Monday, February 4, 2008

Chan is Missing

Wayne Wong clearly crafted this film with the intention of exploring the problematics of Asian American identity. Although I find his methods a bit contrived, they still clearly communicate the difficulties of assuming to “know” Asian American as a definable construct. Even at outset of the film, we listen to the female lawyer chattering on about the “legal implications of cross-cultural misunderstanding” while Jo and Steve emit looks that convert from disbelief and amusement to boredom and exasperation—she is no more helpful in defining Chinese American identity than she is in helping them locating Chan’s whereabouts. Shortly after at the Manilatown Senior Center, Wong further confuses our expectations of who Chan is or what he might look like by pausing on face shots of several members, particularly old men which presumably might look like Chan. Several times the phrase “those Chinese” is used by Steve and Mr. Lee to emphasize the otherness of FOBs, leaving me to wonder what lies inside this enormous chasm between their own hyphenated identities and “them.”

In his essay, Feng cites Harper’s critique that postmodern theory “effaces markers of social marginality” and “political contingency” and therefore we must take care not to read Chan is Missing as part of a postmodern project. On the contrary, I think that no attentive viewer would be in danger of falling into this trap because the subjectivities of the characters are positioned and reinforced within the bounds of a broadly defined Asian and Asian American political and cultural context. The various theories of Chan’s whereabouts reflect anxieties that are not so concerned with the instability and self-reflexivity of the postmodern condition but rather of the “Asian in America” condition. The film also aptly addresses “political contingencies” (i.e. the China/Taiwan conflict) and “markers of social marginality” (i.e. Henry’s discussion of Asians being the “perpetual foreigner”).

Finally, in a film which explores the conditional and flexible meanings between the words Asian and American, I find it appropriate that the most important elements of this movie—the discussing, the ruminating, the positing—occur in the spaces between the actual act of searching for Chan, who never appears or is located as a single, physical entity. Instead, Jo and Steve find him throughout the various individuals they inquire, incorporeal and fragmented, scattered among the negative spaces of his varied re-creations.

No comments: