Monday, February 4, 2008

Look in the Puddle

The detective genre, in print or film, presumes that a careful reading of available clues will always solve the mystery. And, finding the answer(s) is usually a matter of asking the right questions. So, when the movie appeared to unfold according to standard conventions for the genre, I presumed Jo would find Chan—or at least an explanation for his disappearance. It wasn’t until the film’s end, when no definite, easy answer was provided, that I had to reconsider for myself “the evidence” that the movie presented.

One idea in particular stuck with me (even before I read Feng’s analysis; 204-5): the suggestion that one finds answers about identity by “looking in a puddle.” No one will ever truly know Chan Hung’s identity as he himself sees it. Rather, Jo’s view of who Chan Hung is reveals more about Jo than it does about Chan Hung. And likewise with all the other characters in the film who think they know the real Chan Hung. What they saw in him was shaped by their own values, expectations, anxieties, etc.

I do not completely agree, however, with Feng’s conclusion that the other characters see Chan Hung simply “as something to get beyond, or rather as something to avoid” (204). At times, particularly in the beginning of the film, he represents more than “all insecurities” about being Chinese in America. At certain moments, Chan is also a “space” into which some of the characters project their desires for adventure and a little drama beyond the workaday world. For example, some are captivated by the idea that he is involved in political intrigue. None of the characters really wants this life for themselves, but through Chan they can indulge in a bit of fantasy. Likewise, for those characters who emigrated from China. The idea that Chan has gone back—either temporarily to retrieve an inheritance or permanently because he’s “failed” to assimilate to U.S. culture—could represent repressed desires that they sometimes feel to return to their former home. Perhaps through Chan they can briefly indulge a nostalgia that they fear others might judge them for, just as they themselves judge Chan. One thing was clear: the cast of characters that Jo meets each expresses his or her sense of what it means to be Chinese American/Asian American in different ways. Although Jo covers a much more limited geographic terrain than Tajima-Pena, he too finds people do not fit into easy categories.

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