Shang-Chi Director Destin Daniel Cretton To Reunite With Michelle Yeoh For Disney+ Series American Born Chinese

Following the success of "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," it's not surprising that Disney would want to stay in the Destin Daniel Cretton business. Not only is he developing the next chapter for the Master of Kung Fu at Marvel Studios, but he's also currently working on the adaptation of Gene Luen Yang's acclaimed graphic novel "American Born Chinese" for Disney+. In addition to executive producing the series alongside Yang, Melvin Mar, Jake Kasdan, Erin O'Malley, and Asher Goldstein, Cretton will direct the fantastical coming-of-age story about identity, culture, and family from co-creators Kelvin and Charles Yu.

Now that things are squared away behind the scenes, it looks like the project has added an impressive collection of international talent to the cast. And headlining this announcement is industry veteran Michelle Yeoh, who reunites with Cretton after previously working together on "Shang-Chi."

The American Dream

Yeoh joins Ben Wang ("Sex Appeal"), Yeo Yann Yann ("Wet Season"), Chin Han ("Mortal Kombat"), Daniel Wu ("Reminiscence"), Ke Huy Quan ("Finding Ohana"), former Taekwondo champion Jim Liu, and Sydney Taylor ("Just Add Magic") in "American Born Chinese." She will play Guanyin, "an unassuming auntie who helps her nephew Wei-Chen navigate the challenges of American high school while maintaining her secret identity as the all-powerful Buddhist bodhisattva of Compassion." Wei-Chen, a confident teenager that's new to the United States, will be played by Liu.

The primary focus of the series will be Wei-Chen's friend Jin Wang, who will be played by Ben Wang. Jin is "an average teenager juggling his high school social life with his home life. When he meets a new foreign student on the first day of the school year, even more worlds collide as Jin unwittingly is entangled in a battle of Chinese mythological gods." Yann Yann will play Jin's mom, Christine, "a strong-willed, opinionated woman with a sly wit, who loves her family deeply." Meanwhile, his dad Simon, "a hard-working, devoted father and husband who is bumping up against the 'bamboo ceiling' at his job," will be played by Han. And Taylor will play Amelia, Jin's all-American girl classmate and crush.

"Into the Badlands" star Wu will join Yeoh as another mythical figure in the cast. He plays "The Monkey King " Sun Wukong, the legendary god-like character from the Chinese epic "Journey to the West." In "American Born Chinese," Monkey King makes his way to our world in order to find his son.

The most interesting bit about this casting news (aside from Wu and Yeoh continuing to play badasses) is Ke Huy Quan's character, Freddy Wong. He's described as a "fictional character from a popular mid-1990s sitcom." It's been a while since I read "American Born Chinese" and I consumed it pretty quickly because I definitely related with the subject matter due to a similar experience being an Asian student in a predominantly white school, but I don't remember a character named Freddy Wong. Based on this description, he kinda sounds like Steve Urkel from "Family Matters." I'm assuming that Freddy is the show's version of Chin-Kee, the embodiment of negative Chinese stereotypes. 

In the book, Chin-Kee traumatizes his cousin Danny so badly that he transfers schools after each visit because of the embarrassment he suffers. And when I say negative stereotype, I mean that his dialogue was written like, "HARRO AMELLICA!" It's over-the-top offensive, but it's meant to be. In an engaging and complex graphic novel that you could read in one sitting if you wanted, you can see why this character is the way that he is pretty quickly. But in an episodic television show where the story is stretched out for weeks, there's a good chance that you would lose your audience well before the intention behind that character is revealed. This is definitely one of those instances where it's good to deviate from the source material. Since Yang is on board, it's unlikely that the Yu siblings have done anything to the character that would stray too far from the original message, so it'll be interesting to see how Chin-Kee's transition to a potentially more nuanced Freddy is handled.