Josh Wigler | March 24, 2021 | Feature
The Fresh Off the Boat author and Huang’s World host has moved into the feature film business with basketball drama Boogie—and he’s not looking back.
IN EDDIE HUANG’S WORLD, things move fast. Take his 2013 memoir, Fresh Off the Boat, for instance. Huang, then best known for his New York City restaurant Baohaus, wanted to write about his life. His agent wanted a cookbook, but agreed to read two sample chapters of Huang’s passion pitch first. A weekend later, Huang had produced more than 60 pages. The rest is history: Fresh Off the Boat paved the way for the television series of the same name, which Huang himself executive produced and even narrated for the first season, until creative differences led to his exit.
Next: Viceland’s Huang’s World, a documentary series in which Huang traveled the world, introduced viewers to regional cuisines, and also interrogated the culture of his destinations of choice. Things became particularly contentious between Huang and higher-ups following an episode filmed in Sicily, in which Huang was arrested after an altercation with white supremacists, leading to a monthlong suspension from Vice.
It was an eye-opening experience for the multihyphenate, not the least of which is how he handled the first five days of his suspension: sitting down in a room, pouring his thoughts on the page once again, and this time walking away with a script for a feature film called Boogie.
“I’m a really fast writer,” he says. “I think it’s because I’m untrained. I don’t outline, I just write and pretend I’m the person and let the character guide me. I let the emotions guide me.”
Written and directed by Huang, Boogie is a basketball drama centering on a young man from Queens trying to negotiate life in the city with his eyes and his dreams on an NBA career. For Huang, while it’s not a fully autobiographical work, his first fictional effort (barring a script he wrote in college) nonetheless channels much of what he’s experienced in life, especially at the time he wrote the script.
“I just didn’t want to get my heart broken again like I did with Fresh Off the Boat,” he says. “I hold my personal life a little closer now. But all my writing still comes from a very, very autobiographical place. And I remember as a kid reading Mark Twain’s autobiography and him saying, like, ‘Every character I write is somebody I know.’ And that stuck with me.”
That ethos followed Huang throughout the production of Boogie, starting with the star himself: Taylor Takahashi as Alfred “Boogie” Chin, in his acting debut. Indeed, not only does Boogie mark Huang’s first foray into the feature film world, but also Takahashi’s. Huang met his eventual leading man in a basketball league; soon, he hired Takahashi as his personal assistant—and, much later, when Boogie was already greenlighted for production, Huang tapped the young man to star in the film. This style of following moment-to-moment energy permeates Huang’s work, from the writing to production to the way in which he studies the works of his favorite filmmakers like a basketball coach studying game tape.
“I don’t have teachers or mentors,” says Huang. “I go on YouTube and look up [all of Paul Thomas Anderson’s] interviews. I read everything Tarantino says. I remember Scorsese taught a MasterClass about directing actors. I would listen to those interviews and it would feel like their voices were with me in a way.”
With the masters in his ears and clarity of vision in mind, Huang’s Boogie was an ambitious directorial debut; he approached basketball scenes like action scenes (“I wanted to shoot this like a kung fu film,” he says) and leaned on untested acting talent (including the late hiphop artist Pop Smoke) to carry the film through the finish. And now, Huang has emerged on the other side of his movie with an even clearer focus on his future.
“I had a very lonely year in quarantine in Taiwan, even though the country was open,” he says. “I ended up writing four features. I have a few I want to make, and Focus [Features] is aware. They’ve seen them. I want to continue making films. This is all I want to do, actually.”
I’m a really fast writer. I think it’s because I’m untrained. I don’t outline, I just write and pretend I’m the person and let the character guide me. I let the emotions guide me.
Photography by: PHOTOGRAPHY BY JONNY MARLOW; Styling: Britton Litow Grooming: Ronald McCoy