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|Index||11 reviews in total|
Just watched the DVD, and Chan is Missing remains the one-off film it's
always been - just a terrific little film. If people think the pap they
call independent film today is anything but lower-budgeted mainstream
film-making by people looking to get deals with majors, well, they
should check out some real indy films. Thanks to companies like Miramax
and Focus and others, there is no true independent film market anymore.
And a not to "laursene" - you give Chan Is Missing a pretty nice "review" or whatever one calls these amateur writings, and yet you give it one star. Brilliant. And the "novelty" song "probably from the 30s" is I Enjoy Being A Girl by Rodgers and Hammerstein, from their musical Flower Drum Song, which was hardly written in the 30s. 1957 or '58 if I recall correctly.
This movie is among the first in Asian-American cinema, and also a very excellent independent film. Very well-directed and visualized, it concerns the misdventures of two gumshoes Joe and Steve, Chinatown cab-drivers in search of the ever-elusive Chan Hong. With a variety of hilarious jokes, looks into Chinese-American culture, and witty anecdotal substance, Chan Is Missing is a classic film, infusing a tradition of mystery and drama into Asian American narrative.
this is one of the most original stories to come along, and certainly the most important of Asian American films out there. produced with a low budget, this simple story of a missing person turns into an analysis of culture and stereotypes, not only of Asians, but all people. this is truly a must-see film for movie lovers.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film is an excellent example of film-making, even though it was
apparently made on a shoestring AFI grant. It shows what you don't need
-- high production values and special effects -- and what you do need
(good writing/direction). In fact, I think it holds its own with all
the great films of the past century.
This film works on several levels. At the most surface point, it is an amusing sendup of the old Charlie Chan mystery films.
Going a little further down it portrays discrimination against Chinese-Americans without showing anyone who is NOT Chinese-American.
But let's go a little deeper. At one point, a character pulls out a snapshot of himself and the titular character; he can't really see Chan, whose image is obscured, but he can see himself. The point is, that's about all any of us CAN do -- we can't know others, so the best we can do, if we really try, is to know ourselves.
Finally, Chan is missing, and -- spoiler here, spoiler here, watch out, watch out -- Chan STAYS missing. To me, this a a powerful demonstration of the true, sad fact that often what we most want we cannot find -- and sometimes the person we desperately want to see again is exactly the one we will not.
This is the best depiction of cultural contact I have seen on film. The title points to several layers of meaning, some of which are missed by many viewers. Most obviously, this is a film about real Asian Americans, not the ersatz and offensive characters of the Charlie Chan films. That Chan is missing but not missed. At the same time, the film is a spoof of Charlie Chan films, with Jo the bumbling detective and Steve the number one son, in an outrageously profane update. Finally, the character in the film, Chan Hung, is missing, and his disappearance is symbolic of a passing that is to be mourned much more than the deservedly-forgotten Charlie Chan movies. Chan Hung is the original immigrant, who struggled to survive in his new country but could never shake his love of his original one. His missing image floats through the film like a lost soul, and adds poignance that helps to counterpoint the ribald comedy. Jo is the bridge, feeling Chan's loss, but fully rooted in America: an "ABC"--American Born Chinese. Steve is the impatient third generation, angry that the plight of the immigrants may overshadow the struggles that U.S.-born Asian Americans continue to face. The conclusion of the mystery is as inevitable as it is sad, but the spirit of the characters who inhabit this film is truly inspirational. One of a handful of films that define an essential part of the American experience.
These comments come as a counterpoint to the user review left some
years ago, an opinion with which I completely disagree.
I think this was a wonderful examination of the Chinese American character, at least in the eyes of a Mexican American (me). While the film addresses assimilation, as the previous reviewer expressed, that just scratches the surface of what it's telling you.
This film highlights the depth of cultural differences, the conflicts faced by immigrants or those of immigrant background. But these are not just grandiose, operatic conflicts; they are daily, constant, and felt in both the major and minor issues of life. They are confronted in matters of life and death or musical preferences.
This grand theme is presented in a lighthearted, often very funny, but subtly so, way. I found the storyline to be very interesting and exciting, not at all boring. It was a mystery, clues and leads leading to other leads or dead ends, interesting characters along the way. Yes, the search for Chan is secondary to the subtext, but it makes it no less entertaining.
Car crashes? No. Shootouts? No. Sex and violence? No. But the film gives the viewer an alternate view of what is real, and an alternate context for the evaluation. Is it real, or is it not unreal? To me, this is both extremely funny and a brain burner.
All this aside from the fact that this was a film made with seemingly real Chinese Americans, not big screen actors playing routine stereotypes. Look at Joe, and then listen to him speak, and see if it doesn't contradict some stereotypes burned into your head by Hollywood.
This is a very good film.
The documentary type directing and acting style is absolutely
brilliant! Wood Moy is stunning in his low-key naturalistic acting.
Almost all of the characters in the film make you believe that there is
no possible way they are not real people.
Yes, the framework of the amateur investigation of the mystery provides incremental revelation of a truly fascinating subculture world. In toto, it shows the position and perspective of many different personalities in this world and how they relate to one another.
Jo's cataloging of the various characters' opinions of the missing Chan illustrates how everyone's personal experience colors their perceptions. No innovative philosophies are interposed, yet the subtle notions we all have some inkling of are artfully insinuated upon our consciousness.
This is truly an art film in the best sense of the term.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Take a small, clever film, paste on adjectives like "whimsical,"
"charming," "endearing," "insightful," and you'll have a movie that
many will run away from in droves. For Chan Is Missing, that would be
too bad because they'd be missing something whimsical, charming,
endearing and insightful.
This was Wayne Wang's first feature movie, made with a $20,000 budget and shot in glorious 16-mm black and white. It's a detective story, sort of. Two cabbies in San Francisco's Chinatown, Jo (Wood Moy) and Steve (Marc Hayashi), discover Chan Hung is nowhere to be found. They had given him $4,000 to invest in a business deal. For the next few days they are going to try and track him down through Chinatown's alleys and side streets, the cheap hotels, the middle-class apartments, the sweating kitchens and the shops and the community halls. Jo is the older one, short and a bit heavy, quiet and thoughtful. Steve is young, hip and at times impatient. As they start looking and meeting people, we quickly realize that this is no real detection mystery. We wind up quickly liking the two cabbies, and liking everyone they meet. Before long, we even like what we hear about Chan.
The movie is really not about finding Chan Hung and the missing $4,000. It's all about Wayne Wang's attempt to look at issues of assimilation and identity among Chinese-Americans. He does this with a light hand. The discussion Jo and Steve have with a young lawyer who is trying to describe why her client is in trouble with the police -- because he answered questions in a Chinese way about a traffic accident -- is deadpan, totally confusing to Jo and Steve as well as us, and priceless. In a sweltering kitchen we meet a young short-order cook who wears a Saturday Night Live T-shirt, sings "fry me to the moon," and really dislikes having to keep turning out orders of sweet-and-sour pork. We meet Chan's wife and his friends who are interviewed usually by Jo. We learn some about those who like Taiwan and those who like mainland China. The "flag-waving incident" keeps coming up but no one really knows much about it. Everything is a series of encounters with people of all types in Chinatown, handled with warmth and observant interest. In my view, the film slows a bit at the end as Jo, who has been serving as our narrator, tries in his own way to sum up things. What we're left with is an intelligent and charming movie about how people from one strong culture move and live within another strong culture, and how most of them manage in both.
Did Jo and Steve ever find Chan and their $4,000? You'll have to watch the movie...but that's hardly the point of it, is it?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Chan Is Missing begins with the old American classic "Rock Around The
Clock", but here it's sung in Chinese. Be prepared to enter Chinatown
as you have never experienced it in this 1981 no-budget film from
director Wayne Wang.
Filmed in Black and White with a cast of unknowns, Chan Is Missing uses the genre template of a mystery film to take us to the edge of a much bigger and more difficult human mystery Your friendly guide will be Jo (Wood Moy), a shambling, world-weary, Chinese-American taxi driver who has decided to go into the taxi business with his younger nephew Steve (Marc Hayashi). Calling themselves the Wing On Cab Company, they figure by splitting shifts, with Jo taking days and Steve taking nights, they both stand to make some decent money.
However, in San Francisco, a special taxi licence is needed and they are hard to get. Chan Hung, a friend of Jo's from Taiwan knows where he can make a deal to sub-lease a taxi licence, but the deal is cash only.
So, Jo and Steve pool their resources and come up with the $4000 dollars needed and they give the cash to Chan who goes off to finalize the deal.
And that's that.
After two days go by without any word from Chan, Jo and Steve begin to get worried, apparently, Chan is missing.
They have no reason to suspect that Chan has stiffed them, but they do fear something may have happened to him. After all, Chan was relatively new to San Francisco. Their concern grows when they learn that Chan was involved in a fender-bender a short time ago and is also a no-show at his court appointment.
A quick stop at the cheap hotel Chan lived at yields no information except that Chan hasn't been there for several days and a strange woman has also been looking for him (there is always a strange woman in a mystery).
Jo thinks his friend Henry, a Chinese cook and restaurant owner might be able to help. Henry was a friend of Chan's back in China; in fact they studied aeronautical engineering together. But we gather that while Henry has been successful in America, Chan has faced disappointment.
As Henry explains it, Americans won't hire the Chinese as engineers, they only want them "to make spring rolls." Henry is contemptuous of the food he has to cook for Americans and can't understand the popularity of Sweet And Sour Pork Ribs when the sauce alone makes him nauseous.
And don't get him started on the tourists who order Won Ton Soup. He screams at his waiters to tell the Americans, "we don't have Won Ton Soup, tell them we have Won Ton spelled backwards, Not Now!"
Eventually, Jo and Steve learn that Chan may be linked to an infamous "flag-waving incident" in San Francisco's Chinatown. At a recent Chinese Pride Day Parade, two different groups, one that supports the Peoples Republic Of China and another that supports a Free Taiwan, clashed on the street and Chan photographed the incident.
Is his disappearance related to obscure Chinese Community politics? This clash also led to a notorious murder; is Chan involved with that?
A promising lead takes Jo to a Chinese Community Center where he talks with George who taught English to Chan. George explains how some immigrant Chinese don't want to assimilate in the USA and this causes problems because a lot of their Chinese customs don't work over here.
But the real problem comes from those who DO want to assimilate into white America as quickly as possible; the biggest problem being, obviously, they are not white. George tries to teach these people to retain the best things from Chinese culture and adapt them to the best things in American culture.
Eventually, Jo tracks down the strange woman and it turns out to be Chan's wife, this is a surprise, as Jo did not know that Chan had a family. Yet, shortly after this meeting, Chan's daughter calls up Jo and Steve and returns their $4000 with apologies from Chan for not coming through with the taxi licence.
Although Steve is happy to get the money back, Jo is even more confused. So are we. By this point, we have become very curious about who Chan is. But, no more so than Jo. After all, Chan was supposedly his friend and now after trying to find him, Jo has to conclude that he never really knew Chan at all.
Also, Jo has not turned out to be a particularly good detective. At one point someone says to him, "Your nobodies concept of a Charlie Chan." Jo realizes this and muses to himself at one point, "If this were a TV movie, an important clue would pop up now and clarify everything." But that never happens.
Over the course of the film, Chan is described variously as being: honest, paranoid, a genius, an idiot, sly, slow-witted, a failure, patriotic, "too Chinese" and it was noted by several people that he was especially fond of mariachi music. What we are left with at the end is Chan, the enigma.
At the end of the film, Jo looks at a photograph of himself and Chan that was taken long before this Chan going missing business. Both men are standing outside a restaurant in Chinatown and Jo is poised in the sun and he is smiling, but Chan is standing in the shadows of a doorway, his features barely visible making Chan more of an enigma now than he was ever before.
I was thoroughly enchanted by Chan Is Missing and I think you will be too.
This early Wayne Wang feature is made on a small budget and reflects it in many ways, both good and bad. It is totally original. The beginning is completely captivating as we follow the two cabbies' search for the missing Chan. But, the pacing and cinema verite style both become clumsy and tedious before we're halfway through. The cabbies are fun to watch, and there is an interesting twist in the end to reward those who can stay awake that long. I'd recommend his next movie, Dim Sum, much higher than Chan is Missing. Both provide marvelous views of Chinese San Francisco.
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