Wood Moy from “Chan is Missing” Passed Away

Wayne Wang discusses a scene with Wood Moy (Jo),Peter Wang (Henry) and Marc Hayashi (Steve) . Photo by Nancy Wong, 1981.
Wayne Wang discusses a scene with Wood Moy (Jo),Peter Wang (Henry) and Marc Hayashi (Steve) . Photo by Nancy Wong, 1981.

The actor best known for playing a lead role in Wayne Wang’s Chan is Missing has passed away. Wood Moy began his career in entertainment in theatre and was the first to join playwright Frank Chin’s Asian American Theatre Training Program at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco.

Moy plays Jo, a cab driver, in Chan is Missing. The film, which premiered in San Francisco at the precursor to CAAMFest in 1982, is considered the first independent Asian American feature film to receive wide distribution and acclaim. It is included in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry for being “”culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” The film was shot on location in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

Moy passed away earlier this month on November 8, 2017 at 99 years-old.

“Wood’s contribution to that film was so important,” said Stephen Gong, the Center for Asian American Media’s Executive Director, who was a program officer at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) when the NEA funded the film. Gong is interviewed in one of the videos on the DVD version of the film. “It needed to have that connection to the previous generation. He was an older actor, but he was cool.”

The film’s impact has been lasting. Oliver Wang, Professor of Sociology at CSU-Long Beach and creator of the Chasing Chan website, was first introduced to the film in an Asian American film and video course taught by Spencer Nakasako a UC Berkeley. “Moy was very much a product of the Asian American theater movement of the 1970s that was part and parcel of the general Asian American Movement and its attempts to create a sense of Asian American cultural sensibilities without much precedent or tradition to be able to draw upon,” Wang notes. “It’s precisely why Chan Is Missing remains the most important Asian American film ever made: perhaps it didn’t feel so weighted at the time but Wayne, Moy and company were creating a definitive statement about what Asian American culture could look, sound and feel like. It’s an astounding achievement to think about, even 35 years later. Wood Moy brought a real humanizing touch to his role, one imbued with emotional complexity but also a light humorous touch. Moy was more of the straight man compared to the antics of Marc Hayashi’s character but together, they made for an ideal odd couple.”

Moy was one of only a handful of Asian American actors in the film; the rest were non-professionals. Gong notes that Moy’s performance in the film made it fun, delightful and yet poignant. “He delivers both in character and also making us aware of the conceptual nature of the film.” Moy also does the majority of the voiceover narration in the film. “His voice is carried throughout the film and he really ties it all together.”

CAAM is working with director Wang on a project with the support of an National Endowment for the Arts grant.