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Daniel Wu: ‘American Born Chinese’ introduces Asian ‘superheroes’ to wider audience

NEW YORK (UPI) – Into the Badlands and Westworld alum Daniel Wu says he was excited to bring Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel American Born Chinese to life on screen and introduce the action-comedy story to a wider audience.

The series is streaming on Disney+ and follows Jin Wang (Ben Wang), a teenager trying to fit in at his high school against the wishes of his more traditional parents (Yeo Yann Yann and Chin Han).

He then meets Wei-Chen (Jimmy Liu), a Chinese immigrant with a secret: he is actually the son of the magical Monkey King (Wu) and needs Jin’s help.

Sydney Taylor plays Jin’s love interest, Amelia, while newly minted Oscar winners Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan play pivotal supporting roles.

“The graphic novel is adored and accepted by the Asian American community and even studied in some schools, but I think the greater, mainstream audience hasn’t had a chance to see it,” Wu told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.

“The screen adaptation that was done by Kelvin Yu is amazing in integrating these three disparate story lines,” he added.

“To introduce Sun Wukong, the Monkey King character, was cool as well because he is so iconic to Asian culture. To be able to show him to a different audience and show who our superheroes are and were when we were growing up was really important to me.”

Wu related to the Monkey King first and foremost as a father.

“I have a 9-year-old and I’m trying to raise this kid and there were some ups and downs during distance learning, I’ll tell you that,” the actor quipped, referring to the virtual classes his daughter participated in during the coronavirus pandemic when schools were closed.

“I realized that I am part Tiger Dad and that I am strict on my kid and then I need to let go,” he added. “This character is dealing with that same situation.”

In American Born Chinese, Wei-Chen steals his father’s precious weapon and runs off to Earth on his own mission without permission.

“I’m this guy with great responsibility. Up in Heaven, there is this war going on and my kid’s gone off and done this,” Wu said of the Monkey King.

“I’m split between two situations and I think every parent has gone through that. You are trying to be a great parent, but you are also trying to balance a career,” he added. “That really spoke out to me and I think that is what makes this character and his story line very universal.”

Wu loves that family members of all ages can view and enjoy the show together.

“Most of the stuff I’ve done is pretty dark and violent and my kid can’t see any of that,” he laughed.

“We are watching a lot of things together and there was nothing of mine that she could watch or wanted to watch, so to do this was great.”

Wu’s daughter and her friends know the book and couldn’t wait for the series to come out.

“When I go and pick her up from school, everyone’s like, ‘Are you the Monkey King?’ It’s a cool feeling to feel like, ‘Did I speak to that younger generation?'” Wu said.

“And, even though I am in middle age now, [watching] young kids excited to see a character I am playing on screen is really fun.”

Acting opposite Yeoh, who plays Guanyin the Goddess of Mercy, was a dream come true for Wu.

“I’ve known her for 20 years and we’ve tried to work together so many times and it just never worked out,” he said. “Finally, coming together on this made it extra special.”

The finished product is visually stunning and packed with gravity-defying fight scenes, as well as heart and humor.

“We were able to do really dynamic, Chinese cinema-style action on the show,” Wu said.

“It’s really a different form of storytelling. Chinese action is so different than Western action in that the camera is part of the action,” he added. “You, as an audience member, feel like you are involved in it, also.”

Daniel Wu, a cast member in the sci-fi thriller “Reminiscence,” attends the premiere of the film at the TCL Chinese Theatre in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles in 2021. PHOTO: UPI