Wish Dragon Movie Review: A funny animated film despite the mediocre aspects
The moments of hilarity in this 98-minute animated effort promise to overshadow the mediocre aspects of the storyline
This re-imagining of a genie-in-a-bottle story, though formulaic for obvious thematic reasons, is rather entertaining. Replace good old Aladdin and the magic lamp with a furry pink dragon and an enchanted teapot, and you have yourselves an hour-and-a-half of rip-roaring fun. The granting of three wishes apart, magic-wielding dragon, Long (John Cho), is the star of the show. If it weren’t for the adorably cute pink curmudgeon and his dry wit and narrowing eyes (giving his new master the “Are you for real?” look), this film would have been just another needless animated addition to an already-crowded genre. What the film lacks in nuance (setting the story in Shanghai with English-speaking Chinese characters spouting American accents, being one of them), it more than makes up for in humour. A dragon out of touch with the new ways of the world is an effective running gag that plays out. His introduction to a “steel bird in the sky”, a traffic jam, and shrimp chips are all equally uproarious. “Oh, man in a box. Speak to me when I address you, peasant!” he exclaims, while furiously shaking a TV, expecting the person in it to respond. This surely ranks as one of the funniest moments in the film, as Long and his newest master, Din (Jimmy Wong), cruise down the bustling streets of Shanghai. A lean suit-wearing hitman who goes by the name of Pockets is saddled with the task of retrieving the mysterious green teapot. His unique fighting style involves the usage of his legs alone. The lower limbs move with swift precision to knock down those who come in his way, even as his hands remain firmly tucked into his trousers - hence the name.
Director – Chris Appelhans
Cast – Jimmy Wong, John Cho, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Constance Wu, Will Yun Lee, Aaron Yoo
Streaming On – Netflix
At the centre of the film is the friendship between long lost pals, Din and Lina (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). While it is endearing (and they reunite as friends, not lovers, thankfully), these plotlines are all quite predictable. Their early childhood was once idyllic despite challenging life circumstances. Lina moves away with her father to lead a better life while Din continues staying with his mother in their less-privileged neighbourhood. Cut to them as adults and the former is now a famous model, and her father, a business magnate. The latter balances work and study to improve his prospects. Prior to their meeting, the cynical pink Dragon breaks it down for Din. “She won’t be interested in who you are or the sincerity of your intentions. She’ll only be interested in your station in life.” This aspect of the otherwise jolly and humorous story is telling, as the Dragon believes he has gained much knowledge of human nature over the centuries. And yet, despite basking in his role of a mentor (advising his ward to wish for endless wealth...because, that’s all anyone cares about, apparently), it is Din who is teaching him an invaluable lesson.
The biggest criticism I’d level against Wish Dragon is the blatant Americanisation of a Chinese story. Sad as it is to admit, I saw it coming. We get that it is both written and directed by Chris Appelhans, an American, but the setting must dictate its characters and the language they would most likely employ in such an environment. This American-Chinese production sets its story deep in the heart of Shanghai, but the characters somehow come across as American (in both language and accent) in spite of belonging to a culture far removed from that of the States. It would have been more authentic for the dialogue to be in Mandarin or Shanghainese or both, with a smattering of English thrown in.
Criticism apart, the animation, as you can gauge, is fantastic. The spin to the oft-recounted genie story is well worth engaging in. The eponymous dragon is undoubtedly the high point of the film, and his hilarious wit and cynicism will go a long way in giving this project a shot in the arm. Wish Dragon does possess enough moments that could have been both different and better, but at the end of the day it is an animated fantasy film of a wish-granting creature residing in the confines of a tiny green magical teapot – and for that reason alone, it deserves some leeway. The moments of hilarity in this 98-minute effort promise to overshadow the more mediocre ones.