Chan is Missing asks a central question concerning Asian American identity—whether there is one, and to what extent assimilation plays a part in constructing it. This film was very accessible to me in its discussion of race because it portrayed the tension between wanting to retain Chinese culture exclusively or assimilate completely.
For instance, while a film like Flower Drum Song (1961) extols becoming fully American, Chan is Missing presents a more complicated picture; one that certainly relates to my own experience about wanting to retain the “good things” from my Chinese culture and using American culture to enhance my individual life. Director Wayne Wang’s solution to this mystery is precisely that everything is so contradictory despite what most of the film’s characters consider as fact. When Jo sets out to better understand who Chan Hung is, he is met with a myriad of perspectives about Chan and about Asian American identity—and throughout the film it seems that Jo is struggling to figure out if and where these perspectives intersect, both for Chan and his own sake.
Personally my opinion was swayed as each new perspective was introduced because I related to them in different ways. Perhaps most salient to me was the generational conflict between the “Chinatown politics” argument (“If they don’t want to recognize us, they will not recognize us”) versus Steve’s insistence that trying to find an Asian American identity was old news. It made me question whether identity was a group or individual finding, and whether it is fair to choose between the two in forming an Asian American identity that is profoundly shaped by both of its components.
Company Credits (via IMDb.com):
Production Company & Distributor / New Yorker Films