I had to look up American Born Chinese on IMDB because I can’t imagine why it hasn’t been adapted yet. In the case of a book so popular, so cinematic, and so unique, my guess is that the author, Gene Luen Yang, isn’t willing to option it. Good for him. I like when artists are confident in the medium they worked with for a particular piece and don’t want to see it transformed into something else. At the same time, this graphic novel about a young Chinese kid moving to America and dealing with prejudice from others and himself would really make a great film.
What I like about the novel is how sincere and childlike it is, while still being accessible to an older crowd. Yang uses magical realism to access themes more complicated than his title character can articulate in his every day interactions. Disillusionment with one’s own culture is explored through a fairy tale about the king of the monkeys that wants to be accepted by the gods as a human, and a television sitcom about “Chin-Kee” – an awkward Chinese visitor. This fairy tale and sitcom eventually feed into what we thought was the main thread of narrative, creating a fully realized young adult, ready to deal with his own culture in his everyday life.
I would love to see more magical realism in film. Pan’s Labyrinth was so visually appealing because of the mixture, and I could see American Born Chinese being just beautiful.
In fact, I wouldn’t mind Guillermo del Toro directing this one. While he usually creates films much darker than this one should be, I would love to see the visuals he could come up with in the fairy tale scenes. Why not get three directors in on the mix? One to direct each segment. It would be interesting to see the ways they came together in the end to make the film cohesive.