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  Chan is Missing  
  |     review    |     notes     |
Wood Moy looks for Chan
  Year: 1982  
  Director: Wayne Wang  
  Producer: Wayne Wang  
  Writer: Wayne Wang, Isaac Cronin, Terrel Seltzer  
  Cast: Wood Moy, Marc Hayashi, Laureen Chew, Peter Wang, Presco Tabios, Frankie Alarcon, Judi Hihei, Ellen Yeung, George Woo, Emily Woo Yamasaki, Virginia Cerenio, Roy Chan, Leung Pui-Chee  
The Skinny: Two Chinatown cabbies search for a missing acquaintance in this early film from Joy Luck Club director Wayne Wang. With its thoughtful, often complex musings on cultural identity, Chan is Missing becomes something much more than just another detective story.
Review by Calvin McMillin:

Shot in black and white with a gritty, documentary-like style, Wayne Wang's Chan is Missing centers on two Chinatown cab drivers: a middle-aged Chinese American named Jo (Wood Moy) and his street-smart nephew, Steve (Marc Hayashi). The two of them want to go into business for themselves, but in order to get a license they had to give their money to an intermediary, the enigmatic title character, Chan Hung. One problem: Chan has disappeared, along with their money.

In true detective story fashion, Jo and Steve hit the streets on a quest that takes them to a variety of places, including a popular Chinese restaurant, a Manila Town senior citizen center, and even the home of Chan's ex-wife. Along the way they meet a myriad of interesting characters, each showing a different side of not only Chan Hung, but Chinatown itself. Every time Jo and Steve think they've come closer to solving the mystery, a new clue takes them in a brand new direction. What really happened to Chan? Did he abscond with their hard-earned savings? Did he flee for his life out of fear? No easy answers are given. Thus, it's not surprising that the search eventually takes its toll on the film's protagonists. Sympathies divide the men, as the first-generation Jo looks only for the good in Chan Hung, whereas the American-born Chinese Steve sees their missing business associate as nothing more than a criminal opportunist. Although the men do find a measure of closure by story's end, the complete truth about Chan remains a secret.

While Chan is Missing owes a clear debt to the detective tradition (Dragnet, The Rockford Files, and, of course, Charlie Chan get name dropped in the film), filmmaker Wayne Wang doesn't seem to be interested in adhering to formulaic mystery conventions. Instead, the director expertly uses the detective genre as a springboard to explore deeper cultural issues, yet never at the expense of the story or its characters. The Chinatown of Chan is Missing is a far cry from the exotic hot bed of criminal activity shown in numerous Hollywood films, and is instead treated as just another location. It's a place where the Chinese are depicted not as one homogeneous mass, but as a community of remarkable complexity, full of differing viewpoints, languages, and even subcultures. In this respect, Chan is Missing is a film that is as much about the community of Chinatown as it is about its still-compelling mystery plot.

That's not to say the film is perfect. Chan is Missing runs a scant eighty minutes, and considering the chemistry of its two leads, certain lingering shots of Chinatown could have been excised in favor of expanding on other, more compelling moments already existing within the narrative. There's also some amateurish acting and awkward transitions during the first act, but these are mild criticisms, especially considering the film's woefully low budget. Clearly, Wayne Wang's talent as a director transcends any quibbles about the production values.

Ultimately, most of the credit for the film's success must go to Wang, but quite a bit should also be reserved for the film's two main actors, Wood Moy and Marc Hayashi. Shot in a single take, the scene in which the two men lose their cool, arguing over the true fate of Chan Hung crackles with energy, and in some ways, could be considered the dramatic centerpiece of the film itself. In both its depiction of Chinatown and of the relationship between Jo and Steve, Chan is Missing is essentially a meditation on the Chinese American experience and the ever-pervasive search for one's identity in American culture. Like the search for Chan, it's a journey fraught with ambiguity. Yet while the truth about Chan Hung will forever remain elusive, my evaluation of the film will not be: Chan is Missing is a clever, often humorous film and a certified touchstone in Asian American cinema. (Calvin McMillin, 2004/2006)


Chan is Missing has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
• Soundtrack includes songs by Sam Hui Koon-Kit.

Availability: DVD (USA)
Region 1 NTSC
Koch Lorber Films
4:3 Full Frame
English (w/Cantonese and Mandarin) Language Track
Removable English Subtitles
"Making-of" Featurette, Interviews, Trailers
 Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen