Quality film news, reviews and features
24th August 2009 06:00:00
Posted by Noel Megahey

Chan is Missing

Capsule Review
Wayne Wang’s 1982 debut feature, like much of his early work, is concerned with the experience of Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants in America. Where better to examine questions of culture and identity than in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and for that matter, what better way of expressing it in such a place than through the crime noir genre?

Chan, as you will have probably gathered from the title, is missing. This creates something of a problem and some degree of concern for his business partner, Joe (Wood Moy), who has started a taxi service in the Chinatown district with him. Together with his jive-talking friend Steve (Marc Hayashi), they try to find out where Chan Hung has disappeared to, questioning family and friends, visiting his old haunts, restaurants and apartment, but the more they find out about Chan, the more it seems they never really knew him. Has he migrated back to China? This wouldn’t seem to fit with his personality, but who could tell with Chan? To some he acts like a FOB, fresh of the boat, likely to get inadvertently into trouble with the cops over a minor failure of communication. Others however think Chan might have been involved in a New Year’s Day flag-waving incident clash between Taiwanese and People’s Republic of China marchers. The discovery of a gun and the existence of a mysterious woman suggest Chan may indeed be involved in something dangerous.

Wang’s debut feature has the same sense of allegory with regard to the Chinese question as his Chinese Box, and in fact works even better than his feature about the handover of Hong King to China, delving into the complex nature of Chinese identity particularly as it applies to US migrants and finding a meaningful way to express it as a noir to which there is no answer, while at the same time sending up the “Charlie Chan” image of migrants. Looking like it was shot on zero budget, filming almost semi-documentary style, what it lacks in polish it makes up for with a strong script, some good natural authentic performances and evocative location shooting, getting a sense of local flavour in the Chinatown streets, restaurant and hotel locations, spicing it up with slice-of-life anecdotes, characters and stories that are reminiscent of his later work on Smoke and Blue in the Face.

The Disc: Drakes Avenue’s release of Chan is Missing is a barebones affair, but the transfer, presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, is at least in excellent shape. Filmed on 16mm black-and-white, it’s inevitably rough and a little grainy in places, but has undoubtedly been fully restored and comes across here on a clean print with no marks or damage whatsoever. Relatively short and on a barebones disc, the single-layer DVD is more than adequate for there to be no compression issues. The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track is also fairly clear, though there are no subtitles for the English dialogue. Some lines of spoken Cantonese have fixed white-font English subtitles. There are no extra features.