Chan Is Missing (1982) Poster

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Terrific independent film, from a time when that word meant something
whitesheik1 February 2006
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.
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Brilliant Film: A True Classic
thsieh_8318 March 2002
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.
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A great American film
alampls6 July 2007
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.
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an inspiring debut feature
siv00924 October 2000
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.
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what movies can and should be
jep83113 September 2004
Warning: 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.
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A great joy to discover a new gem
scottydawg8 July 2009
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.
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A wonderful character study
Marc-Andrew20 September 2009
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.
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Well worth watching and probably buying. On its own terms it's charming
Terrell-422 February 2008
Warning: 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?
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Nice set-up, but ultimately disappointing
aromatic-25 November 2001
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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Best San Francisco movie ever?
laursene16 December 2004
I saw Chan Is Missing when it first came out, about four years after moving from San Francisco to New York. Maybe it was the perspective of a few years away, but this movie seemed to capture the essence of the city and its people better than anything else I'd ever seen (still does). It concentrates on one particular community - the Chinese - but that's fine, because so much of the city's soul is refracted through the settings, the faces, and the maybe above all the voices of the characters.

This isn't the tourists' San Francisco. The settings are humble and everyday: a taxi cab, the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant, Richmond District row houses, little Chinatown apartments and small-business offices, the piers, a Philippine elder center. This is what the city looks and feels like day to day to the people who live there - even now, in the era of Silicon Gulch urban redevelopment. Unlike, say, Dirty Harry (in its own way an excellent San Francisco movie as well), everything is filmed at street level: We come to understand the characters' points of view from the perspective their surroundings give them, not from some fancy vertiginous shooting.

Wang apparently filmed in B&W because he didn't have the money to do otherwise, yet one of the strongest visual elements of the movie is the natural light he achieves. The often harsh, pervasive quality of the sunlight is one of my closest associations with San Francisco: It seems to expose everything, bringing the buildings, the hills, the other landmarks down in scale and, in a funny way, making the people you pass on the streets seem more individual and potentially closer to you than they might in another place. Wang's photography perfectly conveys this, and even helps the story along at points.

Wang captures the speech and conversational style of Chinese and other San Franciscans better than anyone ever has, I think. If there's such thing as a true San Francisco "accent," it's what you hear from the balding taxi medallion broker (I think) who appears talking on the phone in one scene (listen to the way he calls the person on the other end "ya dingaling!").

The story is poignant and, despite a few very small missteps, makes its points beautifully about the longings that pull at the hearts of people living in old immigrant communities - including the justified political and ethnic resentments, and little ironic amusements, that help to fuel them. All this is communicated delicately - perhaps why some respondents here think the film meanders. It doesn't - suffice it to say that the two cab drivers' quest for Chan becomes a quest for something more personal.

Chan Is Missing finishes up with a Chinatown travelogue sequence backed by a goofy novelty song from the 1930s (I guess) about San Francisco and all its crazy diversity. An American caricature, yes, but somehow not entirely off the mark either.
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Surprisingly Enjoyable Mystery, Despite Low Budget. Wood Moy Is Terrific!
Michael McGonigle18 August 2009
Warning: 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.
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Looking for Chan...
higherall723 June 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Here is a film like a Zen koan. Made for $20,000.00 dollars, it is obvious that the director Wayne Wang chose to focus on thematic content rather than be overly concerned about production values. This is a thoughtful and amusing story about a couple of cabbies who fork over $4,000.00 in cash to Chan Hung to go into business for themselves, and then spend the rest of the film looking for him. The more they search for him, the more we find ourselves entering upon a kaleidoscopic journey through the Chinese American community. We find everyone we meet reflecting Chan in some form or fashion without encountering Chan himself.

The whole affair moves like a mystery of some kind. Wood May plays the older cabbie Jo and Marc Hayashi plays Steve. You could almost say they are a cinema verite' version of Charlie Chan and his number one son. But then we would be missing the point. After all, Chan is missing. What we have in his place is a vacuum filled with meditations about assimilation and the best things that the American and Chinese cultures have to offer each other. We see all this in terms of the unusual characters that are presented to us.

Once again there is a Film Noir feel to this piece as Jo and Steve move about Chinatown talking to Chinese locals who may know Chan or have seen him. CHAN IS MISSING proved to be both a critical and commercial success, especially considering its low budget beginnings. Jo and Steve piece together clues that tantalize and lead to dead ends, seem to be getting nearer to Chan and possibly flirting with foul play or real danger of some kind to themselves or their missing business associate. People call in the middle of the night and Chan's wife seeks an audience with them. But despite all this, the air of mystery surrounding Chan's disappearance never seems to completely dissipate.

The upshot reveals the Chinese and Chinese American people in that space that Chan has left for Jo and Steve to explore. There is no real guile to this, just a chain of interesting encounters that fans out visually across the spectrum that is the Chinese American people. The more Jo and Steve focus on Chan, the more our point of view expands to include more than just Chan and any stereotypical impressions we might have about Asian people garnered from the movies and television. The people we meet in CHAN IS MISSING seem realer than that. That is the triumph of CHAN IS MISSING. We go looking for him and find all his people holding up a mirror to us.

Finally viewing the Chinese and Chinese American people without preconceived notions and finding them peering back at us without any masks we marvel with Jo and Steve. Could it be that Chan is nowhere to be found? Should we find Chan at this point would it add anything more to our discovery?

One of the things I'll never forget is when Jo and Steve meet with Chan's daughter as she returns to them their money. She tosses off a line to them that makes her seem like a Chinese American trying to sound like a Caucasian American attempting to talk like an African American. These scene said worlds about assimilation in a diverse American society and was a novel experience of insight.
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They Call It Whimsical
gavin69426 January 2017
Two cabbies search San Francisco's Chinatown for a mysterious character who has disappeared with their $4000. Their quest leads them on a humorous, if mundane, journey which illuminates the many problems experienced by Chinese-Americans trying to assimilate into contemporary American society.

It is widely recognized as the first Asian-American feature narrative film to gain both theatrical distribution and critical acclaim outside of the Asian American community. And come to think of it, this seems right -- where are all the "Asian" films? We have plenty of kung fu imports, but where are the home-grown efforts? Where is the Asian equivalent of a "blaxploitation" subgenre? Anyway, this is a fun film that blends mystery, comedy and social commentary. I haven't had the pleasure to go to San Francisco or its Chinatown, but films like this make it all the more appealing.
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no story
worleythom1 August 2014
Warning: Spoilers
If you expect a movie to tell a story, to develop characters, to have actions, and their motivations, look elsewhere. If you're content to listen to bits of conversation between people you haven't been introduced to, who don't like each other much, who can't figure out what their lives are about, try this movie.

Near the end of the film, the guy who's been looking for the missing person all film says, not only he doesn't know what happened to him, he doesn't know who he is.

At one point the searcher and his partner receive a few thousand dollars that, we presume, somehow came from the missing person. We don't know why the money arrives, nor why the guy doesn't show up.

If you want a missing person who just stays missing, whom no one seems to know much, look here for it.

Or, if this is all you want, why see a movie? There's plenty similar "just life" going on everywhere, just as pointless.
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