Interview: How Han Chiang of Han Dynasty is Just Being Himself While Playing a Mob Boss

To create that unique experience.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Before I started working here [at the original and current Han Dynasty Old City; I left in January 2014]—
Had we met?
It was doing that article for City Paper.
Yeah.

What I read about you, saw as a diner, and later as an employee, was that this guy is trying to create that personalized experience for every fucking person who comes through the door—in an almost manic way.
I’m dying to make people happy, to make people laugh. If I can make people happy, if I can make them laugh, then people like me. It helps me with my business.

And for you, it’s making that emotional connection.
Yeah.

So you want that emotional connection with every customer, just like every actor wants an emotional connection with their audience. Talk about how the one led into the other.
You know…I’m a very passionate guy. Whenever I’m talking about an idea or telling a story, I’m always very emotional. Because I love the story or the story has a meaning to me. So whenever I’m doing something, I always believe in what I’m doing. Once you do, it comes off with some type of charisma that a lot of people don’t have. For me, acting—I never acted before, I never took an acting class. The director is really good. He coached me through every scene. When I was doing it by myself, it was ok but not that good.

Method Han

Han Chiang with Method Man; the latter filmed a video at Han Dynasty Upper West Side recently.

What kind of coaching did you get? 
For me, I memorized the lines and I focused on the way I speak. Then the director was guiding on hand gestures, body language.

What really stood out in the trailer is the mob boss tight shot where you’re standing there glowering, the look you have. You have a fucking presence.
[Laughing] I mean, I probably looked at you that way once or twice before.

[Laughing] You fucking have! You fucking have!
I think it’s very similar—being a mob boss and a fucking restaurateur. If you’re not fucking tough, people will walk all over you—your customers, your fucking staff and then you’re gonna be in a place nobody wants to be.

So how much of that were you channeling?
Pretty much 100%. I was probably imagining I’m at a breaking point where I’m like, Brion just fucked this shit up and I’m gonna kill him, and then I just stepped into a scene thinking that.

Elaborate more on the similarities between being a mob boss and a restaurant owner.
You really have to care about what you do and you have to have authority because people will take advantage of you if you don’t. Customers, staff—even your supplier. So many little details. You really have to focus and set the tone and make sure people will suffer consequences if they fuck up.

While the press hypes Han the personality—kind of glamorizing your role in a way similar to that of how we look at mob bosses—the way the Soprano’s brilliantly looked at all the underlying tensions of actual mob life comes to mind.
Yeah. Whoever is causing these tensions, they have to suffer the consequences. I have to stop dealing with these people. Either I stop using them as a supplier, I fire them, or—if a customer—l kick them the fuck out. I just want these people to have no part of my life. If people around me try to take advantage of me, I make sure it never happens again. I make sure people know how serious I am.

Are there any specific moments that you channeled where, if you were a mob boss, you would have had somebody whacked?
Shiiiiitttt. [Laughs] I won’t whack anybody but…I guess everybody’s different…There are people who come in knowing they want to complain to get a free meal out of it. That’s no different from a thief. Those people will threaten your business if you don’t give it to them. Hey, if you don’t comp this meal, we’re gonna go on Yelp and just write bullshit reviews and report to wherever. If we screwed up something, I always try to make it up to people. Once you do something for them, they respect you and they appreciate you for it. The people who threaten you are different. With staff, it’s just being a bad worker. Stealing. Being a two-faced motherfucker—if I’m there, they’re doing a good job and if I’m not, they’re doing a shitty job. And they know how to do a good job!

So ok, it came very natural for you.
Growing up, most people want to be a president or a nurse or teacher, engineer or anything. I wanted to be a fucking mob boss. I just think mob bosses are the coolest thing. You can do whatever the fuck you want. Even a president can’t do that. It’s a dream life.

It’s also about having a high standard.
Another thing is, I do take care of my people. I take care of my customers, my staff, and my suppliers. It’s what I have to do.

Going out to eat, I’m never quick to get upset. But, if a waiter or bartender—jobs I’ve done before—is sloppy and just doesn’t care, that pisses me off because I know what standard I held myself to and I know that’s the way you’ve always been.
Yeah, because I care. I care so much about this. This is my priority. This is my life. I can’t not focus when I’m here. When I’m in my restaurant and when I’m out, I’m a totally different person. I can feel it because I have to take care of my shit in support of everything I love, all the people I love. If I didn’t, it would be over in a fucking night.

If you didn’t become that different person.
Yeah, yeah.

That leads to a question I wanted to—Ma’s still working for you in New York, right?
Yeah, yeah. I love that motherfucker.

He’s awesome.
I love everybody. I love my customers. I love my employees.

We took a bus up to Flushing to meet up with his wife and on the way I asked him if he feels he’s a different person when speaking English. He thinks about it and quickly fires back, yeah, yeah.
A little bit.

How much separation is there then between Han and Han the personality and how does that relate to your brief experience with acting?
I just want to get the job done. I want to impress people. I have a very very obsessive personality that if I focus on something, I’m going to improve myself every single day. I’m doing the same job, I want to get better and better and better. This job is too boring otherwise. That’s why I still can love what I do everyday. Everyday, I’m looking for mistakes—not just by the people around me. By myself. I couldn’t deal with it if it was just a robot job. No room for improvement. I couldn’t stand it. I’m a perfectionist. Everyday I’m looking for problems and for ways to improve and if I want to improve other people, first of all, I have to improve myself. It’s all about me bringing people up. Mark Allen started working for me as a busboy. A lot of my partners and managers started for me as a busboy. The mentality is it’s do or fucking die. If you’re passionate about something and you want to accomplish something, then we as a team can do that because we are obsessed over this one goal, which is a vision that I have that I set for everybody, even for myself. It’s similar for a mob boss. You have to have a vision. If people believe in you, they will follow you. Once they do the job, you bring people up. That’s how you create soldiers and build an army.

Are there any Sopranos or mob film moments that speak directly to you as a restaurant owner?
“Breaking Bad”. Walter. He was talking to Jesse and he says, you think I’m in the business for the money. I’m in the business for the dynasty. That’s how I feel. I’m in the business for my dynasty. That’s why it’s called Han Dynasty [Note: Han was off just a bit. See the scene here. With his 9th location coming soon, his paraphrasing is of course, awesome].

I remember working the tastings in the basement at the original Han Dynasty in Old City around when I first started. It was, don’t serve a fucking thing unless I tell you. Otherwise, water, tea, napkins.
Because to me, everything is connected. Everything has to have a system. To run a tasting [at the original location], you have eighty people in a shitty basement and maybe our service is not the best thing but it’s charming. It’s not about what I want to create and it’s not about what the customer wants. Instead, it’s creating something so special and people haven’t seen it before. It’s that shock value. When they’re shocked and it’s that good shock, people will remember and will talk about it. It’s about creating that personal, special touch. And [in regard to every aspect of service] I’m not gonna sit back and watch people work. I get my hands dirty too. Even when it’s slow, I’m helping out. I gotta do what I gotta do. I guess that’s the difference between a good mob boss and a bad one.

What was your mindset going into each scene?
I wasn’t really thinking about it. I didn’t want to screw up. I knew that every time I forget a line, we have to redo everything. I had a lot of pressure on me in terms of not wanting to disappoint everybody. We can come back to the restaurant business because I hate disappointing people. What I feel like as a business owner, is I don’t want to be a boss. A boss is when you pay somebody and people do the job for you. I want to be a leader. I want to give people hope and dreams and education and a vision. Once you do that, you become a leader and people will fucking die for you, for your idea because we’re working on it together.

How did you get this role?
The casting director worked on the previous film.

What brought you into the loop for that one?
So this is a funny story. I went to a 4th of July party—one of my customers. It was a slow night. Everybody is barbecuing. She asked me to go to her BBQ. There’s a bunch of people there. There’s this guy there, he’s telling people about his film and then he saw me—as the only Asian person there—and said, hey, you wanna come in for a screen test. I’m like, sure. A couple days later, I went to the studio—he shares the same studio with Questlove in Philly. I had some really good weed on me that day. So we started smoking a joint and we talked a little bit. Then he’s like, here, read this line. I couldn’t even read [at that point]. I was [monotonously] reading word for word.

This weed’s making me illiterate!
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Then I totally failed the screening. Who the fuck is this guy?! He can’t even read! So then this guy’s friend comes in and when I introduce myself, the director, who just thought I was some regular Asian guy, says, waitHan from Han Dynasty. I’m like, yeah, I have a bunch of Chinese restaurants. I show him some crazy videos I have on Youtube. Then he’s like, what the fuck man. Forget about the screening. I was going to give you a small role. Fuck that role. I’m gonna give you the biggest role. I was like, ok.

So this short film was another great experience.
A lot of pressure. I told everybody on the set that that was one of the most stressful things I have ever done. It was more stressful than the restaurant. Once my scenes were done, it was one of the most relieved feelings I’ve ever had in my life.

How much screen time do you think you have?
Maybe about eight minutes. I was in three different scenes.

Do you want to do more acting?
Fuck yeah! I fucking love this.

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