As kids, Din (Jimmy Wong) and Lina (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) were the best of friends. Then Lina and her father moved away and ten years later, she’s an affluent model and celebrity. Din, now a student, delivers for the family dumpling business, but misses his friend. One day, he is bestowed with a magic teapot in which an all-powerful dragon named Long (John Cho) lives. Long says he can grant Din three wishes, and so begins an adventure through which both learn a lot.
‘Wish Dragon’ opens with a cutesy montage of Din and Lina, making friends, bonding over a mutual love of dragons and games, mourning the death of a chicken (which they ate), and making a kite together.
Now in early adulthood, they’re frustrated by falling short of their parents’ expectations and long for the playfulness of youth and the bonds of friendship. Lina is a lovely, sweet character while Din is adorkable and clumsy, and then we move onto Long, because surely it’s the dragon that everyone wants to hear about.
Look, there’s no two ways about it. Long is totally Genie. They share the same abilities of being able to change shape, and make objects disappear or appear; there’s the three wishes thing – including not being able to make people fall in love; there’s a bad guy who’s after the
lamp teapot; heck, they even bring in the hand of Midas from the direct-to-video sequel ‘Aladdin and the King of Thieves’.
Fortunately Long isn’t very Genie-esque in his personality and actor John Cho makes no attempt to mimic Robin Williams (since the actor is obviously inimitable). Long is a far more cynical character and perplexed by Din’s indifference to status and wishes. When he could have anything in the world, Din just wants his friend back. “What could be more important than friendship?” he says to a baffled Long, and while the message may be cheesy, it rings true, and seems more poignant than ever post-pandemic when friends and family provided lifelines to get through the tough times.
There is a vibe of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ to ‘Wish Dragon’ too in the scenes where the ridiculousness of opulence gets poked fun at. Mostly though, the movie is just ‘Aladdin’, but in Shanghai, and without the songs. This will probably annoy a lot of viewers. But ‘Wish Dragon’ has enough fun, laughs and heart to make it an enjoyable one-off watch. And you can always watch ‘Aladdin’ after.