Chan Is Missing is set in the city of San Francisco’s Chinatown of the modern days. Chan Is Missing is a mixture of laid images, pictures, and close-up camera shots, many viewed through the front windshield of a cab, which moves through the streets of Chinatown in search of a missing person. A number of unrelated images appear throughout the film: aged-Asian males and females shuffling along the sidewalk; young Asian-American children holding their parents’ hands waiting for a bus; Kung-Fu warrior posters outside movie houses; Chinese and Italian restaurants; smoked chickens hanging in cafe windows; signs in Chinese; a Christmas-decorated Buddha with flashing lights; and so on. This paper, by referring to the themes and characters presented in Wang’s Chan Is Missing, illustrates how this film defies popular stereotypes about Asians and Asian-Americans.
Joe and Steve set out to find the missing Chan. Steve wants to go to the police, but Joe resists. Their journey brings them in contact with four clues and over twelve persons who know, or knew Chan. Although he is never found, by the end of the film the $4,000 is delivered to Joe and Steve by Mr Chan’s teenage daughter Jenny.
The film offers a virtual dictionary of contemporary Asian-American identities, challenging numerous stereotypes about these people. The first bias that is defied is a notion that all Chinese look, behave, and act exactly the same. The film portrays numerous and dissimilar images of the Asians living in America: Chinese cooks who wear ‘Samurai Night Fever’ T-Shirts and sing ‘Fry Me to the Moon’; Kung-Fu warriors; China dolls; Chinese scholars with hot tubs and their Lo Fong girlfriends; jade-faced rich old men; young Asian males with the Gentleman’s Quarterly (GQ) look; two-faced schizophrenic Chinamen; Oakland Hill Wah; Ho Chi Minh look-alikes; young Asian males who eat US certified food, cows’ ears and mushrooms from Des Moines, Iowa; young Asian males wearing baseball caps.
These multiple images add up to one conclusion – there is no single Asian-American identity. The film is trying to show that Chinese identity is very complex and difficult to understand. The irony is in the fact that there is no Chan who can be missing, for every Chan (Asian-American) has an identity, even the three Chans, as Joe notes, who everyday appear on the missing person’s list in the Police Department.