Chan Is Missing Blog Post
Chan is Missing is a 1982 film directed, written, and produced by Wayne Wang. Wang has since directed both independent and mainstream films, including Dim Sum : A Little Bit of Heart (1985), The Joy Luck Club (1993), Smoke (1995), and Maid in Manhattan (2002). It was one of the first major American films to portray Chinese-Americans realistically, using many non-actors and often blurring the lines between documentary and narrative film. The cast of the film is entirely Asian-American. Like several of the early independent Asian American films we watched in class, Chan is Missing was filmed in black and white using 16 mm film and a low budget of $20,000. In 1995, it was selected as a “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” film by the Library of Congress.
Chan is Missing portrays a Chinatown not seen in any of our previous films. In contrast to Flower Drum Song’s shiny Chinatown populated by the upper middle class and earlier films’ foreboding, crime-filled Chinatowns, the Chinatown in Chan is Missing is a real place populated by realistic characters. Jo’s quest for Chan turns into a search for the elusive Asian-American identity, as he hears the perspectives of the various denizens of San Francisco’s Chinatown on what it means to be both a Chinese and an American. Neither quest gets completely resolved by the end of the film. The film deals with topics covered in previous films, such as assimilation and identity, and several topics we haven’t discussed yet, such as the divide between immigrants from different regions from China and politics.
However, the topics in Chan is Missing that we’ve seen already in other films get a new spin. The issue of assimilation is a major topic in both Flower Drum Song and Chan is Missing, yet they approach assimilation from two different perspectives. Flower Drum Song portrays the “Chinese American” as a mix of the two cultures, Chinese and American, whereas Chan is Missing shows that “Chinese Americans” are not really a mix, but more of an entirely different entity created from the two cultures. Chan is Missing gives a voice to Chinese Americans through a film directed and written by a Chinese American, one step further than putting words in a Chinese American mouth, as we saw in Flower Drum Song.
Sophie Wang and Amy Ruskin
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