When Jimmy Wong was a kid, his family went to the theater to see Mulan, the 1998 animated movie about a young woman who disguises herself as a man to join the Chinese army in place of her elderly father and fight in a war against the invading Huns. Wong's grandmother, who grew up in China hearing all about the legend of Hua Mulan, left the theater "disappointed" in the . She told him it failed to do justice to the kick-ass female Chinese warrior.
Now Wong, an actor, gamer, cook and YouTube star, is part of the cast to the streaming service on Sept 4.
Wong plays Ling, one of a trio of new recruits who's part of Mulan's loyal squad, and who served as comedic relief in the animated musical. Though the reboot also has a sense of humor, Wong says the PG-rated film is a more serious take on the story of Mulan that focuses on the action, the relationships between the characters and the father-daughter dynamics. And that's why he thinks his grandmother, who passed away before she could see her grandson on the big screen, would've approved of this version.
"I've seen the movie now, thanks to being at the premiere before it was delayed, and it honestly brought a tear to my eye," Wong, 33, told me in an interview for CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast. "And the way it's told, the historical accuracy, the research and time that I know they put into every single centimeter on that set -- I think it is a movie that so many people are going to be immensely proud of, to share and to revel in and to really feel represented in."
In her, CNET's Abrar Al-Heeti describes the movie as a "testament to the power of bravery ... The film's messages of female empowerment, bravery and devotion to family are particularly moving as we navigate a changing, uncertain world."
Being part of a project that celebrates Asian culture is nothing new for Wong. He gained national attention in 2011 for Ching Chong! Asians in the Library, a music video he created that went viral on YouTube. It highlighted racism and Asian stereotypes, after a UCLA student posted a rant about Asians talking loudly on the phone in the school library. In March, Wong posted a new music video, pushing back against scapegoating of Asians with the use of the term "Chinese Virus" for . The song also mentions food hoarding, Costco, toilet paper and bidets.
"If you can bring comedy to a situation, bring a little levity, then you can convey a message that may have reached ears that would not have wanted to hear it otherwise," Wong says. "I put out a song that basically tried to explain that viruses do not care about your race, they do not care about their origin ... to spend time scapegoating a race or scapegoating a people or scapegoating a person for causing something that is beyond their control is one less second you're spending fighting it, it's one less second you're spending doing anything constructive to help build some unity in the world."
In our wide-ranging conversation, Wong also talked about his role in the popular YouTube series Video Game High School -- co-created by his brother, filmmaker and gamer Freddie Wong -- about kids who are expert gamers and form a team before there was even such a thing as school teams competing in video games. It's no surprise he says he's still obsessed with video games (he was playing the Final Fantasy VII remake when we talked).
"When you play a game, it lets you put yourself in a different situation where the rules of life have changed a little bit ... And when you exit the game, you can set those feelings and those things aside, the things that you're trying to get out of you, and you can grow from it," he says. "I think in life, we're all trying to level up as well."
We also discussed his YouTube channel Feast of Fiction, in which he and co-host Ashley Adams cook up recipes based on food shown in movies, TV shows and video games (Twin Peaks diner classics and Princess Mononoke Food IRL are worth a watch).
And he told me why he's scared of bidets.
Listen to my entire conversation with Wong by subscribing to I'm So Obsessed on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcast app. In each episode, my co-host Patrick Holland and I catch up with an artist, actor or creator to learn about work, career and current obsessions.