“Boogie,” a new film directed by TV host, chef and author of “Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir” Eddie Huang and now playing in theatres, is a universal story of hoop dreams set within the Asian community of Queens, New York.
The son of Chinese immigrants, (Perry Yung and Pamelyn Chee), Alfred Chin (Taylor Takahashi)—“I prefer my stripper name,” he jokes, “Boogie.”—has dreams of playing in the NBA. He’s got game, but his family is divided. His father and uncle want him to take a big payday from an Asian team, an offer that will ruin his chance of going pro with the NBA. Mom is more academically minded. To that end she enrolls him in a fancy prep school in hopes a scout for a college team will discover him there, smoothing his way to a scholarship.
Trouble is, Boogie is more interested in hanging out with his best friend and teammate Richie (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and wannabe romantic interest Eleanor (Taylour Paige) than he is in studying “Catcher in the Rye.”
On the court he’s a maverick, skilled but a bit of a wild card. He a trash talker who doesn’t respect his teammates—he describes the then collectively as “hot trash”—or the guidance of his coach. As a beef with rival player Monk (Bashar “Pop Smoke” Jackson) smoulders off court and on, Boogie learns important life lessons about team work, respect for himself and others and the millstone of expectation.
One of Boogie’s teachers tells the class, “Whether you know it or not, right here, right now, you are a coming-of age-story.” And that it is, a story of finding first love, navigating the emotional ups and downs of his parent’s rocky relationship and getting his footing as a young man entering the world. More importantly, it is also a story of representation and expectation.
We’ve seen the up-coming athlete story before, but what makes “Boogie” compelling is Huang’s handling of the material. From flipping the typical high school movie seduction scene on its head by allowing Eleanor guide Boogie through a sexual encounter to weaving subtextual, personality defining cultural references throughout, Huang defies expectations. Eventually the typical sports movie template kicks in, dampening the film’s novel approach and feel but up until then “Boogie” is an authentic and intimate portrait of a young man entering manhood.
“Boogie” is a strong directorial debut from Huang. It’s a lively, complex film that almost transcends its sports movie roots.