Episode 1

Bao Nguyen ·  Be Water

“When you're making a film about Bruce Lee—he's like the most iconic Asian American—there's a deep responsibility to represent the story right. Represent the community right. It's a privilege, and what you're going to do with that privilege is important.”

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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Podcast Transcript

Bao Nguyen

Intro: (00:00:00) Hey guys, welcome to Asian Hustle Network Podcast, my name is Bryan and my name is Maggie. We interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians to pursue their dreams and goals.

We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.

Maggie: (00:00:08)  Today we have a very, very special guest. Today. We have Bao Nguyen and he’s an award-winning Vietnamese American filmmaker whose movies has been seen in the New York Times, HBO and BC, VISE, RK, and PBS. Welcome, Bal. Thank you so much for hopping on this podcast with us. Can you give us an introduction of yourself?

Bao: (00:00:28)  I think, I mean, you did it pretty well, I guess you can add to that list ESPN since a couple of days ago, but yeah, I’m a Los Angeles slash, Saigon-based filmmaker, too, I direct produce feature films, commercials, music, videos, documentary. 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 explored that quite yet. And yeah, I’m calling from my new LA downtown apartment.

Bryan: (00:01:14) Wow. Congratulations. That’s amazing. We saw your background too. It looked like you lived in New York for a little bit for your undergrad. Were you born and raised in New York or did you immigrate over here? 

Bao: (00:01:25) 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 on and off often like 11 or 12 years. And then I moved to Asia to Vietnam for about seven years.

Bryan: (00:01:51) Wow!

Bao: (00:01:52) Then I was in London for a little bit and that’s where we edited the film and then I am now here in LA.

Bryan: (00:02:01) That’s amazing. How has your experience in your ability to narrate your story has changed from when you were first starting and your experience in Vietnam? We understand there are 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: (00:02:20) In terms of like traveling and inspiration, just people would like, this is the longest, I’ve not been on a plane. It’s been three months. 10 years that I haven’t been on, I easily I’m traveling like every couple of months at the very least, it’s 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 he passed away. I mean, this is an anniversary that was yesterday. So I was just like, thinking about him for a minute. His idea of like always moving and never staying stagnant.

And just kind of learning from the people around you and it’s, I mean, that’s also kind of like, conversely was and the idea of being water, always being fluid. And I think for me in my work, I’m always kind of inspired by the places I go to the places I live.

Not that just being in one place for so long and I’ve, I mean, I’ve, I’ve also kind of taken advantage of being able to kind of decompress from that lifestyle. It’s, it’s, 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 angsty, especially Asian hustlers, or just trying to be in one place and yeah.

Bryan: (00:03:56) Yeah, we can definitely speak from that experience too. We do feel angsty sometimes but we feel like your story, in particular, we do want to amplify it a lot you know, we think that your way of storytelling, your accomplishments, your achievement are inspirational for our community.

We hear a lot more. So you found on, you know, take the narrative back a little bit to when you were younger, a TLA, what was it caused like this inspiration and your drive to like become such a great storyteller as a child up to now?

Maggie: (00:04:27) How did you get into filmmaking or were you always doing filmmaking before? What were you doing before if it wasn’t?

Bao: (00:04:33) I mean, it goes back to my parents’ journey because they were Vietnamese war refugees and they left Vietnam after like seven attempts. They’re like, OG hustlers. So., 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 little, older sister, but she was only six months old at the time.

And, 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.

It was guilty in many ways. 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. And but, 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 my sister who was 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 a lot of the customers, you know, get their fabric, they would take their receipt and then they would have to hand it to me. They saw the little five-year-old Asian boy, and they were like, we’re not going to give you, our money.

And I would just like, take the receipt from them, like grab it from them. And I just like to ring it up quickly on the cash register. And I think I impressed a few people because I started getting tips After I got to see cash tips, I put a tip jar out. And but just to relate to like the story of me being a filmmaker this is like the late eighties, early nineties I, you know, at that time there wasn’t iPads and my parents were going to get me like a game boy.

I was like bored out of my mind each Saturday and Sunday. I was working from 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 blank and I would 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 in stories I need a sheet of paper, that kind of got me interested in like that side of my brain to create a side kind of fast forward.

And I was in fourth grade, there was like a class assignment to like sell a product that was like our fourth-grade assignment and it was supposed to be a written assignment, but for some reason, I had the urge to make a video or like film andI borrowed my neighbor like VHS camera and I made it like a Nike commercial at the age of five.

And I wish I had that still but it’s not around, cause I’m talking to Nike the other day and they’re like, oh, I wish I had it. But you know, even though I had like these urges to fulfill my creative side, I, I always just like, okay, I’m going to be a lawyer. And because I was always sorting politically active and socially active living near Washington, DC.

I would 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 my upbringing. And, I ended up going to NYU, which has this amazing film school called TISCH. But at the same time, I thought like I am in my parents, wouldn’t have approved of me going to film school.

So 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’s like, if you think of like some really famous American filmmakers, like Spielberg, he started shooting and at the time I 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 a film and yeah, he was like, she shooting eight-millimeter when he was 12. And now that I look back at it, I’m like, oh, I was nine and it was neat stuff. 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.

And I also do elective courses at NYU in their film school when I have extra courses, free credits. That also helped me evolve as a storyteller, as a filmmaker. Even if it was just the passion at the time and fast forward to like me preparing to go take my LS, 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 NGO’s all different levels and I studied like six months straight from my LSAT. Yeah, because I was like, I need to go to like, at least a top-five law school to, to be a great lawyer. And I remember like the day that I was taking my LSAT, that I you know, I was sitting in my car and 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 creativity that I’ve pursued in my past life. And I remember this like time in my life when I was younger, when my dad, he comes home late after working at the store, like, you know, we’d have dinner, like at 9:00 PM and 9:30, 10:00 PM. When dinner was over, he would take out a piece of paper and he would sketch on it.

And, me and my sister were like, would come over him and watch him sketch because he was good at it. He told my sister and I, that he’d always dreamed of being an architect, but because of moving to America and having to take care of his family, even think that that would have been, you know, a right move, a stable move 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 traditional route of becoming a doctor or 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 the ignition and I just went back to bed.

I didn’t take the outset from that on, I kind of tried to create a pathway to becoming a filmmaker. This is like 2007, 2008. I started working for the Obama campaign post helping to like, the first time I was a volunteer, this is a good kind of like hustle story, I guess. I was just volunteering at first and it was, it was tough to get like a paid staff position at the Obama camp.

Cause everyone’s just willing to volunteer. It’s such an amazing cause. Because it was this first presidential campaign and. I remember one of the things you have to do as a volunteer is like registered voters. And I was outside of a mall, registering voters. And I was there for like two hours and I didn’t like registering anyone because it’s like super tough.

And just shout out to everyone 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 the person that the staffer, the Obama campaign who’s 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 walks not as nodding his head and like approval. Then two weeks later I was hired. And I mean, I was working my ass off for sure, but I think that moment helped, and sometimes luck is important and just being at the right place at the right time. And then I worked on the 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 that spoke languages that they could reach out to older voters.

And that was great. It was, I had worked on other campaigns, but just seemed like the first campaign that was trying to engage the Asian voter more 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 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 don’t want it to be right next to Obama. And of course, everyone wants that job.

There are like three in the white house. There are probably like a couple hundred like positions that you can fill and then I forgot the exact number. It was like maybe around 300,000 applicants who wanted to work at that point. It’s like, yeah. And I wanted to get that job, but they ended up offering me a job at the department of labor, which was like, not what I wanted to do.

So, then I ended up, I’m not going to work for the government. And, I went to go get my graduate degree in filmmaking. So, I got my master’s in Film solidified my being a filmmaker professionally.

Bryan: (00:15:38) Wow.

Bao: (00:15:38) That’s a long story.

Maggie: (00:15:39) Oh no, that was really good information.

Bryan: (00:15:42) It was such 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, as similar to your family, my parents spent two weeks at sea as well, they end up in the Philippines and we moved over to Washington DC first.

Bao: (00:16:01) Oh really? Okay. Where in DC? 

Bryan: (00:16:03) Falls Church area.

Bao: (00:16:04) That’s where I was organizing volunteers.

Bryan: (00:16:05) Yeah, then my mom, well, my moms from this place in Vietnam called Da Nang. She’s like I miss the beach. So, she forced my dad to move, move over to California andthen they had me, I was born and raised in Cali, you know, but there’s so much parallel in our story too. And there are so many times where my, my similar to your dad and my dad would sit there and he’ll just watch the science channel, I’m like dad you 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 but because I had you guys’ similar story, I had to focus on taking care of you guys. You know, even more, parallel stories with us. I was studying to go to the law school to, 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 down my technical path because I’m a software engineer. I was a software engineer. And I started a real estate company. You know, there are so many parallels in your story is like, wow, like this is the type of story that we want to capture in this podcast, you know?

Bao: (00:17:15) Okay. I mean, I think a lot of people, when they’re growing up, you feel you could be alone. That you’re the only one living in the story. As the community grows, as we start telling your story, then you find the ways to connect and like empathize and relate to each other.

Maggie: (00:17:30) Everything that you just said, I feel like it’s very parallel to AHN as well for the 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 very stable jobs, 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 mentioned 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: (00:18:31) I mean, I think now seeing he uses the word proud, which he’s never used, you know, 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 this positive reinforcement does help sometimes.

But I mean, I think I don’t know if it was necessary to fulfill my dad’s dream. Because 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 place on ourselves a lot.

I mean, I can’t speak for every Asian American kid, but yeah, that Asian guilt is, is real and we have to kind of figure out on our own and, you know, fight for our passions. It’s, 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.

I would regret being a lawyer right now. And 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. And, you know, that’s the importance of a kind of like a representation on all facets, not just representation on screen, but like representing us on in all industries and just making sure we’re not just because if you watch TV, a lot of times you just see Asian doctors or engineers.

So 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 and inform people of like how multi-faceted our community is to go back to your question about when are they, when did I realize that they were proud so like five, four, or five years ago, I made a film called live from New York, which is about Saturday night live. And we had the honor of the opening, the Tribeca film festival. The opening is quite large, like 3000 seat theater, this really beautiful theater at the beacon theater.

And I invited my parents. I flew them over. They were living in Vietnam at the time. And because it’s the opening. It’s usually like a gala benefit type of thing. And so, the tickets are like mad, expensive. Like they were like 300, 350 a ticket. And so, you know, I got free tickets from my parents, but it’s still sort of a 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 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 take me back. You know, I started to just disappointed my parents later on that I wasn’t making $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 film 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. We think that they think this way. So that’s why we’re not going to ask, but sometimes we have to be our people and just do it. And my parents were very open to telling you the story. They wanted to tell this story because it’s kind of passing the history onto the next generation.

And I remember it was a shorter interview since it’s a short documentary. My mom immediately after the interview is done. When are you going to turn my story into like a feature film? Okay. I guess that’s like a moment where there’s an acceptance of my vocation that I can be a filmmaker you know, and trust me with her story.

So, you know, it’s a roundabout way to saying you’re proud of your kids, but now like with Be Water film and like, just all the social, you know, the newspaper links of press links. My dad like will comment, I’m proud of you.

Bryan: (00:23:24) 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 who came from a place of war, you know, when you come from a place of war, you face a lot of uncertainty, most of your life, and what feels the safest, you feel certain that things are going to be okay, you know for you and I and a lot of people in AHN listening to you right now. It’s about we’re all 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, as you said, you have to keep fighting for your passion. You know, you keep fighting for your belief, 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 in AHN you know like there are so many ways to become successful. The new problem that our generation has is that we can’t talk to our 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 it just, it’s 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, when do 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.

Bao: (00:24:59) For sure. Yeah.

Maggie: (00:24:59) I know you were doing filmmaking in America as well as in Vietnam would love your perspective on, you know, the differences being in that industry in both places and just your experiences overall.


Bao: (00:25:20) Yeah. I mean, in Vietnam, it’s. If there’s a will, there’s a way there’s just that Vietnamese ingenuity. As 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. Right. So that’s, you know, that’s something positive about Vietnam working with at the same time, certain aspects like safety and accountability are thrown out the window because if 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 in the government there are, there are things that get in the way they’re still censorship over there. And it’s difficult because like a lot of young filmmakers they like self-censor themselves before they even write the script. After all, they think like, oh, this is not going to work.

And this is not going to pass like the censorship board. And I always encourage young filmmakers to not be censoring themselves yet. Like, just write your first draft of the script and, and let it be exactly what you want later on. You can start chopping away at it, but don’t, don’t initially self-centered.

And the problem with censorship in Vietnam too, is that it’s not standardized, it’s kind of subjective, which is like the worst type of like government policy when you can’t like it, 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 are, you know, not murky.

It’s very murky in Vietnam, Oh, this is like against the state. I was like, what does that, anything against the state? Right? That’s something that needs to be addressed. I think 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 a part of our brain that tells us to get around that we don’t know what to get around then your kind of lost and then, I mean, filmmaking America, it’s, you know, you have accountability and safety, which is good but I think I just, it’s just weird sometimes.

Cause some I’m living like the worst and best of both worlds. When I shoot in America, I’m like, kind of was like trying to be nimbler and fluid. And my producers, 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 unsafe, as you can never be that 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 your kind of setting yourself up for disappointment. But it’s, I mean, Vietnam is growing in terms of the film industry.

When I first worked there in 2010, there were probably like no more than 10 films being made locally. And like last year there’s like 55, 60. So it’s is seven, eight years, grown exponentially. So, if there are any hustlers out there, I just started a film company with some friends. So, it’d be, if you want to invest in Vietnamese film, it’s a good time. It’s called east films.


Bryan: (00:29:14) East Films, okay. We’ll make a note of that, especially in the show notes.

Bao: (00:29:19) I mean the bristly project is technically like an east films co-production and that’s doing pretty well, I guess. We have a good track record so far.

Bryan: (00:29:26) Definitely. And I liked your approach, everything too. I feel like in some ways you are bridging the culture within, in Vietnam and America, especially the Asian culture and Western culture, you know, and seeing you bring, I’m super excited to talk about this part. Now I see you bringing, you know, your narrative of Bruce Lee to America.

That’s, that’s touching, you know, in some ways what Bruce Lee had space. It’s still really relevant to what’s going on right now. And 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? 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: (00:30:13) Yeah. So, I came up with the idea soon after I did it SNL project. And I was just thinking of like, what’s the next project for me 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 write something as an immigrant, as an Asian American, putting a different spin on it because these stories have been voted before, but they’re not necessarily speaking to us that we’re an audience. And 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 I was living in New York at the time when I came over here for the LA premiere. And I just like, was trying to connect to Shannon Lee, Bruce Lee’s daughter.

And through just a few mutual friends, I got connected with her. And I wanted to invite her to the premiere of life from New York because I didn’t want to just send her a link. After all, 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 so, I was like, okay, I’m going to invite her to this. Because 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 invested. No. So they just want to, like, they’re not critical. They just watched the film and they were cheering, clapping, laughing.

It’s like the best possible place for you to kind of pitch your work, your sample work. So that’s another insider hustle tip is like your work in the most optimal situation and circumstance possible. And yeah, we kept in touch and, she, you know, she liked the film and 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, we work on the film cooperatively. And 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 an athletic person.

And with martial arts, martial arts, it’s kind of the sports of Asia. And I appreciate it. The 30 for 30 series on ESPN. They’re not looking at sports shifts purely and in a kind of myopic view, looking at it through the lens of other issues, like society, race, and culture.

And that’s exactly what I wanted to do with Bruce Lee when we look at him as a person, as a human being unpacking that. But also using him as a vessel to talk about like larger issues, especially racism in Hollywood and just like Asian American history. And they were down like ESPN was down to do it. And that’s kind of like how the project got started.

Bryan: (00:33:46) I mean, it’s pretty awesome and inspirational on how you capture it.

Maggie: (00:33:53) Yeah, and we watched it. It was, it was very inspirational. And I think that it touches a lot of people’s hearts right now you know, everyone knows of Bruce Lee, but we need these stories and these documentaries to come afloat 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, 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 you know 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’d like to stay silent you know and that comes from our parents.  I’m just wondering, like, what steps do you think we need to take as Asians, to get over that mental barrier?

Bryan: (00:35:07) Yeah, because it means that you capture it perfectly in your story, but we need, we need to encourage more people to do it. You know, just one person can make a difference, but it’s a collective effort. We all need to work together to push for this vision that we all want to get to.

Bao: (00:35:26) 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 Enter the Dragon came out. Right. And all that racism, all that prejudice that he faced, these challenges that you 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 too to like lift him.

Like he had his family, he had his like martial arts group but they weren’t helping, you know, they didn’t know Hollywood very well and they, 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 sometimes like egos get in the way of people and like, you know, so with one person does well and we all kind of do well, right.

It’s not a zero-sum game and you see; you see that with like all the different I can go. I can only speak right now with like the industry of like television film because that’s what I primarily work in. We see actors and actresses, Asian actors and actresses, on camera, but you need someone who can direct them or put them in that role.

So, you need casting open agents, and it’s not just about like Asian casting Asians, but like people who realize who are just like woke for, for lack of better terms to like all the prejudices and reasons that representation is important. So, there’s like this idea of like intersectionality between.

Treating African-Americans in a multifaceted way on camera is the same way we treat Asian Americans. 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 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 today because we’re quarantining or we’re social distancing.

And so, like the interaction that we have with society with 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, hottest, more representative.

If that is like the only lens that we’re being seen as, like, we don’t want to be seen. Just again, like the engineer or the bill in, or the doctor, like we’re so many more things in what you see on TV, that those things have to reflect society. And that’s why I think here, I’m fortunate that this film is coming out at a time where there’s a lot of anti-Asian racism, but also a lot of anti-black racism that’s been around for centuries.

I hope it’s like a message where that people can learn and take away is that you know, Bruce never saw other people through their race and the color of their skin, he saw them through the sincerity of their character. How much they brought themselves to something and his relationship with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and also his first student Jesse Glover was African-American who taught him a lot about how to be cool in America.

When do you think about Bruce Lee you think of cool, right? That’s because he had friendships, he had allies, he had relationships and we have to think about the relationships that we continue to build. And continue to like to look to just reform the society because you know plus COVID and then with what’s going on with the protest, it’s an opportunity for us to like, build a more just and 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 to see it 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 struggled 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, like is you can, yeah, you can, you can be a hustler and be like a kind of hustler that that’s not an oxymoron.

Bryan: (00:41:33) It is a mentality, you know, and I like that line that you brought up, Bruce Lee said, when now are you an Asian American? Are you Chinese? Yeah. And he was like, I’m a human under this under the sky. You know, it really, amplifies his vision and view of how everything is like,  as you said, you never saw anyone that their race or let alone a character. And I think it’s right. 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 to fix it, you know, an issue you don’t have that culture in place.

Things are just going to fall back to the way it was before, and that’s just human nature, you know? So, I think that solution is appropriate for what’s going on currently. And also your abundance mindset reference, you know 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 you 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 their money whatever that we can all win and you’re right. We need to stick together as a community. You know, there are always going to be some bad apples, bad apples in front of a group, that 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.

You know it’s a secret agent to 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 you’re films are all very successful, you know, because you, I fully believe that, you know, any type of creation that, that you do, your personality is seeping into every single product that avenue into your project, you know, so that’s, that’s inspirational.

That you’re able to help us understand and teach this to not only our members, but you know, to everyone else in the world. Thank you for that.

Maggie: (00:43:55) And I agree with what you say about, you know, Bruce Lee’s mentality as seeing everyone is the same under the sun, you know, and a lot of what we perceive in terms of 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 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.

It’s always like the very same thing. And I think today we are in a better place in terms of films, highlighting Asian, you know, people, but I think we still have a lot of work to do. Right. And the thing that we need to do is, is just to see everyone as the same and be a community for the Asian Hustle Network, you know, we are a community, but it doesn’t mean that we only have to highlights and, you know, highlight Asian entrepreneurs, the fact that we have a community, we have the platform for a voice for change. Right. I think that’s the most important thing.

Bryan: (00:45:05) Yeah. And we feel like you’re doing your part too in changing our image. You know, people are looking, especially like the younger generation too, and the new generation they’re looking at these types of films and you do have an influence

Maggie: (00:45:18) Especially now. Yeah.


Bryan: (00:45:20) That’s amazing. So, thank you so much for that Bao. 

Bao: (00:45:25) It’s hard to try to. Yeah, thank you. No, I’m grateful it’s privileged. Right. It’s just like what I, 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 the community right then you kind of like, you know, you change your mentality and think of it as a privilege. You put you 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. 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, as a parent of the African-American community, there’s you know, implicit bias with, with looking at African-American communities for most people. And we don’t have that. It’s because of things like the model minority myth, and we need to break those 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. 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, and yeah, we can all kind of like learn from each other and grow with, with each other. Right, right. Yeah. It wasn’t turning into a very kumbaya which is great.

Bryan: (00:47:10) Yeah, I mean this part is, you know, it’s one of the harder conversations to have to even talk about 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 the Asian Hustle Network, people ask us, why are you guys so visible in the network don’t you want to be the type of founder that is just behind the scenes and running everything, but we have to understand this is a new game and a 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 you know; we have to understand, you’re trying to do it too. And hopefully together in the future, we’re going to collaborate, it would be awesome you know, we’re super excited for that moment. Yeah. I mean, how can our listeners reach out to you to find out more about you?

Bao: (00:48:12) I mean, like if they listen to this podcast and they know a lot about me a lot, so Bao the B A O N G U Y E N is my Instagram handle. Yeah, I’m pretty good at updating that with things people watch the film, Be Water it’s on ESPN plus streaming right now. And, it’s also replaying sometimes when people still have like live TV cable and you can still watch it on ESPN and like another, like little like Asian hustle hack here. You can just if you don’t have ESPN, plus it’s only 499, and then you can cancel it after watching 499 to watch it still I’ve had that.


Maggie: (00:49:04) Yeah. Awesome. I have, I have one more question. We’d love to know, you know, what you’re working on next. If you can share with us.

Bao: (00:49:13) For me, it’s like, I’m want to make sure it’s in the bag before I talked to you and 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 find stories that feel authentic from a place of honesty. And because there’s, again, it’s about building community, like lifting each other 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 the screen to television or film, then. That’s a role I can play that’s, you know, shoes that I can fill. And 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 fact, well, 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 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 stays with like becomes part of the zeitgeists of a country where like you’re watching, like when Tiger King came out and everyone’s talking about Tiger King, right.

That is embedded in like, what is happening there? 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 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 you know, the Asian side, number one, Asian, if I was an Asian parent, you know, being invited to talk on like yours and like talking to the community too, not just talking to people who don’t know our history, but people who do know the history with. It’s nice to kind of hear it again from the I unapologetically like Asian American, like not feeling. So, I need to explain every part, like me saying I worked at my parent’s store when I was five I’m sure 80% of the listeners like, oh five. Yeah. That’s, that’s pretty normal. Very normal. No, no, there’s, there’s, you know, I respect what you guys are doing and we can just keep on building communities and I think the community is so important.

Maggie: (00:52:26) Yeah, likewise. Yeah. I do believe that there is a strengthened community and you’re doing just the same with films.

Bryan: (00:52:34) Congratulations on all your accomplishments. Yeah. Thank you so much for your time and for being on the show.

Maggie: (00:52:39) Thank you for sharing your story Bao.


Bao: (00:52:40) Thanks for having me.

Outro: [00:47:51] Hey guys, we hope you enjoy this episode. Please subscribe to the show! We would like to get to the top 10 on iTunes so be sure to leave us a five-star review. We release an episode every single Wednesday. So, stay tuned. Thank you, guys, so much