Sunday, October 6, 2013

Chan is Missing

I watched Chan is Missing for the first time in years. The full movie is available on YouTube. I'll have to buy the DVD now to make up for watching it there. Made for $22,000 in 1982, although I don't know if they spent twenty-two thousand actual dollars or if that included deferred payments to cast and crew.

Directed by Wayne Wang. A couple of cab drivers in San Francisco's Chinatown search for Chan who disappeared with their money after they paid him to operate their own taxi. Has he left the US? There's talk about the struggle between the pro-Taiwan and pro-Communist Chinese in the US and a murder committed by an elderly man over the conflict.

Filmed in black and white, 16mm. With a song in Chinese sung to the tune of "Rock Around the Clock" in the opening credits.

Voice-over narration held it all together. The fact that everything didn't have to be clarified through dialog gave it greater realism.

Makes me think of what Gore Vidal wrote in Myra Breckenridge:
“Without precise notation and interpretation there is only chaos. Essentially, each of us is nothing but a flux of sensations and impressions that sort themselves out as a result of the most strict analysis and precise formulation, as Robbe-Grillet has proposed but not accomplished (his efforts to revive the novel as an art form are as ineffective as his attempts to destroy the art of film are successful)."
It is perhaps fitting that I would quote an unrelated novel in a discussion of Chan is Missing. As one character, a woman studying "the legal implications of cross-cultural misunderstanding" explains, "most Chinese speakers...try to relate points or events or objects that they feel are pertinent to the situation that may not to anyone else seem directly relevant at the time."

They talk to another man who tells a story about musician who woke up with a neurological disorder that rendered him incapable of performing. He was making the point that they should look to themselves to try to locate Chan.

They had a lot of extras with scenes filmed in restaurants and a community center.

The movie was better than I remembered, a little worse in some ways. There were things I would have done differently, which means that I would have loused it up. I watched the review on YouTube that Siskel and Ebert did at the time and they liked the things that bothered me.

Wayne Wang had worked with Rick Schmidt, co-directing a feature before this, A Man, a Woman and a Killer.. Wang is mentioned several times in Schmidt's book, Feature Filmmaking at Used Car Prices.

A beautiful film. The first commercially successful extreme low budget movie I knew about, predating Stranger Than Paradise by a couple of years. Chan is Missing had a lower budget.

I don't know what the movie would have looked like if it had been made today, how much it was shaped by the fact that it was shot on film. How much would digital video have changed it?

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