Netflix review: 'Wish Dragon' is an amiable 'Aladdin' adaptation

Fred Hawson

Posted at Jun 19 2021 07:08 AM

Netflix review: 'Wish Dragon' is an amiable 'Aladdin' adaptation 1
A scene from 'Wish Dragon.' Handout

As children, neighbors Din (Ian Chen) and Li Na (Alyssa Abiera) made a pinkie promise with each other to be friends forever. Ten years later, Din (Jimmy Wong in English, Niu Junfeng in Chinese) is a college student who still lived with his mother (Constance Wu) in their small apartment with her small food stall, while Li Na (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) is commercial model who lived in a mansion with her ever-busy father (Will Yun Lee). 

One day, Din delivered food to an old man who gave him a little jade teapot. The teapot turned out to be home for a wish dragon Long Zhu (John Cho in English, Jackie Chan in Chinese) who can grant his master three wishes. Din wanted nothing more than to use his wishes to reconnect with Li Na, but ruthless gangster Pockets (Aaron Yoo) and his two minions were after him, trying to get the teapot for their boss. 

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This was clearly the story of Aladdin and his Genie transposed from Agrabah in Arabia to Shanghai in China -- a peasant boy gaining three wishes from a magical creature. This pink and fuzzy Wish Dragon also had his own rules: no time travel, no killing people, and cannot make two people fall in love. There was a marked difference from the rules of Robin William's Genie, something that did matter in the plot in the end, as it would turn out. 

Aladdin's poor boy-rich girl love story was also cleverly updated to the modern milieu and state-of-the-art technologies, but the part where our hero used a wish to make a flashy first impression still remained. The perspective of family relationships was a welcome and heart-warming aspect of the story. The neighborhood dynamics in Din's working class community was also delightful and sentimental, in contrast to the artificiality of Li Na's high society.

The best thing about this colorfully vibrant Chinese adaptation of Aladdin lore by Sony Animation was the story of the Wish Dragon himself. This was something the Genie was never really given in the Disney version. I truly appreciated his back story before he became the Wish Dragon, as well as the parts after he was released from his 1000 year sentence of granting wishes by the Pipa God (Ronnie Chieng). 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."