By Mr. Will Wong
Chinese-American Restauranteur, Author and Producer Eddie Huang makes his Feature directorial debut with BOOGIE, a story he also penned. The Film centers around a young man Boogie (Taylor Takahashi), who is trying to land a college scholarship, securing his future as an NBA player. While it is clear he has great talent, he faces many obstacles. His parents (played by Perry Yung and Pamelyn Chee) constantly are feuding and both are deeply-invested in his career. Boogie also fights an uphill battle being an Asian-American in a game where people of his race aren’t often taken seriously. He also falls for a girl at school who happens to be black, Eleanor (Taylour Paige). Above this, his quick temper is self-destructive, often holding him back, despite his talent on the court. When the scholarship offers don’t exactly come rolling-in, Boogie has to decide what he’s going to do at this crucial stage in his life which can be make it or break it for him.
While BOOGIE is a solid first effort for a Feature, the Film dedicates much of its time to exploring its titular character’s trouble at home, his derailment and his romantic relationship. Ultimately, the story should be about an athlete of immense talent pushing himself and forging ahead, while tackling racial tension. It never quite gets to that level of depth it could have in getting to the heart of this young man’s high-stakes journey.
Takahashi makes his debut Feature role here and does a credible job, but we don’t get a sense of the grit and physical, heart-racing intensity that normally comes in a Sports Drama in order to make us really root for our hero and that is a missed opportunity. Paige whom we saw recently in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, shows some great range here and we find our attentions set on her when she is on-screen. Chee channels pure “Tiger Mom” energy here and delivers a pure intensity that comes from both a place of love and disappointment. Her performance feels deeply lived-in and we’re here for it. We thought Melvin (Mike Moh) looked familiar (he played Bruce Lee in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood) and he is memorable as someone brought aboard to help Boogie broker a way into the professional leagues when things are becoming stagnant. He balances that fine line between being grating and helpful.
While BOOGIE leaves room to move forward, this is a promising debut for Huang, a welcomed voice in an era we have an appetite (much like we do for his famous bao), for new underheard voices. It arrives on Digital and On-Demand Friday, March 5, 2021 via Focus Features.