Missing Johnny : Longing love in an Urban Jungle
While it is incredibly hard to find love, it is even harder to sustain it in the chaos of an urban city. The directorial debut of Taiwanese filmmaker, Huang Xi , who worked for years under one of Taiwan’s foremost directors, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Missing Johnny is a mood piece, unfolding the story of three individuals living amidst the chaos of the urban jungle of Taipei.
These three souls, all connected to one apartment, cross each other’s paths in the pursuit of finding love and happiness. Hsu Zi-qi, the female protagonist, who raises parrots in her apartment and works at a backpacker hostel, keeps getting wrong phone calls for someone named Johnny. Calls from Johnny’s family, his friends, colleagues wishing him a happy birthday but she has no idea who that is. Her character is refreshingly written to a believable reality of an urban young woman, who easily switches between English, Mandarin, and Cantonese depending on the situation and only dresses in a Western outfit. Lee, the autistic son of Hsu’s landlady, reads old newspapers every day and wanders around. Handyman Feng, who works odd jobs around the apartment, feels disheartened and frustrated when his beloved car breaks down. These three lives intertwine when one of Hsu’s parrots escapes one day. Johnny is missing, but he’s hardly the only one lost in the urban jungle of Taipei.
Although it seems that the title of the film is a McGuffin with no clear objective other than to advance the story for the viewers but it cleverly serves a dual function as a reminder for the protagonist to slow down, acting as an interruption from the frustrations and loneliness. Set in the rush of the city, Missing Johnny urges to breathe and stand still against the speed of the metros, the bridges covered by a sea of cars, the constant noise of new homes being built and new faces moving into the city.
With Lee floating in and out of the picture at very well judged intervals, trying to navigate his life away from his overly protective mother, shy guy Feng and the more outgoing Hsu begin to talk. The longing of love and lack of happiness in their individual lives, bring these two strangers closer to each other in an intimate ‘less said, more felt’ kind of way. Not exactly romantic, these sweet moments are edited into a narrative that slowly and very surely informs viewers of emotional issues both are facing.Feng shares a brotherly bond with his childhood friend Hao and his father takes a fatherly figure in Feng’s life, giving him solace in their home in Taipei. However, in an heated argument, it is revealed that Hao’s own relationship with his cranky old father is not very functional, which brings a considerable emotional heaviness to the story. It is clear that in Huang’s multi-layered screenplay, the message boils down to love and ties that debilitate over time, if not taken care of.