In Wish Dragon, Jimmy Wong helps put a modern twist on the wish-granting genie story – CNET

jimmy-wong-photo-diana-ragland
Diana Ragland

If you could wish for anything in the world, what would you wish for? That’s the premise behind Wish Dragon, a new Sony Pictures Animation movie coming to Netflix on June 11. 

Written and directed by award-winning children’s book illustrator Chris Appelhans, Wish Dragon is the story of a young college student, named Din, who lives with his mom in a working-class neighborhood in modern-day Shanghai. Din has dreams of reuniting with his childhood friend Lina, who moved away and now lives a glamorous and privileged life. Those dreams seem impossible until Din is given an old teapot containing an ancient wish dragon named Long who will grant him three wishes. Long is in a hurry to make his 10th master happy — because once he’s done, he’ll have fulfilled a curse and be free to return to the spirit world. 

The thing is, Din doesn’t want the usual treasure and material things that the impatient and cranky Long is ready to grant him. Din just wants to reconnect with his long-lost friend. Throw in a bunch of henchmen and some kung fu action sequences — a nod to action star Jackie Chan, one of the movie’s producers — and you get a new take on a familiar story. Aladdin anyone? But the wish-granting spirit that inspired Aladdin is actually inspired by a well-known Chinese fable.

The characters in Wish Dragon are brought to life by notable actors, including John Cho (Star Trek, Harold and Kumar) who voices the magical wish dragon with an attitude; Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians, Fresh Off the Boat), who plays Din’s supportive but tough single mother; comedian Jimmy O. Yang (Silicon Valley), who plays a not-so smart henchman; and actor Jimmy Wong, who gives voice to the hero, Din.  

“The movie really is sort of a journey through the eyes of the main character who has very deep values and beliefs. And those values and beliefs are tied to how he sees the world and how he sees the world is through one of friendship and one of familiarity, one of familial connection and ties and one of really just being a good person,” says Wong, who spoke with me for CNET’s I’m So Obsessed podcast series. 

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Long the dragon will grant Din three wishes, and he’s not known for his patience. 

Netflix

“It’s a journey of not only what would you do with three wishes, but what would you do if you were given the chance to have everything but you still really wanted something, deep down, that didn’t need a wish dragon to come true.”

Wong, who talked to me last year before his turn in Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan, says he’s happy to have been part of a kid-friendly movie focused on friendship, family, community and good people. “The message that lies underneath is really wholesome,” he says. “And that, to me, is something I resonate with, because I think the world could use a little more wholesomeness in general.”

I also spoke with Wong about how he brought some of the kung fu action scenes to life in the recording booth. Getting the sounds for the action sequences was fun and challenging,  he says. 

“It’s just really just like, how can you get yourself out of your head entirely, close your eyes, if you can, and just get into the scene and pretend like you’re actually getting punched or getting whooped, whatever it is,” Wong explains with a laugh. “You have to be a little bit larger than life, a little bit bigger than you normally would be, but still keeping it within reality and making sure that what you’re doing matches the animation on the screen.

And of course, I spoke with Wong about his current obsession — which is about creating the perfect workspace as part of a “mental space” that helps deliver peace and solitude. 

You can listen to my conversation with Wong on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. You can also subscribe to I’m So Obsessed on your favorite podcast app. In each episode, Patrick Holland or I catch up with an artist, actor or creator to learn about their work, career and current obsessions.  

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