Movie Metropolis

Kock Lorber Films/Courtesy

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Wayne Wang's "Chan Is Missing" (1982) begins as a gritty detective story set in San Francisco's Chinatown district, following the exploits of two cab drivers as they traverse the city in search of a man who owes them $4,000.

The film's strong sense of time and place allows viewers to immerse themselves in its universe. Shot in low-budget 16mm black-and-white, the film has the look and feel of a city symphony. Montages of familiar Chinatown street signs and landmarks in are juxtaposed with lively, diegetic pop music, immersing the viewer within the film's evocative urban setting.

Along with familiar heavyweights like Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo," Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation," Peter Yates' "Bullitt" and David Fincher's "Zodiac," "Chan Is Missing" affirms San Francisco as one of the great movie metropolises. From bustling street markets to deserted alleyways, Wang's feel for the city is at once irresistible and infectious.

By occasionally embedding the camera within a first-person point of view, "Chan Is Missing" offers a tour of metropolitan San Francisco through both the protagonists' eyes and our own. A scene shot from the interior of Jo's taxicab offers a glimpse of the Stockton Street tunnel; the Transamerica Pyramid features prominently in several cityscapes; a key conversation between Jo and Steve takes place beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

Through fleeting images of familiar structures, the film evokes both the intimate and the universal, capturing a culture keenly attuned to the beats and rhythms of modern life.

David Liu is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact him at [email protected]

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