Film Review on "Boogie" (2021)
a movie review by Meghan Dhawan
TW // Violence, racial slurs, and domestic abuse.
Dear Asian Youth,
The world has been in disarray over basic human rights and race issues, specifically the treatment of Asian Americans in modern day America. Recently, there has been an upsurge of Asian hate crimes committed on the basis of race, with a majority of white people targeting East Asians due to the mislead beliefs that East Asian people were responsible for the origin and spread of the COVID-19 Virus", which was made evident in the vicious and unnecessary comments of former president Donald Trump. These apathetic comments spewed into derogatory slurs, with him referring to COVID-19 as the “China/Chinese virus.” Many people, not just his supporters, followed in his footsteps and deemed this behavior acceptable, and they continue to spread hate and incite violent acts upon East Asians. Many people have taken to social media, filming themselves blatantly cursing and assaulting East Asians in both public and private spaces. With more and more people being influenced by others, this circle of hatred has kept growing in nature, and is giving East Asians around the world many reasons to fear for their safety.
However, with all of this hate being spewed, many East Asians have found solace in the form of cinematic media, both in front of the camera as well as behind the scenes to bring their voices and power to the attention of the general public, and help them understand the the basics of why they should support their Asian friends and be allies to them during these times. The importance of this every culture, not just in East Asian culture, will help everyday people understand the past trauma and deep rooted struggles Asians have faced for many decades. Many of these films, with Asian culture not being the direct focus of the film, has ushered awareness of East Asian culture and people within mainstream media, such as award shows and movies. A large majority of people in the United States have a fascination with specific aspects of Asian culture, such as Asian food, boba/bubble tea, anime, k-pop, k-dramas, and more. However, that hasn’t incentivized them to support East Asians in the most basic sense: through the cinematic arts.
Some of the mainstream films released in the past few years are either represented or directed by East Asians, such as “Parasite” (2019), a South Korean film directed by Bong-Joon Ho; “Minari” (2020), a drama written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, and “Nomadland” (2020), a drama/indie film written and directed by Chloe Zhao. However, one film that has recently been under the radar in more accurate representation of growing up in East Asian culture, aside from “Minari” (2020) is “Boogie” (2021).
Written and directed by Eddie Huang, “Boogie” (2021) tells the story of high school student Alfred “Boogie” Chin (portrayed by Taylor Takahashi) who dreams of playing basketball for the NBA, but is constantly told by his mother (portrayed by Pamelyn Chee) that his dreams are of no worth unless he obtains a scholarship to an upper-class college institution.
Boogie’s father (portrayed by Perry Yung), while encouraging Boogie’s dreams, is an ill-tempered man who has done time in prison because he assaulted two people.. His violent tendencies, are picked up unconsciously by Boogie, who uses his anger as a way to make others feel sorry for him for growing up in the family that he has lived with all his life. His victim mentality gets in the way of his ability to play basketball and compromises his evolving relationship with his girlfriend, Eleanor (portrayed by Taylour Paige).
While watching the film, I found myself relating to almost each of the characters represented. Boogie struggles to connect with and understand both of his parents, as they have very different personalities in contrast to one another, and often ridicule each other instead of taking responsibility for their mistakes, which is another negative trait that was taken on by Boogie. The dialogue between Boogie and his parents is very similar to conversations I’ve personally had with my parents.
When I was growing up, I had a lot of trouble being able to speak to my parents, particularly my dad. My mom always gave me the environment to express myself, whether through talking, painting, drawing, singing, or screaming at the top of my lungs on our patio steps. My dad, however, did not have the same thinking embedded into his parenting style. He would tell my younger sister and I after we both got out of high school that he “wanted us to grow up after I had turned two years old. He did not want to be there through the terrible twos for either of us, and as we got older, he wanted us to revert back to being children again after he saw my mother nurture us creatively.
As my sister and I were “maturing,” we started hearing my dad and mom argue more, most times about absolutely nothing. Sometimes it would get so bad that my mom would retreat to our crawl space and sit in private so she could be alone with her thoughts. Whenever she wanted to stand up for herself and speak her mind, my dad would say something even more harsh, verbally debasing her, sometimes in front of guests or at parties they would go to. They would have conversations about my future, with my mom explaining to my dad the potential I have, while my dad would only see the surface level information of the career I took an interest in and immediately turned his nose at it without even giving it a second thought until another few years later. Whenever I would try to interject my own opinion, my dad would dismiss me and mansplain to me why he was correct, since he had “been on Earth longer than you [I] have.” This reminded me of the conversations Boogie’ parents would have with one another, where you are the bystander onlooking two people in a conversation.
In scenes where the whole family is eating at the dinner table, Boogie can barely speak more than a few sentences about how he really feels inside before his parents start arguing over who was responsible for raising him the way he was, and why he acts the way he does. This is a direct result of the varying parenting styles that were confusing and hypocritical to Boogie as he was growing up, which decreased his ability to feel confident speaking about his true feelings calmly to his parents, and he lashes out in quick bursts at them instead as a result. His parents, not affectionate towards each other unless a victory is made within the family context, are always at each other’s throats, arguing and shouting at each other about mistakes they both have made within their own relationship. Boogie’s mom, Mrs. Chin, gentle and strong willed at first, gets temperamental and curses at Boogie’s dad, Mr. Chin, when her behaviors and decisions are questioned angrily by him. Mr. Chin becomes violent with Mrs. Chin, slapping her across the face and throwing his dinner plates on the floor and across the room in a fit of momentary rage. Seeing this type of relationship depicted on screen reminded me of a lot of past conversations that have occurred between myself and my family, as well as observations made with other Asian families. While domestic violence is often unfortunately prevalent in many Asian marriages, the conversations exchanged between the husband and wife of these relationships carry negative effects on their children, which they often unconsciously carry on in their behavior towards others as they grow older. This also increases the lack of communication within the family, and brings forth mental health issues as result of not being cared for as a child and growing up into an adult without the parent to child connection that many of us need in order to find love ourselves.
While I was happy to see East Asian portrayal and made connections towards the characters depicted on screen, I also found some technical issues that bothered me while watching the film. Everytime I watch a film, making sure I separate the subject matter from the filmmaking itself is a necessity. So, naturally, there were things I was going to notice if they awkwardly stood out to me technically and visually in the film. In “Boogie” (20201), there were scenes where visuals were not of the best quality. Sometimes, the camera would focus on a specific character or object that appeared out of focus or blurry, which was often distracting and took away from the tone of the film, which is also not the most consistent. In terms of film consistency, the tone was not following a consistent tone throughout the film. Film 101: If you are making a coming-of-age story, like “Boogie” (2021), it is important to get the proper visuals and perspectives you need to creatively express the character you are focusing on. In this case, that would be highlighting Boogie, utilizing the camera to show his perspective on events in his life and how he moves through the world. In some films, the camera is used as a way of portraying perspective when there isn’t a dialogue heavy scene. Personally, I would have loved to see the camera at the same height as Boogie’s eyes, helping the viewer see the world at his height and through his “eyes.” However, the film is inconsistent with who it wants to focus the story on, sometimes going from the perspective of Boogie’s parents making the decision to keep Boogie and raise him, to present-day, where Boogie is in the same emotional state his parents were in when they made that decision. Granted, it could be argued that the purpose of that was to show how Boogie got to where he is today, however, the film could have been a bit more sharper with its perspective shots and utilized actor Taylor Takahashi’s emotions when portraying Boogie, all while using the camera to show the world through Boogie’s perspective, both physically and mentally in creative ways.
There are points in the film where music starts to overlay the dialogue going on between two or more characters, sometimes added in abruptly without any buildup. At times, it would get so loud that I could barely hear what some of the characters were saying. While it wasn’t that distracting the first few times, it got rather annoying after the fourth or fifth time it happened. The film also ended rather quickly, with not that much to chew on after the final act of the film. This was writer-director Eddie Huang’s directorial debut, his other talents including being a professional chef, author, and memoirist. His biggest project that he was a part of was “Fresh Off the Boat,” a show about a humorous look at the lives of immigrants in America that went on for six seasons on Hulu.
Personally, I would have loved to see more of Eleanor’s perspective on Boogie’s negative behavior and why he shouldn’t continue feeling sorry for himself. Both Boogie and Eleanor suffer from emotional neglect at home and find hidden comfort in one another when times get tough. Eleanor, while outspoken and always calling Boogie out when he uses his victim mentality against her, does not use other tactics to prove to Boogie that he is better than who he is and can find acceptance being a son of an Asian family with “weird” traditions and flaws within his relationship. She tries to explain this verbally to him but does not often succeed, which results in Boogie verbally ridiculing her when she tries to help. Seeing how Eleanor gets treated at home and where she learned to stand up for herself and not take flack from anyone whilst finding other ways to get the same message through to Boogie would have been nice to see, and would even make me willing to cancel out all the technical imperfections within the film.
History repeats itself, but it is important for every person in the world to know the origin of different cultures, customs, and familial behavior practices in every racial group. In “Boogie” (2021), there is a flashback shown throughout the film where Boogie’s parents visit a psychic after Mr. Chin accidentally gets Mrs. Chin pregnant. During their consultation with the psychic, Mr. Chin is visibly annoyed, not looking at either Mrs. Chin nor the psychic, believing that the two of them resorting to see a psychic is a low blow and a waste of time. In order to ease the tension, the psychic starts pouring tea for the three of them to enjoy whilst Mr. and Mrs. Chin contemplate their decision on what to do about Boogie. Before the psychic can start pouring the tea, Mrs. Chin snaps back to reality and stops her, saying that she should pour the tea instead because she “is the youngest” (Boogie 2021). According to Chinese tradition, members of the younger generation should show their respect to members of the older generation by offering to pour a cup of tea and serve it to their guests. This process symbolizes the joining together of the two families, which is what happens later on in the film when Mrs. Chin enlists the help of Melvin, a family friend, who presents different college institute options for Boogie to attend school on a basketball scholarship.
What might seem “weird” to someone might be a traditional custom in another person’s culture. Educating everyone on the true history of East Asian culture and familial practices can spark conversations within households, and will lead to a greater understanding of Asian culture within American families. Acknowledging past issues and flaws within our own culture can help heal wounds we didn’t know existed, but it can also bring forth new perspectives on societal similarities within other cultures as well. “Boogie” (2021) is a film that exemplifies the specifics in East Asian culture while highlighting the best and worst parts about tradition, rituals, practices, and hereditary relationships, and it provides insight to those unaware of these customs with a better and more educated understanding of East Asian oppression and the constant pressure sons and daughters are put under in order to succeed “better” than their parents.
- Meghan Dhawan
This piece is not affiliated with Dear Asian Youth Nonprofit.
Cover Photo Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boogie_(2021_film)