Before he’d even imagined writing or directing a film like Focus Features’ Boogie, Eddie Huang was a man who wore many hats in life. Throughout various stages in life that saw him working as an attorney, a fashion designer and eventually the author of his hit memoir Fresh Off The Boat, Huang found opportunities to change his game and took them. But when it came to his first feature film, the advice of a dear friend proved to Eddie Huang that out of all the professions he’d held, his endeavors as a restauranteur proved that he had what it takes to make a movie.
I had the honor of speaking with Mr. Huang during the press day for Boogie, and our conversation on behalf of CinemaBlend saw this story of particular interest come into play. While the worlds of cuisine and cinema often overlap, not everyone would see partaking in the New York food scene as preparation for getting into filmmaking. So I asked Eddie Huang how, and if, he thought the restaurant industry prepared him to shoot Boogie, which yielded this story:
Man, this is such a good question. I love it, because it’s the answer to a question people ask me. But a DP that I met and befriended in the process of looking for a DP, of course Brett Jutkiewicz, my favorite DP, shot this film. But Sam Levy, who shot Lady Bird, he lived next to Baohaus when I opened it with my brother. And he said to me, he said, ‘Look, as you go through this process, there are going to be a lot of people that tell you ‘You don’t know this,’ and ‘You don’t know that;’ and ‘You’re gonna need me. That’s why I’m here, I’m the expert.’ He said, ‘Don’t listen to a goddamned one of them. I saw you and your brother pour your hearts and minds into that restaurant. There is no way making a movie is going to be harder than opening that restaurant with a couple bucks, seven days a week, 16 hours a day, back to back with your brother.’ And he was right, and I would tell people, whether it’s film, whether it’s writing a memoir, whether it’s being an attorney, or whatever, there’s nothing that scary. You’ve just gotta do it. Once you do it, then you’re a director. Once you do it, you’re a chef. But you’ve just gotta do it, and don’t let anything scare you.
Much like filmmaking, cooking or even running a big time restaurant is a pretty grueling enterprise. Hard work and determination are must haves for anyone like Eddie Huang who wants to enter either world. But, like the man himself said, once you’ve done it, it’s on your record and you can do it again. Just as his previous participation with ABC’s sitcom adaptation of Fresh Off The Boat had shown he could take his own story and attempt to have it told in a fictional medium, actually writing and directing Boogie, which is also partially based off of his family experiences, was a natural progression up the mountain of entertainment.
But going back to Eddie Huang’s life in the restaurant business, his experience with Baohaus being his big calling card in the world of cuisine tied into Boogie’s framework both thematically and literally. As it was first located in the Lower East Side neighborhood where Boogie sees a lot of its action take place, it made total sense to have the restaurant make its own cameo in the film. As Taylor Takahashi’s Alfred “Boogie” Chin and Taylour Paige, playing the role of Eleanor after a turn in the widely acclaimed Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, share a meal under the neon signage that marks the placement of that very eatery, Huang’s artistic and culinary creations share an intersecting moment of importance that gives the project even more authenticity.
Sadly, the recent COVID-19 pandemic forced Baohaus to shut its doors after a little over a decade of service to those looking for an exciting venue serving, among other dishes, Taiwanese buns. But while that business is currently no more, its legacy will live on through the memories of those who were able to visit it personally, as well as the audience that goes to see Boogie in theaters this weekend. Though should you be interested in seeing the film in the privacy of your own home, the Focus Features release should be on PVOD in the next couple of weeks, much like the studio's most recent release, Promising Young Woman. And the bright side to that scenario is, it’ll make it easier to get your hands on some steamed buns, from a local restaurant you’re looking to support, in order to raise in tribute to the fallen Baohaus.