Chan Is Missing

Chan Is Missing ★★★★★

There are moments in this film that feel like Hitchcock. There are moments that feel like Carol Reed. There are moments that feel like Jacques Tourneur. These are not things you usually say about lo-fi independent films in the vein of early Jim Jarmusch (though, since this came out two years before Stranger Than Paradise, perhaps I should say Jarmusch's films are in the vein of Wayne Wang), but the genius of this film is recalling films so tightly constructed as Vertigo, The Third Man, or Out of the Past in service of a film that's so loose and at times feels improvised.

The ghost that hangs over this film most dourly, though, is Charlie Chan. From the title to the timing of the production (it was made in San Francisco's Chinatown after a grassroots organization forced production of 1981's Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen, starring notable Chinese actor Peter Ustinov, to move), Charlie Chan is the emblem of perception Wang chooses to focus on. Many people compare Jo to Charlie Chan, and Steve even calls himself Number One Son at one point. But the mystery isn't as neat as what we're used to seeing in a Charlie Chan film. The real mystery here is whether there's even really a mystery. As Jo says, the difficulty is that if we trust what we see and hear, we, instead of learning the truth, know even less than what we thought we know.

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