In the basketball movie, “Boogie,” the behind-the-scenes story of how Yonsei Taylor Takahashi goes from a personal assistant to a movie star — with zero acting experience and only three weeks to prepare — is just as interesting as the movie itself.
Takahashi, a Bay Area native and basketball star at Alameda High, eventually becomes interested in food and cooking and finds himself in Los Angeles, where he meets writer/restaurateur Eddie Huang while playing basketball.
Bonded by basketball and food, they become friends and eventually Huang invites Takahashi to be his personal assistant.
Meanwhile, Huang has a script he wrote in 2016 during his “soul-crushing” experience of seeing his book, “Fresh off the Boat: A Memoir,” become his personal Hollywood TV sitcom nightmare.
The script is called “Boogie” and it’s about Alfred “Boogie” Chin, a Chinese American high school basketball phenom from Queens, New York, who dreams of one day playing in the NBA.
In Takahashi, Huang sees his character, “Boogie,” and eventually convinces him to take on the starring role.
That’s the real-life story of how a personal assistant becomes a romantic lead. The fact that this is a young Asian American leading man in a sports movie where he is not only the star of the show, but also gets the young woman in the end makes his story even more remarkable. And on top of all that, he can “hoop,” as well.
How often have we seen that? Never. Not until now. Not until “Boogie.”
The good news is that newbie Takahashi shines as Boogie Chin. As Boogie deals with dysfunction at home and pressure on the court, Takahashi brings emotional depth and truth to his role. On the court, he’s “the man” and plays with cool and confidence. With his new girlfriend, Eleanor (Taylour Paige), he shows a warm and tender side when he’s not being a crude and unlikable jerk.
The plot goes like this: In order to receive a scholarship to a top college and get his shot at the NBA, Boogie transfers to a high school where he can face the best New York City has to offer, in this case a talented player named Monk (played by the late rapper, Pop Smoke). This all leads to the climactic showdown between our hero versus the villain, good versus bad.
But here’s the problem: From the beginning, Boogie is not a “good” guy. In fact, in his first encounter with Eleanor his opening line is about her crotch, which is so rude and crude it makes one wonder why she would ever give him a second chance, much less become his girlfriend.
And instead of showing some love for fellow Chinese American hoop star Jeremy Lin, Boogie does the exact opposite by dissing Lin and his religion. Add to this Boogie’s bad attitude and selfish play, and he’s even more unlikable.
In a sports movie, if the hero is unlikeable and the audience loses rooting interest early on, there’s no emotional payoff later. Sports cliches, one-dimensional characters and a lack of rivalry development don’t help either.
What Huang does better are the family relationships between Boogie’s calculating mother (Pamelyn Chee) and his loser father (Perry Yung) as they barely hide their contempt while speaking to each other in English and screaming at each other in Mandarin.
In these scenes and in Huang’s depiction of a mixed-race romance with Paige’s Eleanor, who is Black, we see moments play out on the big screen rarely seen before. And it’s these moments that sets “Boogie” and Huang apart. However, in the context of a sports movie, “Boogie” lacks the emotional punch of a “Rocky,” or the grit and determination of a “Rudy.”
But since Huang is a first-time screenwriter and director, it’s fair to cut him some slack, and applaud the fact that he even got this movie made — by Focus Features no less — with a first-time director, a first-time actor and no big name stars. In Hollywood, this is a rare feat indeed.
And now that Huang has gotten a taste of telling his story his way, the sky is the limit as to what he — and Taylor Takahashi — will do next to advance the Asian American story to the world. It’s definitely something to look forward to.
For information on how to watch “Boogie,” visit https://www.focusfeatures.com/boogie/.