Bao Nguyen // Ep1 // Be Water

Welcome to Episode 1 of the Asian Hustle Network Podcast with hosts Bryan Pham and Maggie Chui! We are extremely excited to have Bao Nguyen, the director of ESPN 30 for 30, Be Water.

Bao Nguyen’s is an LA-based filmmaker whose past work has been seen in the New York Times, HBO, NBC, Vice, ARTE, and PBS, among many others. He has directed, produced, and shot a number of short films, which have played internationally in numerous festivals and museums including MoMA and the Smithsonian. His graduate thesis film JULIAN won a CINE Golden Eagle Award, the Best Student Documentary Short at the Palm Springs ShortsFest, Special Jury Prize at DOCNYC, and was nominated for an IDA Award. The first documentary feature he produced ONCE IN A LULLABY premiered at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival, won the Audience Award at the Woodstock Film Festival, and was nominated for a Gotham Independent Film Award. Afterwards, he co-produced WHERE HEAVEN MEETS HELL won many awards including the Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature Documentary Film and a Special Jury award for Outstanding Cinematography at the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival, and the Halekulani Golden Orchid Award for Best Documentary Feature at the Hawaii International Film Festival. At the One World International Human Rights Film Festival in Prague, the Václav Havel Jury gave a Special Mention Award to the film for being a documentary that has made an exceptional contribution to the defense of human rights.

In 2014, he was the producer and cinematographer of NUOC 2030, a feature narrative set in near future Vietnam which opened the Panorama section of the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival and was a recipient of the Tribeca Film Institute Sloan Filmmaker Award. LIVE FROM NEW YORK!, celebrating 40 years of Saturday Night Live would be Bao’s feature documentary directorial debut. It opened the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival and was broadcast nationally in primetime on NBC, preceding the 41st season premiere of SNL.

His latest directorial effort, BE WATER, a documentary about cultural icon Bruce Lee world premiered in competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and will be broadcast on ESPN’s 30 for 30 series.

He is a 2011 PBS/WGBH Producers Workshop Fellow, an alumnus of the 2012 and 2014 Berlinale Talent Campus, and a Firelight Media Fellow. He earned his BA at NYU and his MFA at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

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Maggie: [00:00:00] Hi everyone. This is the Asian Hustle Network podcast. My name is Maggie.
Bryan: [00:00:29] My name is Bryan.
Maggie: [00:00:30] And today we have a very, very special guest. Today, we have Bao Nguyen, and he’s an award-winning Vietnamese American filmmaker whose password has been seen in the New York Times, HBO, NBC, vice RK, and CBS. Welcome, Bao. Thank you so much for hopping on this podcast with us. Can you give us an introduction of yourself?
Bryan: [00:00:51] Uh, I think, I mean, he did it pretty well. I guess
[inaudible]
Maggie: [00:00:55] Don’t be modest.
Bao: [00:00:56] It’s hard talking about my stuff, I guess you can add to that list ESPN since a couple of days ago, but yeah, I’m a LA slash Saigon based filmmaker, uh, to, uh, I direct produce feature films, commercials, music, videos, documentaries. Any type of storytelling, I’m into it, if it’s visual, even when it’s not visual, I might be into it, but I haven’t, I haven’t really explored that quite yet.
And, um, yeah, I’m calling from my new LA uh, downtown apartment, so.
Maggie: [00:01:36] Wow. Congratulations.
Bryan: [00:01:37] Wow. Congratulations. That’s amazing. We saw your background, to you. It looked like you lived in New York for a little bit for your undergrad. Did you, were you born and raised in New York or did you immigrate over here?
Bao: [00:01:48] No. I was born in this city called silver spring, Maryland, which is right outside Washington, DC. It’s immediately outside Washington. And I lived there until I was 17. Then I moved to New York for college. I went to NYU. Then I lived in New York, like an Oscar, like 12, 11, 12 years. And then I moved to Asia to Vietnam for about seven years. Um, Then I was in London for a little bit. That’s where we edited the film. And then I am now, here in LA.
Bryan: [00:02:23] That’s amazing. How has your experience and your ability to, narrate your story have changed since you were first starting out and your experience, but now I’m seeing, you know? We understand there’s a lot of entrepreneurs out there that feel like they can just travel anywhere for inspiration. We want to hear what that journey was like for you.
Bao: [00:02:42] Um, in terms of like traveling and inspiration, just, um, people would … like, this is the longest, uh, I’ve not been on a plane. It’s been three months prior the longest. Uh, 10 years that I haven’t been on, I usually am traveling like every couple of months at the very least. Weird. I want to get on a plane. And when it was weird, because I just have that like kind of urge to travel.
I used to intern for Anthony Bourdain’s companies. Zero points zero. Passed away. I mean, his, his definitely anniversary was yesterday. So I was just like, thinking about him for a minute, just like. His idea of like always moving and never staying stagnant. And just kind of learning from the people around you.
Uh, and it’s, I mean, that’s also kind of like, conversely was, and the idea of being water, always being fluid. And, uh, I think for me in my work, I’m always kind of inspired by the places I go see the places I live. And, um, so yeah, that’s why it’s weird not that just being in one place for so long and I’ve, I mean, I’ve, I’ve also kind of, um, Taking advantage of being able to kind of decompress from that lifestyle since it’s a bit intense and be a little more grounded. I think it’s, I think for a lot of people they’ve been antsy, especially Asian hustlers, or just trying to be in one place and yeah.
Bryan: [00:04:17] Yeah. We can definitely speak from that experience too. Do you feel the Etsy in place, but we feel like your story, in particular, we do want to amplify it a lot. We think that your way of storytelling, your accomplishments, your accomplishments, your achievement, the achievement is really inspirational for our community. I definitely hear a lot more. So you found on no. Take the narrative back a little bit to when you were younger, like, what was it caused like this inspiration and your drive to like become such a great storyteller as, as a child to now.
Maggie: [00:04:49] And how did you get into filmmaking or were you always doing filmmaking before? What were you doing before? If it wasn’t.
Bao: [00:04:55] Yeah. So, I mean, it really goes back to my parents’ journey cause they were Vietnamese war refugees and they left Vietnam after like seven attempts. They’re like coachee, hustlers. So to make it. They left on a boat and they were stuck at sea for two weeks. And after two weeks they landed in Hong Kong and they were living in a refugee camp with my older sister, but she was only six months old at the time. And, um, they were there for six months, and then they got sponsored to come over to America. And I was born a few years later. And I think that you know, the mentality of being an immigrant child, there’s like a burden or responsibility that you feel that you have.
They never explicitly said it, but you know, Asian parents, they just kind of like, they don’t need to say it appreciative, guilty in many ways. And so I always felt like I had to take on a job that was more stable and lucrative. So I was planning to be a lawyer for a long time. Um, And, uh, but I, I was always drawn to the visual arts.
My parents own a small business as many immigrant parents do, and there was a fabric store. And, um, my sister who, five years older than me, she would be cutting the fabric. And I was the cashier. And I started working there when I was five. And, um, a lot of the customer, you know, they would. Get their fabric, they would take their receipt and then they wouldn’t have to hand it to me.
They started with like little five-year-old Asian boy. And they’re like, we’re not going to give you our money. And we just like, take the receipt from them. I grab it from them. And I just like ring it up really quickly on the cash register. And I think I, I impressed a few people cause I started getting hits.
And then, uh, I, I. After I got a C cash tip, I put like a tip jar out. And, um, but just to relate back to like the story of, of me being a filmmaker misses, like the late eighties, early nineties, um, I, you know, at that time there weren’t iPads and my parents were going to get me like a game boy. So it was like bored out of my mind each Saturday and Sunday.
So I was working like. From eight, 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM every weekend when it was intense as a five-year-old like you need some sort of stimulation. So I had the back of these invoices. These receipts. They were blamed. And I would basically just draw on them all day long. And I’m like looking back at it. The trash bin was just full of my drawings. And I didn’t know it at the time, but I was actually like storyboarding. I was like, I’d seen the stories, I need a sheet of paper. And so that kinda got me interested in like that side of my brain to create a side kind of fast forward. And I was in, um, Fourth grade. And there was like a class assignment to like sell a product that was like our fourth-grade assignment. Uh, and it was supposed to be a written assignment, but for some reason, I had the urge to make a video or like so much work. And, um, I borrowed my neighbor’s like VHS camera, and I, I made like a Nike commercial at the age of 5.
And I really wish I had that skill, but it’s not around. Cause I’m talking to Nike the other day and they’re like, Oh, I’d love to see it later. I wish I had it. But you know, even though I had like these urges to fulfill my creative side, I, I always was like, okay, I’m not going to be a lawyer. And, um, uh, cause I was always sorting of politically active and socially active, um, living near Washington, DC.
I would like to go to protests when I was like 15 and I would read a lot of like civil rights literature when I was like in middle school. So I was always into that side of, of my, uh, upbringing, and I, I ended up going to NYU. Which has this really amazing film school called Tish. But at the same time, I felt like I am and my parents wouldn’t have approved of me going to film school. So I push the law side of me more. And also part of me thought it was too late for me to be like the legit filmmaker at the age of 17, it gets here. It’s like, if you think of like some really famous American filmmakers, like Spielberg, he started shooting. And at the time, I totally forgot about this commercial that I directed. I didn’t think of it. I just thought of it as a class assignment. I didn’t think of it as like something I made as, as a film. And, um, yeah, he was like, shooting eight-millimeter when he was 12. And now that I look back at it, I’m like, oh, I was nine and [inaudible]. So at the same time, I got a really good liberal arts degree and just had something that was much more well rounded than just going to film school as an undergrad.
Yeah. I also, um, took elective courses at NYU in their film school when I had extra courses, free credits. And so that also helped me evolve as a storyteller, as a filmmaker. Um, even if it was just the passion at the time. And, uh, so fast forward to like, um, me preparing to like, go take my LSAT, that I did everything I needed to do to have the best possible application I was in AmeriCorps. I was in the peace corps. I wanted to be a human rights lawyer and I worked for NGLs. They’re like all different levels. And I studied like six months straight from my LSAT. Cause I was like, I need to go to like, at least the top five law school to be a really great lawyer. And I remember like the day that I was taking my LSAT, that I, um, you know, I was sitting in my car in the garage, keys in the engine and I just like, look at myself in the mirror and I’m like, do I want to be a lawyer? Just thinking of all this great activity that I. Pursued in my past life. And I remember this like time in my life when I was younger, when my dad, um, he comes home late after working at the store, like, you know, we’d have dinner, like at 9:00 PM and like nine or nine 30, 10:00 PM. When dinner was over, he would take out like a piece of paper and he would sketch on it. And, uh, me and my sister were like, would cover over him to watch him sketch. Cause he was really good at it. Yeah. He told my sister and I, that he’d always strapped at being an architect, but because of moving to America and having to take care of his family, he didn’t think that that would have been, um, you know, a right move, a stable moves to support his family.
And then I came to like the realization, like as an immigrant child, maybe it isn’t like necessarily pursuing the lucrative, like the super traditional route of like becoming a doctor, a lawyer, they came over here to give us a better life. So let us follow our passion and give us this opportunity. And so I turned off the key to ignition and I just went back to bed or didn’t take the outset from then on I kind of tried to create a pathway to becoming a filmmaker. Uh, this is like 2007, 2008. I started working for the Obama campaign. I was helping to like, um, first I was a volunteer. This is a good kind of like hustle story, I guess. Um, I was just volunteering at first and it was, it was really tough to get like a paid staff position at the Obama camp.
Cause everyone’s just willing to volunteer. It’s an amazing cause, uh, cause it was this first presidential campaign and. I remember like register. One of the things you have to do as a volunteer is like registered voters. Right. And I was outside of the mall, like registering voters. And I was there for like two hours and I didn’t like register anyone because it’s like super tough and just shout out. So everyone’s trying to register voters this year. If you see someone trying to register you and you’re not registered, go and register with them, help them out. So then like the. The person that the staffer of the Obama campaign is like overseeing other volunteers. He happened to be like walking out of the mall, getting his lunch. And at that moment, someone came to register to vote. So it looked really good that I was registering someone right when he walked, like, not as nodded his head and like approval. Then two weeks later I was hired. Um, and I mean, I was working my ass off for sure, but I think that moment helped, and just like sometimes luck is important and just being at the right place at the right time. And then I worked Obama campaign for six months and it was like an amazing experience, but I also not just like, I was helping to coordinate like specifically like Asian volunteers, it spoke languages that they could reach out to older voters. Um, and that was really great. So it’s like, It was, I had worked on other campaigns, but it seemed like the first campaign that was really trying to engage to the Asian voter more. Um, and while I was doing that, I was also trying to like dabble in the media department, the new media department where, you know, YouTube, Facebook was just starting to kind of grow bigger. And, um, I, I did some short videos for the Obama campaign. Just to kind of keep my creative juices going. And once the campaign was over, I was like, I want to work in the white house. I want to be the one, like filming history. I want it to be right next to Obama. And of course, everyone wants that job.
There’s like three in the white house. There’s probably like a couple hundred like positions that you can fill in the numerous. I forgot the exact number. It was like maybe around like 300,000 applicants who wanted to work at that point. It’s like, yeah. And I wanted to get that job, but I, they ended up offering me a job at the department of labor, which was like, got what I wanted to do. So then I ended up, um, Not going to work for the government. And, I went to go get my graduate degree in filmmaking. So I got my masters in film… solidified, like maybe being a filmmaker professionally. Wow. That’s a really long story.
Maggie: [00:16:02] Oh no! That was really good information.
Bryan: [00:16:03] It’s just an amazing story, you know, because as you’re telling your story, I’m just like, dude, there’s so much parallel my story, you know? Cause similar to your family, my parents spent two weeks at sea as well. I ended up in the Philippines and then we ended up, well, we actually moved over to Washington, DC first.
Bao: [00:16:23] Where in DC?
Bryan: [00:16:25] Um, falls church area.
Bao: [00:16:27] That’s where I was organizing volunteers. So
Bryan: [00:16:31] Yeah, then my mom, well, my mom’s from this place in Vietnam called Nha Trang. Very beachy. She’s like I miss the beach. So she forced my dad to move, move over to California. And then they had me, I was born and raised in Cali, you know, but it’s so much parallel our story too. And there are so many times that where my, my similar to your dad and my dad would sit there and he’ll just watch the science channel. And my daddy can’t even understand English that well, why are you watching the science channel? And he’s, he’s like if I had more time, I could have easily been a doctor. Alright, because I had you guys a similar story. I had to focus on taking care of you guys. You know, even more, parallel stories with us. I was actually studying to go to law school too.
You know I did, I did also have that reflection side ended up. Did I didn’t go to law school? So I went to, well, I continued on my technical path cause I’m a software. I was a software engineer. And I started a real estate company. You know, there’s so much parallels in your story. It is like, wow, like this is, this is, this is the type of story that you want to want to capture in this podcast.
Bao: [00:17:36] You know? I mean, I think a lot of people, when they’re growing up, you find you feel yourself could be really alone. That you’re the only one living in the story. And then as the community grows, as we start telling your story, then you find the ways to connect and empathize and relate to each other.
Yeah.
Maggie: [00:17:53] I mean, yeah, everything that you just said, I feel like it’s very parallel to Ahn as well for Asian hustle network. Because like you said, you know, you were going to be a lawyer. You were going to take your LSAT. And I feel like that’s very parallel to how a lot of Asians feel. You know, our parents immigrated here. They want us to have jobs that are very stable, become a doctor, become a lawyer, become an accountant. Something very safe pharmacists. Exactly. But nowadays we’re living in a different generation now, you know, and it’s hard for our parents to see that because they don’t understand, you know, what other way we can make money.
So, you know, it’s, it’s just a matter of like having that conversation with them. Right. And, you know, you mentioning your father, him wanting to become an architect. Did you feel like you were kind of helping him fulfill his dream on, you know, be more on the creative side? And then, you know, when was it when your parents were okay with you becoming a filmmaker?
Bao: [00:18:53] I mean, I think now seeing he like, actually like uses the word proud, which he’s never used. You know, when I was growing up Asian parents out there, you should tell your kids that you’re proud of them when you’re proud of them because it does help like positive reinforcement does help sometimes. But I mean, I think, uh, I don’t know if it was necessary to like, so still, my dad screams. Cause then that’s a lot of pressure you put on yourself, right? Vicariously be, or your dad vicariously living through your child’s dreams. But I did it just reached that epiphany that, that burden, that responsibility is something that we placed on ourselves a lot. I mean, I can’t speak for every obviously Asian American kid, but, um, yeah, that Asian guilt is real and we have to kind of figure out on her own and, you know, fight for our passions. It’s not easy. It’s something that you have to fight for, for sure. And, but because you love it so much, it’s worth fighting for anything. I would totally regret being a lawyer right now. And, um, I think it’s also important that there are like successful models that Asian parents like, or like Asian kids can say like, Oh, like, look at this guy, he’s an actor. Like I can be an actor because of that. You know, that’s the importance of kind of like a representation on all facets, not just representation on screen with like representing us on in all industries and just making it for like, um, Like, we’re not just because if you watch TV, a lot of times you just see Asian doctors or engineers, and then that’s what, you know, our parents see as the only models of success or the only models of, of anything of Asians. And it just perpetuates itself. That’s the importance of like culture and media to be able to like educate, inform people of like, how multifaceted arts community is, um, to go back to your question about like, when are they, when that I’ve realized that they were proud? Um, so like five, four or five years ago, I made a film called live from New York, which is about Saturday night live. And it, uh, we had the honor of opening, the Tribeca film festival, and the festival, the opening is quite large, like 3000 seat theater, this really beautiful theater that the beacon theater. And I invited my parents. I flew them over. They were living in Vietnam at the time. And, um, because it’s the opening night, it’s usually like a gala benefit type of thing. And so the tickets are like, mad expensive. Think they were like 300, 350 a ticket. And so, you know, I got free tickets for my parents, but it still says the price. And my mom apparently like my sister was there too. And she’s like, mom was like counting the people in the theater and then multiplying that to 350, trying to make that much money tonight.
I was like, yeah. I was like, oh, I’m going to make $900,000 tonight, according to them and you that, you know, I started to just disappoint my parents later on that I wasn’t making a $900,000 a night. So I mean that moment, I think, because it was such a big deal that they were proud of that then I made this spill. Last year, a short documentary called, where are you really from? And that’s kind of about my parents’ journey as refugees and I had to interview them. And it wasn’t like, I never talked to them about their story because I’m sure you know, Bryan, you know, as many Vietnamese Americans, we don’t want to like bring out that trauma again.
We’re scared to ask again. I think that’s something that we, it’s internal to our psychology, like. Oh, we think that they think this way. So that’s why we’re not going to ask, but sometimes we have to be our own people and just do it. And my parents were very open to telling me the story they wanted. It’s not historic. It’s kind of passing the history onto the next generation. And, um, I remember it was a shorter interview since it’s a short documentary. My mom immediately after the interview is done, she’s like, Oh, when are you going to turn my story into like a feature film? Okay. I guess that’s like a moment where she’s, there’s an acceptance of my vocation that I can be a filmmaker. She will, you know, entrust me with her story. Um, so, you know, it’s a roundabout way to saying you’re proud of your kids, but now like with the be water, um, film and like, um, just all the social, you know, the newspaper links of press links. My dad like will comment. I’m proud of you.
Bryan: [00:23:46] That’s awesome, man. And it’s a gradual process. You know, it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of proving that you’re capable of doing it because when we look at it from our parents’ perspective, especially our parents, he came from a place of war. You know, when you come from a place of war, you’re faced with a lot of uncertainty most of your life. And what feels the safest, ou feel certain that things are going to be okay, you know, for, for you and I, and a lot of people in AHM listen to you right now. It’s about, most likely. We’re all like first-generation, you know, we tried to make, make a name for ourself and it’s a gradual process. You know, like you said, you have to keep fighting for your passion, you know, fighting for you believe. And eventually, your parents are going to accept that there are multiple facets, multiple ways to become successful without going to the traditional path. That’s what we’re all about. You can, you know, like there are so many ways to become successful. What a new, what, what, like a new problem that our generation, gender kid, like our new problem that our generation has because we can’t really talk to your parents about like mental health issues, because they’re like, bro, I came from war you’re here telling me that you’re depressed. You know, and just, it’s really inspirational to kind of link your story to that, to that narrative too is like, Hey, like we want to do things that make us happy.
You know, what are the things that are fulfillable, you know, in some ways, we are becoming very westernized in these ideals. Well, there’s more than one way to succeed. Really important.
Maggie: [00:25:22] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, we’d love to know. Um, you know, I know you are doing filmmaking in America, as well as in Vietnam. Um, would love your perspective on, you know, the differences, um, being in that industry in both places. Um, and just your experiences overall.
Bao: [00:25:41] In Vietnam, it’s um, if there’s a will, there’s a way. There’s just that Vietnamese ingenuity. Like they’ll, you know, there’s not the right. We don’t have the right gear thing for the camera. Like they’ll build it out of the breaks. Right. So that’s, you know, that’s, um, something positive of Vietnam where he in there. Uh, at the same time, like certain aspects of like safety and accountability are thrown out the window because there’s a will, there’s a way attitude. But things do move quicker in Vietnam is less. I mean, in some ways there’s less bureaucracy the government, obviously. Um, there are, there are things that get in the way. There’s still censorship over there. And it’s difficult because like a lot of young filmmakers. Um, they like self censor themselves before they even write the script because they think like, Oh, this is not gonna work. And this is not going to pass like the censorship board. And I always encourage young filmmakers to not be censoring yourself yet. Like, just write your first draft of the script and, and let it be exactly what you want later on. You can start like, chopping away at it, but don’t, don’t initially self censor yourself.
Um, and the problem of censorship in Vietnam too, is that, um, it’s, it’s not standardized. It’s kind of subjective, which is like the worst type of government policy when you can’t like, it’s not codified, right. You can’t point to this and like, say, well, we didn’t, you know, there’s no legal languages. You know, not murky, it’s very murky in Vietnam it’s like, Oh, this is like against the States. I was like, what does that, anything the state, right. That’s something that needs to be addressed. I think. Um, cause there’s, there’s a lot of countries with censorship, Iran, China, but it’s all like codified. And then the filmmakers use it as a way to be creative. They see like, okay, you can’t do this, well, then we can be creative around using part of our brain that tells us to get around that we don’t know what to get around then you’re kind of lost. Um, and then, I mean, filmmaking in America, it’s, you know, you have accountability and safety, which is good. Uh, but I think I just, it’s just weird sometimes. Cause some I’m living like the worst and best of both worlds. Cause like, when I shoot in America, I’m like, I was like trying to be more nimble and fluid. And my producer’s like, you can’t just do that. It’s like we do that in Vietnam all this time. And if I go to Vietnam and they do something that’s unsafe, like you can never do that in America.
So I need to like, just switch off parts of my brain that see the positive side as much as possible and not try to compare it. When you start comparing it too much, then you’re kind of setting yourself up for disappointment. Um, but it’s, I mean, Vietnam is really growing in terms of the film industry. When I first worked there in 2010, there’s probably like no more than 10 films being made locally. And like last year there’s like 55, 60. So man is, uh, like seven, eight years, it’s grown exponentially. So if there are any hustlers out there, I just started a film company with some friends. So if you want to invest in a Vietnamese film, it’s definitely a good time, right?
Maggie: [00:29:27] For sure there’s a lot of people.
Bryan: [00:29:29] Or ourselves.
Bao: [00:29:33] Pulling together. It’s called East films.
Maggie: [00:29:35] East Films, okay.
Bryan: [00:29:37] We’ll make a note of that, especially in the show notes.
Bao: [00:29:40] I mean, the Bruce Lee project is technically like an East film co-production and that’s doing pretty well, I guess. So. We have a good track record so far.
Bryan: [00:29:48] Definitely. And I really liked her approach everything too. I feel like in some ways you are really bridging the culture that’s in Vietnam and America, especially in Asian culture and Western culture, you know, and seeing you bringing I’m super excited to talk about this part now, like see you bringing, you know, your narrative of Bruce Lee to America. That’s, that’s really touching, you know, in some ways, what briefly had space, it’s still really relevant to what’s going on right now. And I think, I think that you capture that perfectly in your film and your documentary, you know, I mean, can you tell us about like how you got involved in this project? Like what, what series of steps happen for this project to come about? And it’s amazing. This accomplishment is amazing. We hear more about it.
Bao: [00:30:35] Uh, so I came up with the idea soon after I did the SNL project. And I was just thinking of like, what’s the next project for me. Um, and I like kind of taking like American icons or iconic institutions, like SNL and then Bruce Lee and just like looking at it through the lens of a more personal and right. Something as, as an immigrant, as an Asian American, putting a different spin on it. Cause these stories have been voted before, but I feel like. They’re not necessarily speaking to us of an audience. And, um, so I remember, you know, the SNL film was having like a big theatrical release in LA and all across the country. And I was over here. Um, I was living in New York at the time when I came over here for the LA premiere. And, uh, I just like, was trying to connect to Shannon Lee, Bruce Lee’s daughter. And through just a few like mutual friends, I got connected with her. And I wanted to invite her to the premiere of, Live from New York, because I didn’t want you to send her a link because when you’re just watching something on your laptop by yourself, you don’t get the kind of triumphant feeling of watching something in a cinema for audience members where you get the gas and laughs and yeah. And so I was like, okay, I’m going to invite her to this. Um, Cause I wanted to pitch her, you know, the film and it was the best environment because you have like all your friends and loved ones and fans of the film and fans of SNL. So they just want to, like, they’re not critical. They just watched the film and they’re like cheering, clapping, laughing. It’s like the best possible place for you to kind of pitch. Your work, your peer sample work though. That’s like another like insider hustle tip is like your work in the most optimal situation and circumstance possible. And yeah, we kept in touch and, um, she, you know, she really liked the film and, uh, there was just like some things that didn’t align for us, like with access and who was going to finance.
And so like a couple of years went by where we did it kind of like. Work on the film cooperatively. And, um, that’s when ESPN came on board and they were, they weren’t on top of my list if I didn’t think of Bruce Lee necessarily as a sports figure. I mean, when you think about it now, he’s definitely an athletic person.
And with martial arts, martial arts, it’s kind of the sports of Asia. Right. Um, and I appreciate it. The 30 for 30 series on ESPN. They’re not, they’re not like looking at sports shifts purely and in a myopic view, looking at it in the lens of other issues, like of society, of race and culture. And that’s exactly what I wanted to do with Bruce Lee film, is use like Bruce Lee, um, look at him as a person, as a human being unpacking that myth. But also using him as a vessel to talk about like larger issues, especially like racism in Hollywood and just like Asian American history. And they were down like he has and was down to do it. And, uh, that’s kind of like how the project got started.
Bryan: [00:34:09] Pretty awesome. Then really inspirational. You capture it. On the money.
Maggie: [00:34:15] Yeah. And we watched it, it was, it was very, very inspirational. And I think that it touches a lot of people’s hearts right now. Um, you know, everyone knows of Bruce Lee, but we need these stories and these documentaries to come afloat every now and then to remind ourselves of the history of
Asians, you know, and how Bruce Lee was, you know, treated and how relevant that is in today’s generation as well. You know, and going back to the 1960s, I know you highlighted in the documentary, how, you know, black people were treated differently than Asians because Asians were easier to deal with. Right. And in that sense, you know, Therefore Asians felt like they were obliged to stay silent, to continue being treated that way. Right. And then in some ways, you know, we’re still trying to find our voice and our generation. Um, you know, we, it’s kind of like a generational limiting belief
that comes from our parents. And you know, we’re still trying to break that mental barrier because you know, a lot of us, we like to stay silent. Now that comes from our parents. I’m just wondering, like, what steps do you think we need to take as Asians, um, to get over that mental barrier then?
Bryan: [00:35:29] Yeah. Cause it means that you capture it, capture it perfectly in her story, but we need, we need to definitely encourage more people to do it. You know, it’s just one person who can make a difference, but it’s a collective effort and we all need to work together to push for this vision that we all want to get to.
Bao: [00:35:49] Yeah, I think, I mean, Bruce’s story is a good example because he had to fight for a lot of things to get his place in Hollywood. I think a lot of people would just assume he’s this big star, but he didn’t become really big in Hollywood until sadly after he passed away after into the dragon came out.
Right. And, um, All that racism, all that, uh, prejudice that you face is like these challenges that we have to overcome. But for the most part, like in terms of like the racism, he was facing Hollywood, he was like facing that on his own. You didn’t have like a community that was galvanized around him to, um, to like lift him up. Like he had his family and yet was like martial arts, uh, group. Um, but they weren’t helping, you know, they didn’t know Hollywood very well and they, they couldn’t kind of push past what they thought was the system of Hollywood. And like looking forward to now, to today, we do have a community and we need to keep on building that community and like thinking of it as a community and not as like competition, egos get in the way of people and like, Um, you know, so with one person does well and we all kind of do well, right. It’s not a zero-sum game. Um, and you see, you see that with like all the different I can, I, I can only speak right now with like the industry of like television and film. Cause that’s what I primarily work in. We see actors and actresses, uh, Asian actors and actresses on camera, but you need someone who can direct them or put them in that role. So you need casting agents who are open, and it’s not just about like Asian casting agents, but like people who realize who are just like woke for lack of better experiments, like all the, um, prejudices and reasons that representation is important. So there’s like this idea of like intersectionality between like, Uh, treating African-Americans in a multifaceted way on camera, the same way we treat Asian Americans.
And, um, and I think beyond directors and producers and casting agents, that the next step is like making sure like the writers and the studio executives and the people who are greenlighting projects are also part of this community and understand the importance of representation and inclusion.
I think even now with like, COVID. Um, it’s even more important that representation doesn’t just become trendy. That it’s very much something that we feel in our, our like hearts and minds, because we’re not interacting with people so much, like day to day because we’re quarantining or we’re social distancing. And so like the interaction that we have with society, with our strangers, with our community is absorbed through what we see on TV, what we read, what we watch and film, right. And that means that those representations have to be, there’s a larger emphasis on them being more authentic, more hottest, more representative. If that is like the only lens that we’re being seen as, like, we don’t want to be seen as, just again, like the engineer or the fill in, or the doctor, like were so many more things than what you see on TV. So those things have to reflect society. And that’s why I think here, I’m fortunate that this film is coming out in a time where there’s a lot of anti-Asian racism, but also a lot of, of, uh, anti-black racism that’s been around for centuries. And I hope it’s like a message where, uh, that people can learn and take away is that you know, Bruce never saw, uh, other people through their race and through the color of their skin, he saw them through like the sincerity of their character and like, How much they brought themselves it’s something. And like his relationship with like Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and also his first, um, student, Jesse Glover was African American who taught him a lot about, uh, how to be cool in America.
When you think about Bruce Lee, you think of cool, right? That’s because he had friendships, he had allies, he had relationships and you have to think about the relationships that we continue to build. And continue to, uh, like look to in order to just reform the society cause plus COVID, um, and then with what’s going on with the protest, it’s an opportunity for us to like, build a more just in kind society, not to, you know, there’s not to bring up like the group, like Asian hustle network, but there are some people who like, see it as an, as a way for opportunity and for selfish means and that’s them. And I, it’s not necessarily judging, but if we are thinking of Asian hustle network as a network, and it’s really, how do we make it a community? Not just make it like this guy got rich off of the back of someone who, who struggle and we have to see, that’s a zero-sum game. Like capitalism is kind of that its tit for tat. And so how do we make it more equitable? And we can all still be successful. It’s not like people think, Oh, for me to be rich, that means I have to take it from somewhere else. But think about like, in the long run, is you can, yeah, you can, you can be a hustler and be like a kind hustler that’s not an oxymoron.
Bryan: [00:41:54] Yeah. It is a, it is a mentality, you know, and I like that line too you brought up, but first, we said, when we now, are you an Asian American? Are you?
Bao: [00:42:06] Chinese?
Bryan: [00:42:07] Yeah. And he was like, I’m a human under his, under the sky. You know, it really, it really amplifies to his vision and view of how everything is. Like, you never stopped. Like you said, you never saw anyone that their race sum on their character. And I think it’s absolutely right to you that, as you mentioned before, the solution is building a culture of awareness. You know, at that you have to be aware of certain things as going on in order to fix it. You know, an issue you don’t have that culture in place. Things are just going to fall back into the way it was before. And that’s just human nature. You know. I think that solution is really, really appropriate for what’s going on currently and also. Your abundance mindset reference, you know, um, you don’t have, especially as Asian, Asian people, as you grew up, you know, we were compared to our sisters or brothers or cousins or family or whoever, right?
So you always have this competition mentality that if I win, you have to lose. If I lose, you have to win and you bring a really good point too, that there’s so much out there. There’s so much abundance out there, money, whatever. That we can all win and you’re right. We need to stick together as a community. You know, obviously there are always going to be some bad apples, that apples in front of a group and want to take advantage of everything. But overall, if you can nurse the culture and teach people to give first before you take, it builds a stronger sense of identity and belongingness of change. No, it’s a secret Asians change. So that’s super crucial to what you just said, you know, and for you to have that level of understanding, I can kind of see why your films are all very successful, you know? Cause you, cause says, I fully believe that you know, any type of creation that, that you do, your personality is sleeping into every single product that my Avenue into your project, you know? So that’s, that’s really inspirational that. But you’re able to help us understand and teach this to not only our members but to everyone else in the world. Thank you for that.
Maggie: [00:44:17] Yeah. And I totally agree with what you say about, you know, Bruce Lee’s mentality as seeing everyone as the same under the sun, you know, and a lot of what we perceive in terms of like, Race or sexuality or anything like that. We learn these things, you know, we’re not born with those opinions, right. We pick these things up from school, from movies and you know, like your documentary and, uh, be water, all of those, you know, previous movies highlighting Asians. They’re usually like doctors or, you know, they have like the China man hat. That’s always like the very same thing. And I think today we are in a better place in terms of films, highlighting Asian people, but I think we still have a lot of work to do. Right. Um, and the, the thing that we need to do is, is just to see everyone as the same and being a community for Asian hustle network, you know, we are a community, but it doesn’t mean that we only have to highlight and, you know, highlight Asian entrepreneurs. The fact that we have a community, we have the platform for a voice for change. Right? That’s the most important thing
Bryan: [00:45:27] we feel like you’re doing your part to change your image. You know, people are looking for essentially but the younger generation too, and the new generation, they’re looking at these types of films and you do have an influence
Maggie: [00:45:40] especially now. Yeah.
Bryan: [00:45:42] That’s amazing. So thank you so much for that though.
Bao: [00:45:46] Yeah. Okay. I don’t know. Yeah. It’s hard to try to go. Thank you. No, I’m grateful. It’s a privilege, right. It’s just like what I, um, it’s like when you’re making the spill and you’re making a film about Bruce Lee is like the most iconic Asian American, you see it as a, there’s a, there’s a deep responsibility out of making sure like you’re representing the story right. Representing community, right. Then you kind of like, you know, you change your mentality and think of it as a privilege. You put your you’re in a position to like tell the story and like, And understand that privilege and recognize that privilege. And what are you going to do with that privilege is important. Yeah. And I mean, as Asian Americans, we are very, not all of us, obviously there’s a lot of people who are not privileged, but just, if you were to take us at face value like compared to the African American community, there’s so much, you know, implicit bias with, with looking at African American communities for most people.
And we don’t have that because of things like the model minority myth, and we need to break those like systems, of rigidity and tradition that just don’t look at people for who they are. And they still look at things again on the surface. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think that’s one of the things I took away from Bruce and reading and like talking to the people that knew him the best and, um, and yeah, we can all kind of like learn from each other and grow with, with each other. Right?
Maggie: [00:47:25] Right.
Bryan: [00:47:26] Yeah. It wasn’t…
Bao: [00:47:27] turning into a very kumbaya. Which is great.
Bryan: [00:47:30] Yeah. I mean, I think this part is, you know, it’s one of the harder conversations to have to even talk about it right now. I mean, I feel like frankly, just us talking to more successful Asian entrepreneurs who are older than us, they tend to have this thing where they don’t like to be in the spotlight. They don’t like to share their story. You know, even when we first created Asian hustle network, people asked us, why are you guys still visible in the network? You want to beat those types of founders or just behind the scenes is running everything, but we have to understand this is the new games and new perspective. You know, that we have to be more transparent. Now we have to be more open, be more public about everything. Otherwise, we’re just going to end up like recycling history again, and nothing ever gets changed. We’re trying to change everything. No, we understand. You’re trying to do it too. And hopefully together in the future, not collaborate together. We also, you know, super excited for that moment. Yeah. I mean, how can our listeners reach out to you to find out more about you?
Bao: [00:48:34] I mean, like if they listen to this podcast and they know a lot about me a lot, so Bao, B-A-O-M-N-G-U-Y-E-N is my Instagram handle. Um, yeah, I’m pretty good at updating that with things and people definitely watch the film, Be water it’s on ESPN plus streaming right now. And, um, it’s also replaying sometimes that people still have like live TV cable and you can still watch it on ESPN. Um, and like another, like little like Asian hustle hack here. You can just, if you don’t have ESPN, plus it’s only 4.99, and then you can cancel it after watching the film. 4.99 to watch it.
Maggie: [00:49:26] Awesome! I have one more question, um, would love to know, you know, what you’re working on next. If you can share it with us.
Bao: [00:49:35] Um, I don’t. For me, it’s like, I want to make sure, like, it’s in the bag before I talked to you. I can tell you like the type of projects that I’m doing. It’s like, I’m reading a lot of Asian American writers. Trying to really find stories that feel authentic from a place of honesty and cause there’s, again, it’s the uploading community like lifting each other up from all different facets of the industry. And so yeah, if I can like help a book or work with an author who didn’t think about adapting it on screen to television or film, then.
That’s a role I can play that’s, you know, she said I can still, um, it’s all, you know, at the same high and we, you can be selfish too. Like I think selfishness also like lends itself to selflessness. Like it’s a cycle and, and I think humans, if, when they’re selfish, when they do, when they do something for others, it’s because it gets something out of it.
But I mean, yeah, as I said, it’s like this cycle generosity. And so if I can make an amazing film by adapting it from someone else’s book, that’s kind of the cycle that I’m talking about. We’re all kind of lifting each other up together in a way. And those are the stories I’m interested in and getting into more like scripted television. Cause I feel like television. That really stays with like becomes part of the zeitgeists of a country where like you’re watching, like when tiger chain came out and everyone’s talking about tigers chain, right. That is embedded in like, what is happening? They’re like, okay, let’s have some Asian stories be part of that same conversation. I mean, I’m honestly fortunate enough that this is part of a conversation. Be water. Like I’m not on Twitter very often. I was watching the premiere with a friend and they’re like, you should be checking Twitter. I’m like, why? You’re like, you’re number five in the country trending. I was like, is that good? I was like, As like, you know, the Asian side, number one, Asian, if I was an Asian parent, like being invited to talk on, it was like yours and like talking to the community too. And not just talking to people who don’t know our history, but people who do know the history would feel like. It’s nice to kind of hear it again from the unapologetically like Asian Americans, like not feeling. So I need to explain like every part, like me saying I worked at my parent’s store when I was five. I’m sure. 80% of the listeners are like, Oh five. Yeah. That’s, that’s pretty normal. Very normal. No, no, there’s, there’s definitely, you know, I respect like what you guys are doing and, um, we can just keep on building communities and I think the community is so important. Yes, it is.
Maggie: [00:52:49] Likewise. Yeah. I totally do believe that there is strength in community and you’re doing just the same with films.
Bryan: [00:52:55] Yeah. Yeah. And congratulations on all your accomplishments. Thank you so much for your time and being on the show.
Maggie: [00:53:01] Thank you for sharing your story, Bao.
Bao: [00:53:04] Thanks for having me.
Bryan: [00:53:05] Thank you.