Wish Dragon, 2021.
Directed by Chris Appelhans.
Featuring the voice talents of Jimmy Wong, Constance Wu, John Cho, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, and Will Yun Lee.
When working class college student Din (Jimmy Wong) comes into possession of a tea pot containing a pompous Wish Dragon named Long (John Cho), he is granted three wishes. Despite Long’s assertions that he should use his newfound magic to gain extraordinary wealth, he instead endeavours to use them to reconnect with his wealthy childhood friend, Lina (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). However, Din is not the only one who knows about the Wish Dragon. There are others searching for the tea pot, and they will stop at nothing to get their hands on it.
The tale of a young boy, desperate to impress a girl and close the class divide between them, is one we’re all familiar with. It’s Aladdin. But the film is obviously aware of this – Long himself points out how derivative Din’s story is. With this comes an awareness of how to retell the narrative in a way that seems fresh and new, not just with the change of era and location (Wish Dragon takes place in modern day Shanghai) but also by presenting endearing characters and ticking all of the boxes that make up a memorable family film.
Most endearing of all is our protagonist. Din radiates an irrepressible positivity, embodied by his wide, honest smile. He hasn’t seen his childhood friend Lina in a decade, yet still thinks of her every day. He is simply one of those good-hearted heroes who is impossible to dislike. His dragon companion, though? Not so much. Long is the anti-genie of this tale, steeped in cynicism and encouraging Din to get his wishes over and done with so his role as a wish dragon can end. That latter part is where the film gets particularly interesting.
Rather than existing purely for wish granting and comedic purposes, Long has an important and moving character arc to fulfil. It is revealed early on that he was trapped in the tea pot and charged with serving ten different masters, after which he can escape to the afterlife. But first, he has a lot to learn about the modern world after being dormant for centuries. Din and Long learn from each other, which is uncommon for this narrative and certainly refreshing.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film is highly predictable. The ‘mysterious’ man who sends his henchmen after Din and the tea pot is easy to identify, and the simple moral message means that the ending is pretty clear-cut and predictable from the start. However, Wish Dragon is not a film fuelled by surprises. Its predictability is made up for in sheer enjoyability.
The endearing characters are accompanied by the timeless message that wealth cannot equal the happiness brought by family, friends, and community. Long’s arrogant nature and lack of familiarity with the modern world leads to some classic fish-out-of-water comedy, and the film isn’t lacking in action, either. The lead henchman, who is the antagonist of much of the film, is eerily serpent-like in his appearance. He moves with a deadly kind of grace, especially when using his kung-fu moves in fights. His absurd flexibility is played up for comedic effect, but that doesn’t detract from the fun bursts of action he injects into the film.
An endearing modern retelling of Aladdin, Wish Dragon ticks all of the boxes for a memorable family film – adventure, comedy, and sincerity.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Lauren Miles is a freelance film and television journalist who loves all things gothic, fantasy and film noir. She has an MA in Multimedia Journalism and is also a Halloween enthusiast and cat lady. You can find her on Twitter @Lauren_M1les.