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Chan Is Missing (1982)
Chan Is Missing is a 1982 film directed by Wayne Wang, which tells the story of two taxi drivers searching the streets of San Francisco's Chinatown for the man who ran off with their money. It stars Wood Moy, Marc Hayashi and Laureen Chew. The movie was written by Isaac Cronin and Wayne Wang, directed by Wang and dedicated to Wong Cheen (or Wong Ch'ien or Hwang Qian). It is one of the first major American film productions in which Chinese Americans are portrayed in a realistic fashion, using many non-actors, in contrast with other films in which Chinese and Chinese Americans are portrayed in predictable and limited roles based on stereotypes. The movie is considered a seminal work of Asian American Cinema. The song playing at the beginning of the movie is by Sam Hui. Its Mandarin Chinese name is Jia Jia Re Chao. 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 living at the margins of contemporary American society.
There's a story here, but barely. Two Chinese San Francisco cab drivers (Wood Moy and Marc Hayashi) discover their friend, Chan Hung, is, well, missing. This probably wouldn't bother them much, as humans go, they're a pretty disaffected pair. But Chan has $4,000 of theirs, and he's vanished under suspicious circumstances, revolving around something called 'the flag-waving incident,' which we sort of understand but don't really care about.
That's because, like many of Wang's indie movies, this is a story about people and their environments. Chan's cabbies -- one an older, traditional Chinese man, one a youngster with high hair and a Saturday Night Fever swagger -- are what we in San Francisco would call 'characters,' the kind of locals that you see on every corner, each an original that's come from a now-broken mold. Moy and Hayashi visit Chinatown back allies and steamy take-out kitchens in search of information about Chan, but what develops isn't a mystery, but rather a look at the city from the inside out. This isn't Fodor's, folks.
Ultimately, Chan remains missing and the movie ultimately feels a little thin. Locals like myself will probably find it eye-opening to see that in a quarter century the city has barely changed at all. Outsiders will probably want to hop on a flight to get here for some dim sum.
The DVD includes a retrospective interview with the two leads.