A while back, I was channel surfing when I came upon a show featuring a plump Chinese American detective and his ten kids. It was called the Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan, a Hanna-Barbera cartoon remake of the Charlie Chan mysteries, which appeared back in the 40's. At the time, I was unaware of the controversy these earlier mysteries had generated (perhaps of further exploration in regards to early cinematic representation of Asian Americans); the cartoon was ridiculous, sure, but it made sure not to tackle any deep racial issues regarding the characters. The characters rarely, if ever, asked themselves how they fit into the mold of being Chinese American. And this of course made sense for a TV Y cartoon.Chan's ten kids would work together to piece together the clues to a mystery and for the last five minutes, he would conclude by narrating the thief's identity, motive, and plan.
Watching "Chan is Missing" made me think of this cartoon again; George referenced Charlie Chan, when he playfully mocked Jo's detective skills. In a way there is some parallel. No, the film does not focus on jewel thieves, but rather on the issue of a man's identity (an issue the cartoon made certain to avoid). But Jo, on his quest to find an answer, does depend on different individuals- much like the cartoon detective depends on his children. Perhaps the main point that derails this parallel lies in the question, does Jo know more about Chan Hung than when he started? See, the cartoon mysteries were all cut and dry; the children put together elementary clues to solve who took random artifact #4. The intangible concept of identity is much harder to wrap up in an answer. Jo surely knew more "facts" about Chan, but how many of these facts were valid representations of Chan's identity? Was Jo's view of Chan as a friend more accurate than Steve's view of him as a deadbeat? Could these two views coexist? It seems to me that identity is not only something we create, but perhaps something cast upon us by others. We are how we relate.
Each character revealed parts of their own identity when talking about Chan. Even Steve, with his disgust on the question, uses this disdain as a fundamental part of his identity in relation to the audience. The thing is, it is hard to tell if any of the personalities shown here on screen can fully define the characters. Jo realizes this with his supposedly clear cut search for money- there is no two-dimensional definition applicable to identity.Maybe I'm taking too literal or simple a meaning from the shadow cast on Chan in the picture; it is as though Chan could be anyone in the audience (not just limited to Asian Americans). His hidden face not only represents the audience's inability to piece a comprehensive identity for him, but also allows them to see him as a mold- a reflective example of any hidden personality. Everyone's social identity is complex. The most resonant part of the movie for me, occurs around 1:10 when he concedes that he knows less about Chan than he did initially. This paralleled my own preconceptions I had coming in; these preconceptions fell apart.