In the television world, chef, author, and producer Eddie Huang is known for his VICE documentaries about food and the adaptation of his memoir into the sitcom, “Fresh Off the Boat.” With his newest film, Boogie, Huang centers the story around a Chinese-American highschooler named Alfred “Boogie” Chin (Taylor Takahashi). As the son of immigrant parents with a tumultuous relationship, Boogie finds himself being pulled between fulfilling familial obligations and pursuing his dream of becoming a basketball player in the NBA.
Although Boogie appears at first to follow the pattern of the typical underdog sports film, it’s unique in its telling of the story through the lens of a young Asian American. Growing up in New York City’s Chinatown, Boogie has been instilled with values from his Chinese heritage as well as socialization as an American teen, learning lessons of discipline and duty alongside self-expression and ambition. He plays basketball with a fierce love for the game but also with the understanding that it could provide a path to financial security for his parents (played by Perry Yung and Pamelyn Chee).
Although at times the dialogue is anything but subtle (particularly when it comes to the difficulty of Asians making it in sports), Huang does excel at creating chemistry and atmosphere around the characters’ interactions, which are emphasized by tightly framed camera shots. The intimate scene of Boogie’s first time with his girlfriend Eleanor (Taylour Paige) feels real in its awkwardness, and the fervent arguments between Boogie and his parents are heightened in tension and carried out in a mix of Mandarin and English, adding to the authenticity.
As a coming-of-age story, Boogie offers a bit of everything — the exhilaration of teenage romance, the competitiveness of sports rivalry, and the struggle of being young and in-between cultures. To learn more about the making of the movie from a cast member himself, APA interviewed lead actor Taylor Takahashi.
APA: Asians in media have long been pigeon-holed into stereotypical roles, so it’s refreshing to see Boogie as an Asian American male lead pursuing a sport other than the martial arts. What attracted you to this role?
Takahashi: After reading the original script, I saw so much of myself in Boogie. The opportunity to represent a strong Asian American male lead was something that I couldn’t pass up. Being able to work alongside Eddie and be so close to the project was the universe aligning us to make great art, to give Asian Americans something to be proud of and for us to be seen in a different light.
APA: With the film set in New York City, we get not only a view into Chinese culture via the Chin family and Chinatown but also a glimpse into the mishmash of different cultures in the diverse city. What did you each enjoy about shooting there?
Takahashi: I had previously only been to New York City once before. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to explore, eat and discover, but work-related, so coming back with the spirit of the movie attached was really special. We filmed at so many locations in the heartbeat of NY, in and out of Chinatown and Queens, which really felt like a unique personalized guided tour. [It helped] me understand how special the inspiration of the film [was] and the respect it has for NY on a better level. I enjoyed switching up my LA lifestyle from using a car to go everywhere, to strictly on the subway or hopping into Ubers/taxis. A NY commute always felt fun once you learned the train systems and specific routes.
APA: A lot of the film revolves around Boogie’s skills in basketball. Did you have to do any extra training in order to play this role? What was the experience like?
Takahashi: Basketball has been an extremely big part of my life – I’ve been playing since I was two years old. In a lot of ways, I had the same dreams and aspirations as Boogie. As I’ve gotten older, basketball has changed from a competitive arena to a place where I can foster relationships, friendships and build bonds with people. I can tell so much about a person by the way they approach the game. The experience was fun but had its challenges. Five straight days of overnight shoots working overtime isn’t pretty, but those were the moments that brought us all closer. When it comes to filming basketball, there’s not the regular flow and rhythm that you get with a normal pick-up game, but the challenge to be “on” at all times was a fun way to approach the game and a memory I’ll have for the rest of my life.
APA: There are a lot of intense moments for Boogie in the film, from fighting with his parents to confronting his girlfriend. What was the most difficult scene for you?
Takahashi: The intimate scene [with Taylour Paige as Eleanor], for two reasons: First, it’s remembering all of the fear, nervousness, and emotions that go into losing your virginity and being able to authentically capture that. I had to constantly remind myself that I was an adolescent teen with minimal life experience. Secondly, it was a challenge addressing stereotypical insecurities that most Asian men often navigate, myself included. Looking back, I remember the struggle of getting myself to that place of vulnerability, and I think that’s why it’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie.
APA: There are several details in the movie that highlight how Chinese culture has influenced Boogie, like how he pours tea for others as the youngest at the table or kneels to deliver an apology to his coach. I’m curious to know how any of these moments might hold personal significance for you.
Takahashi: Youngest always pours the tea. Always. We are nothing without our traditions and values that are handed to us from our parents and the generations before them. They serve as foundational pieces for us to build on. I may not have grown up with the same types of discipline portrayed in the movie, but the concept of values and principles that get handed down are important to keep alive. I feel as we get older, those two things separate between generations, so it’s always important to find life moments that give us an opportunity to practice what we’ve been taught.
APA: Boogie experiences a lot of conflict with his parents throughout the movie as a result of both the generation gap and cultural gap. What advice would you give to the young adults who can relate to this? Did working on this film lead you to reflect on your relationship with your own parents growing up?
Takahashi: My advice would be to start finding the personal responsibilities required for your passions and interests that you want to pursue so that you can explain “your why” and help them better understand the vision. The continued search for “your why” is a tough pursuit but one of the most rewarding journeys you go on once you find it. The experience definitely made me reflect back to the relationship I had with my parents during a junction of my life. This was truly a life changing experience because it allowed me to assess what I was contributing to, but with such a better understanding of what I was responsible for. I’m forever very grateful.
APA: What about Boogie’s story do you hope will resonate the most with viewers? What do you hope audiences will take away after watching the film?
Takahashi: That we are all going through or have had our own struggles during this life, but that we can’t always push people away. Allow the good people in so you can receive any necessary help during the pursuit of your own dreams because it’s always your own life to live. I hope the audience is able to take away that, although we may all look different, have our own inherent problems, and come from different walks of life, [that] we are all actually very similar to one another. It would be an amazing world if we could treat each other with respect and love. I hope the movie is able to bring people together from all different walks of life because the audience we have in my generation are the people who are just starting to blossom in life.