more than he ever imagined possible about himself and his heritage.
The young cast consists of Ben Wang as unwitting hero Jin, Jimmy Liu as his ultra-confident cohort Wei-Chen, and Sydney Taylor as Jin’s school crush Amelia. Though American Born Chinese stands on its own as a charming coming-of-age tale, the Disney+ series gets a star-studded boost from the cast of Everything Everywhere All At Once. Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, and James Hong all make appearances that either flesh out the show’s vast mythology or help teach Jin and Wei-Chen valuable lessons.
Screen Rant spoke to Wang and Taylor about how Jin and Amelia’s tentative friendship develops over the course of American Born Chinese season 1, who they’d cosplay as, and which lessons Jin can actually teach Wei-Chen.
Ben Wang & Sydney Taylor on American Born Chinese
Screen Rant: Jin and Amelia have a very sweet friendship, though it started rather awkwardly. How would you say their views of each other evolve as the season progresses?
Ben Wang: I hated her, and then I liked her. And then I hated her again. [Laughs] Yeah, it’s wonderful. I think the arc is so wonderful and truthful. The story is told from Jin’s perspective, and almost entirely from Jin’s perspective. There are POV shots, right in the first episode, where Jin’s looking over at Amelia from across the room, and she just feels like this unattainable thing.
It’s wonderful character development for Jin to go from where he is in that first episode, where she’s just a girl that he wants to ask out because he thinks that’s what needs to happen. He’s been told by the world and media that being a teenager means you ask the girl out, and then something happens. I don’t know what; he hasn’t gotten that far. But as the series progresses, they genuinely become friends with each other, and they spend good quality time with each other. They get to know each other as people.
Sydney Taylor: He finds out, “Ah, she’s a person.”
Ben Wang: Yeah, it’s so obvious to us. But for a 15-year-old boy, it’s kind of a lesson you have to learn. I think that’s a really healthy thing to show; that progression of their relationship with each other.
Sydney, we get to see some glimpses of Amelia’s personal life this season, but not enough for me. If you could explore another aspect of Amelia’s character or life in season 2, what would it be?
Sydney Taylor: I hope that we just continue to develop her as a realistic person and a realistic portrayal of being 15 or 16 years old. Because that’s such a rough time, and I hope that people watch it and feel some honest relatability to her.
I hope that in season two, we just go further with that dynamic between her and Jin, and I hope that she gets to interact with more [characters]. We were talking about this while we were filming, but I really want a scene of Amelia, Jin, Christine Simon, and my mom and dad. I want a family dinner and all of the dynamics of that. I think that would be so good. That’s probably one of the main things I want for her in season 2.
I love the cosplay club, and I demand more of it. If you each could cosplay as any character, who would it be?
Ben Wang: I unintentionally cosplay as Jin because in the show, Jin dresses like his mom bought everything secondhand from Kohl’s. And in real life… [Laughs]
Sydney Taylor: Everyone always thought he was in wardrobe. He would show up to set in his normal clothes, and we’d be like, “Why are you in wardrobe? You’re not working today.” But it’s just his clothes.
Ben Wang: The costume lady would be like, “Oh, are you working today?” I’d be like, “No…” and she’d like, “Why are you in costume?” Like, I don’t look that lame, do I?
Sydney Taylor: I would want to be Simon. I want the glasses, and I want to sing in my car.
Finally, I love how the theme of being courageous versus biding your time plays out throughout every storyline. What do you feel Jin can teach Wei-Chen and vice versa?
Ben Wang: I think Jin is a really thoughtful young man.
Sydney Taylor: He ponders a lot.
Ben Wang: Yeah, and it’s part of why he’s so awkward. I think social anxiety comes a lot from the fact that you really care. You care a lot about how people see you, and about who you are – it’s just that Jin goes a bit too far, where he spirals himself out of even being able to talk to anyone. Because there’s so much he’s thinking about, like, “How do they see me? Who am I? What kind of person am I?”
Wei-Chen doesn’t think at all about how other people think about him. In a way, the twin arc of the show is Jin learning from Wei-Chen to have that confidence and balancing it with his thoughtfulness. Because truly, at the end of the story, the big impetus to get Jin to do [something] is him thinking about his relationship with his friends and his family – working through that, finally reconciling himself with that, and then becoming a confident person because of it.
Wei-Chen does have to learn a bit of humility. He starts out jumping off cliffs, and he learns from Guanyin, his father, and from Jin that he has to take his time. He has to think things through; he has to take into consideration how other people feel too. Part of the clash between these two characters is just that Wei-Chen involves himself in Jin’s family in a way that Jin doesn’t feel entirely comfortable with.
About American Born Chinese
Jin Wang starts his sophomore year, hoping to make the soccer team and “level up” his social status, all while impressing his crush. But his plans are derailed when he’s assigned a new student “shadow” from China named Wei-Chen Sun. At home, Jin’s parents Simon and Christine argue over Simon’s job. Meanwhile, Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, searches for his magical Iron Staff, which has been stolen.
Check back soon for our other American Born Chinese interviews with:
- Daniel Wu
- Yeo Yann Yann & Chin Han
- Gene Luen Yang & Melvin Mar
American Born Chinese premieres May 24 on Disney+.