Well worth watching and probably buying
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 12/14/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"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?
The movie is grainy and looks just the way it was supposed to. There are three extras of interest. The first is a "Making of..." featurette, followed by two on-camera interviews with Wood Moy and Marc Hayashi filmed more than 20 years after the release of the movie. The film uses subtitles when Cantonese is spoken."
First Feature Film From Wayne Wang
L. Shirley | fountain valley, ca United States | 04/12/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Fans of Wayne Wang's "Smoke" and Indie fans alike, will surely want to check out his first feature "Chan Is Missing" A charming black and white, set in San Francisco Chinatown of the 80's. The story revolves around two Chinese-American men who have turned over $4,000.00 to a friend who has promised to help set them up in the cabbie business. When the friend turns up missing(as well as the cash), they search the city trying to find him. Becoming amateur sleuths, trying to unravel the mysterious surroundings of his disappearance, the film takes on a new meaning for the title "Chan Is Missing". A story within a story of the Chinese-American community, old and new generations, trying to find it's place in modern day America. Integrating old customs with new ways of living,overcoming the differences of even the various Chinese cultures in the city, and often finding that even in language, ideas get lost in translation. You may even see shades of the wonderful "Flower Drum Song" here. As one of the characters puts it: We used to be considered "FOB"(Fresh off the boat), now they come on jumbo jets.
The film is a quiet study of the journey taken by the two main characters, a nice tour through Chinatown, and is done with good humor as the main character sometimes sees himself as a modern day Charlie Chan following the clues to finding his friend.It is filled with interesting and real characters. The black and white, full frame filming gives that old time detective movie feeling. The DVD(Koch/Lorber) is not the sharpest I have seen of film transfers of the 80's, but a nice view, and has some nice features. Interviews with the stars and a making of feature. The DVD lists Cantonese and English as the language, but if you are looking for it to be mostly Cantonese, it is not. There is not even a Cantonese language track option. It is mostly English, and the few scenes with Cantonese dialogue do have optional English subtitles. The film is not rated but does have some strong language.
I enjoyed the film and the performances by Wood Moy and Marc Hayashi and the choice of music used to accompany their journey as well.A fine first feature film from Director Wang, and nice black and white cinematography from Michael Chin, but probably not one you will want to spend the big bucks on they are charging for this DVD, as it may not stand up to repeated viewings. Rent it, watch it a couple of times. You may find something in the 2nd view you did not catch in the first. The film runs about 80 minutes, a perfect length to tell this charmer.
Enjoy the film....Laurie"
One of my favorite Chinese films
PristineAngie_dot_com | NYC | 07/03/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Jo and Steve are two friends in Chinatown San Francisco, attempting to get to the bottom of the mysterious disappearance of their colleague Chan Hung. Initially, they are motivated by a sum of money Chan owes them, so they track down leads that they think might help them determine what happened to Chan. In an entertaining inversion of the traditional detective mystery, where the hero gets closer to the answer, each lead in Chan Is Missing multiplies the possibility of where the missing man could be, drawing the two farther away from solving the mystery.
The movie is shot in grainy b/w, simultaneously (perhaps intentionally) possessing qualities of a documentary, art house, and film noir. Wood Moy is the patient elderly "detective" and Marc Hayashi is his assimilated sidekick. It was breathtaking to see an actual Chinese man finally stepping into the shoes of that other "Chinese American" detective embedded in the conscience of mystery movie fans. The missing of that Chan is a welcomed breath of fresh air.
Based on the Chinese movies I have seen so far, this is definitely at the top of the list. I say this because it possesses what I have always regarded as a Chinese (and Japanese, based on my experiences) quality: to impart a piece of information to you without directly telling you that information.
For example, in a Chinese riddle Jo relays to Steve, a girl is trapped by an evil man who forces her to chose one of two doors. He tells her that one door leads to his bed chambers, and the other leads to freedom. Realizing both doors led to his bed chambers, the girl opted for the best choice and pointed to one of the doors, stating, "that door does not lead to the outside."
This oblique form of communication draws as much from what is unsaid as what is said. For me, this film was instructive, reaffirming, and empowering in it's ability to show that each and every Asian person has a multitude of untold stories: it set up one Chinese individual, inviting us- the viewer - to be enlisted in helping solve the mystery. In doing so, it teases out our presumptions about who this Chinese person Chan was. One lead after another, I found my presumptions were null and my perception of Chan Hung expanding along with those of the two amateur detectives.
One of the leads tells them "when looking into the puddle of water, he told me the only person who could fix him was that person in the puddle."
This holographic clue puts the ball in the mystery solver's court.
Some of the best written mysteries are really a journey of self-discovery. By the end of the story, we know more about the person trying to solve the case than the reasons behind the crime.
I don't want to give the story away, so I'll just say this: In many interactions between Asians and non-Asians (and sometimes assimilated Asian Americans), you will often see the crime in Chan is Missing re-enacted. And when you do, you have the ability to find Chan, discover the culprit, and solve the mystery on the spot.
(The dvd version comes with interviews with Wood Moy and Marc Hayashi and several other people involved in production. From these interviews, one can find a nice window into the creative community among the Asian Americans in the San Francisco area. Peter Wang, who plays the cynical cook, is a director and writer in real life. Peter Feng has an insightful analysis about Chan is Missing in his excellent book "Identities In Motion." )
Chan wasn't missing.
Bruce Swanson | Los Angeles, CA | 02/12/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"After 25 years I saw this pearl again, catching something I missed the first time: the whole point of the movie. Jo was right when he said of himself, "I'm no Charlie Chan." But the mystery of why Chan Hung hides just out of earshot remains. The movie has aged, but still tantalizes."