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  • Writer's pictureLauren

The APAHM Project 2021 Day 19: Chan is Missing

Film: Chan is Missing

Directed by: Wayne Wang

Release: 1982

Where to Watch: YouTube

Why it Made the List:

Credited as being the first Asian American Indie Film and first Asian American feature, narrative film with a theatrical release with critical acclaim outside of an AAPI audience. Wayne Wang would go on to direct "The Joy Luck Club," "Smoke," "Maid in Manhattan," "Because of Winn-Dixie," and "Last Holiday."

My Thoughts:

Although the film is only 80 minutes long, I had to watch the film in segments. Seeing that "Chan is Missing" is a mystery-esque film, you can understand how watching this in pieces can cause a lot of disconnect.

"Chan is Missing" gets its title from Charlie Chan, a fictitious Hawaiian detective. Obviously as the title suggests, Chan isn't in this movie. Instead, it stars American Born Chinese (ABC) Jo (Wood Moy) and his nephew Steve (Marc Hayashi) in San Fransisco Chinatown who are wanting to establish their own taxi service. Needing a taxi license and a payment of $4,000, Jo had previously given the money to Chan Hung as a middle man, but Chan.....wait for it.....goes missing, and with him, the $4,000. More so out of concern or curiosity, Jo and Steve go around Chinatown, asking all sorts of people, about Chan's whereabouts.

The plot of the film is pretty straight forward. As Jo and Steve go on their quest, you get to see Chinatown through their eyes. To some, Chan was a mariachi music lover., to others, he's a political activist. To his wife, he's a failure and to his daughter, he is honest. Through each witness, we see more and more of the people who live in this community. In fact, each witness speaks as if they are an expert on a particular topic and are filmed almost in an interview style.

Jo and Steve emphasize that they are ABC quite a few times in the film. Chan is from Taiwan and recently immigrated. The duality of being an immigrant and being born in America was a common theme throughout. 2 prominent scenes really highlighted this. The first was when Jo is speaking to Henry, who notes that even though Jo is an ABC, he is still seen as a foreigner. Jo says that may be true, but we still have to fight. Amused by his optimistic spirit, Henry replies that millions of Chinese have been in America for over 100 years and "if they don't recognize us, they don't want to recognize us and they won't recognize us."

The second is when Jo goes to speak with George, who runs a newcomer language center. George says Chan was a student and that his problem was the same as a a lot of immigrants' problem: "He came here and he wants to continue to be Chinese. Everything. Thinking, doing things and all that and of course presents a problem. Another extreme is you have some people who come here and immediately want to assimilate like the rest of white America. That also presents a problem. They're not white. And I think the way we need to deal with it is to be Chinese American. To take the good things from our background and also trying to take the good things from this country to enhance our lives."

Both quotes speak to the idea that as Asians, no matter if we are born in America, immigrate to America, or are the poster child for an All-American, we will always be seen as the "other". I think George's latter part of this quote makes the excellent point as to why being Asian-American is such a unique perspective and that is we get to be a part of both our home and the home in which our families came from.

As the film continues, there is simply no luck finding Chan. Steve is getting frustrated because he is concerned about his money. Jo insists that it must be difficult for Chan, having been so successful in Taiwan and then to not be able to get a job in the States. Furthermore, Jo claims it is hard enough to find your identity as an ABC, imagine how hard it is as an immigrant. Eventually, Chan's daughter returns the $4,000 to the men and the search is called off. Jo holds up a photo of him and Chan standing next to a Buddha statue, but Chan is in the shadow, making it impossible to see his face. This suggests that all the stories Jo heard were not just about Chan, but all of the Asians in Chinatown.

Woody Moy and Marc Hayashi were both active and long-time members of the Asian American Theatre Company in San Francisco. Moy, a WWII veteran, and his brother-in-law also started "East Wind Printing", a 1940s magazine that spoke about the Chinese American experience. It was treat to hear Hayashi as a fast-speaking, young American and hearing Moy narrate the film made me smile. I wish he was in more project so I could see more of his work as an actor.

In Conclusion:

In the 1995, the film was preserved in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for its significant cultural impact. I think it was progressive for the film to cover such important and nuanced themes, which also included People's Republic of China, language barriers, and the American immigrant success story. I think I would have to agree with one of the reviews I read in that it seems Wang's film is geared towards a non-Asian audience. And I think that whoever Wang intended this film to be for, it still does an excellent job in telling our story as immigrants and ABCs.

Stop Hate and Donate:

**A Reminder! I will be matching donations from this blog post based upon the number of likes it gets! Share this post and tell your friends to like this post!**

Today’s donation link is for providing free non-lethal tools for AAPI elders and women in San Fransisco and the Bay Area. Tsz Chun (Marcus) Chung, Bruce Lou, and Tzulun (Dexter) Mai are three young men who are hoping to provide such tools to their community. Click here to donate to the GoFundMe page.

If You Liked This, You Might Like:

The Joy Luck Club available to Rent or Buy (that's 2 years in a row it hasn't been available for streaming during APAHM)

The Flower Drum Song on Pluto TV

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