A pure-hearted man is given the chance to change his life.
I find it appropriate that this is a Chinese-centric version of the story of Aladdin, along with some elements from the famous Disney animated film, because in the original story of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, Aladdin was actually Chinese. It just happened to be a version of China which seemed to be completely identical to Arabia, including having a Sultan running the area. While apparently the creators of this film denied that they were directly inspired by that story or any of its adaptations, I refuse to believe it’s a coincidence that the main character is named “Din.” (Jimmy Wong).
The main character, Din, is a working class Chinese student who is clearly very intelligent (he does people’s homework for them and aces all of his exams without going to class). He works extra jobs trying to save up money so that he can finally reconnect with his childhood friend Li Na (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). The two grew up together, but Li Na’s father, Mr. Wang (Will Yun Lee), managed to start a business and moved with his daughter to a nicer neighborhood and, eventually, a nicer life. Din’s fortunes change when he is given a tea pot by what appears to be a crazy homeless guy (Ronny Chieng). The pot contains Long (John Cho), the wisecracking and cynical dragon who is bound by magical law to give Din three wishes. Unfortunately, it turns out that other parties are very interested in the teapot, namely the martial arts master Pockets (Aaron Yoo) and his two goons (Bobby Lee; Jimmy O. Yang). Apparently in Mandarin, Niu Junfeng and Jackie Chan voice Din and Long, respectively.
This movie isn’t exactly going to be a new experience for most viewers, unless they’re really young, but it has enough solid scenes to make things interesting. Hell, at one point, Long literally grants Din the wish of “turn me into a prince,” just to drive it home (although, amusingly, that turns out not to be what Din wanted). Din is a bit too naive, something that even the other characters call him out for, and he is genuinely not very creative in his use of the lamp. It’s not that I don’t like the “pure of heart” lead, but when Long keeps pointing out that money will solve most of his problems, Din doesn’t seem to even consider it, even though money WOULD probably make it easier to see Li Na… or maybe at least help his mom (Constance Wu) out, since their neighborhood is being demolished.
The best parts of the movie, though, are actually the scenes of Din and Li Na together, because they seem to have genuine chemistry. Aside from that, many of the scenes with Long are pretty entertaining, owing in no small part to John Cho’s ability to come off as a somewhat likable a-hole.
Overall, not a bad movie for kids. I recommend it for family movie night.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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