Jo and Steve (Chan is Missing)
Created by Wayne Wang

"I'm no Charlie Chan."
-- Jo confesses

Not exactly a P.I. film, but the spirit is certainly willing.

JO and STEVE are a pair of mismatched Chinese-American cabbies who make like private eyes, hitting the streets of San Francisco (most notably Chinatown) in search of the enigmatic Chan Hong, the man who ripped them off for four grand, in the 1982 indie cult favourite Chan is Missing.

But the search for Chan among Chinatown's shops, bars, transient hotels, restaurants, back rooms and politician's offices, soon takes a metaphorical hop, evolving from a simple detective story set against an affectionate and loving look at a particular sub-culture into a Quixotic search for meaning and identity, spread out over multiple generations, as it applies to the Chinese-American community.

Expanding upon the theme, this good-humored film also serves as a gentle spoof of the Charlie Chan B-flicks, for many a still-divisive symbol of the entire Chinese-American immigrant experience. With the older, middle-aged, American-born Jo taking on the role of the supposedly wiser detective and the younger, impatient Steve, a third-generation immigrant, stepping into the shoes of "the number one son," their search for the elusive Chan Hong, a recent immigrant from China still caught between his old and new worlds, becomes particularly significant.

As does Chan's name itself, which adds an extra layer of meaning to the film's double-barrelled title.

There's something downbeat and noirish in the conclusion, but the film is also cautiously optimistic. And the questions raised along the way ultimately reach far beyond the culture it seeks to explore, and become universally relevant.

Namely, when do we cease to be what we were and when do we become what we are? Or can we somehow, be both?

Chan is Missing was acclaimed director Wayne Wang's first feature movie, made with a $20,000 budget and shot in glorious 16-mm black and white, but it's still got the power to move people. No, as I said before, it's not a P.I. film, per se, but anyone not afraid to go down their own mean streets will enjoy it.


  • "You guys are looking for Mr. Chan. Why don't you look in the puddle?"


  • "What it does do and does masterfully is to re-create the detective genre with razor sharp dialogue inspired by the pulp magazines of yesteryear and the voice-over narration from P.I fiction. It's a fusion that could have easily failed or bordered on parody, but it avoids such pitfalls thanks to Wang's skillful direction of his cast and mise en scene."
    Gustavo Martinez, The Thrilling Detective Web Site

  • "The conclusion of the mystery is as inevitable as it is sad, but the spirit of the characters who inhabit this film is truly inspirational. One of a handful of films that define an essential part of the American experience."
    alampls, IMDB

  • "At one point, a character pulls out a snapshot of himself and the titular character; he can't really see Chan, whose image is obscured, but he can see himself. The point is, that's about all any of us CAN do -- we can't know others, so the best we can do, if we really try, is to know ourselves... a powerful demonstration of the true, sad fact that often what we most want we cannot find -- and sometimes the person we desperately want to see again is exactly the one we will not.
    -- jep831, IMDB


  • CHAN IS MISSING.. Buy this DVD
    (1982, New Yorker Films/Wayne Wang Productions)
    80 minutes
    Black & white
    Written by Wayne Wang and Isaac Cronin
    Directed by Wayne Wang
    Produced by
    Wayne Wang
    Wood Moy as JO
    and Marc Hayashi as
    Also starring Laureen Chew, Peter Wang, Presco Tabios, Frankie Alarcon, Judi Nihei, Ellen Yeung , George Woo, Emily Woo Yamasaki, Virginia Cerenio, Roy Chan, Leong Pui Chee


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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