The visual style of young Taiwanese director Huang Xi’s debut film, Missing Johnny, bears resemblance to the once-prominent New Wave movement established by his countrymen Hou Hsiao-hsien (who’s credited as executive producer here) and Tsai Ming-Liang, with long takes and beguilingly subtle pans that explore space and give a sense of the characters’ experience of alienation and dislocation in a bustling modern Taipei. The same can’t be said for Huang’s writing, which tends to spell out its themes in the most leaden of ways, as when loner foreman Feng (Lawrence Ko) pontificates, to the romantically frustrated Hsu (Taiwanese-Lebanese model Rima Zeidan, who won Best New Performer at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards last year), that “this is what happens when people are too close…they forget how to love each other.”
Even worse, Huang’s writing — and the vagueness of a plot that threads Feng’s and Hsu’s narrative with the barely connected story of an autistic boy named Lee (Yuan Huang) — relies on so many dubiously undeveloped metaphors, including a series of mysterious recurring phone calls that ask for a man (“Johnny”) who may or may not exist, that even the lush cinematography starts to feel a bit ponderous and empty. There’s about a 10-minute stretch near the beginning of Missing Johnny that makes for a terrific self-contained short film: an adorable Caique parrot escapes, a recapture plan is hatched, and there are some ravishing soft-focus shots of an opulent red roof. Ultimately, though, that sequence doesn’t really have much bearing on the rest of Huang’s diffuse and uninvolving film.
Published as part of New York Asian Film Festival 2018 | Dispatch 2.