By John Liu
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Wish Dragon is a Chinese American animated film directed by Chris Appelhans and produced by Jackie Chan. Is seeing Jackie Chan’s production company a foreshadowing of cool martial arts in the film? Why yes it is! While watching the movie, you will immediately notice many similarities to Disney’s Aladdin.
John Cho, the voice of Long, the Wish Dragon, said it best, “You may be thinking, wait a minute.
This sounds like another story I know with a genie and a lamp. If the story of a boy who is granted three wishes sounds familiar to you, it should. It was originally a Chinese folktale about a peasant boy from Eastern China who finds a wish-granting genie and falls in love with a princess. Many versions of this story have been told over the years, but none of these versions feature shrimp chips.” What John said is very true, and it definitely made me crave for shrimp chips during the movie. Anyways, give the movie a chance before judging it as an Aladdin copycat.
The movie starts out in modern day Shanghai where Din meets Li Na Wang in elementary school, and they quickly become friends. Eventually, they vow to be best friends forever with a pinky swear.
Unfortunately, Li Na’s father has decided to move away with Li Na for a better life. Ten years later, Din (Jimmy Wong) is now a college student and still living in a small studio with his mom (Constance Wu). He is now working as a food delivery person, while Li Na has grown into a wealthy supermodel. Din hopes to reconnect with Li Na, but is worried she won’t remember him.
One day, while Din is on a food delivery route, he bumps into an old man (Ronny Chieng), who gives Din a teapot. Of course, rubbing the teapot pops out a dragon, Long, who grants his new master three wishes. The dragon is even amazed at how much the world has changed since he’s been stuck in a teapot for so long. Long has been stuck in the teapot for a thousand years, so he’s anxious for Din to make his three wishes so he can go through the Gates of Paradise in the heavens. Another mystery man also knows about the teapot and hires three goons to retrieve it for him.
There’s a short goon (Jimmy O. Yang), tall goon (Bobby Lee), and Pockets (Aaron Yoo), the leader who is a master of kicking. I won’t spoil the rest of the movie.
This movie is packed with who’s who of popular Asian American voice actors. I would have loved a live-action film, but I am sure animation is easier to produce during a pandemic. It’s nice to hear Jimmy Wong’s voice as Din again after his short cameos in Mulan. I’m a big fan of Jimmy Wong because he was born in Seattle with his brother Freddie Wong, who has a popular YouTube series Rocket Jump. John Cho as the dragon reminded me of Mushu from Mulan. And to top it off is Constance Wu, who tries to keep Din focused on his studies. Going through the cast list, I could recognize almost all of them so I was excited to see this movie before I even knew the story.
Then there are all the Disney Aladdin “references,” but even Aladdin is based on a version of Arabian Nights. You either love it or you hate it. At least there is enough Chinese culture represented in this movie that it can stand on its own. As I mentioned earlier, shrimp chips make a few appearances. Of course, there has to be mandatory delicious food scenes. Din’s fights with Pockets were always entertaining. There is an especially funny choreographed fight scene during a parade which had me laughing really hard, but I cannot share more since it will spoil the movie! Kids will enjoy this movie, and a great chance for parents to expose them to Chinese culture. With Abominable and Over the Moon, there has been a great selection of Chinese American animated movies in the last two years.
Wish Dragon was released in January 2021 in China and grossed $21 million at the box office. It is currently streaming on Netflix.
John can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.