In a tender bonding moment in Xi Huang’s atmospheric Taiwanese drama Missing Johnny one of the central characters states “I feel when people are too close they forget how to love each other.” It is a line that perfectly encapsulates the fractured relationships that flow throughout the film.
Similar to the works of Hou Hsiao-hsien, the famed director serves as executive producer here, the film places emphasis on tone over plot. Xi’s debut film does not reach the heights of Hsiao-hsien works, but it does show glimpses of potential.
Missing Johnny follows three individuals whose lives intersect as they each attempt to deal with their own troubles. The most interesting of the trio is Hsu (Rima Zeidan) a yoga teacher who works at a hostel. Caring more for her numerous birds than her out-of-town boyfriend, Hsu’s life choices weigh heavy on her. When one bird goes missing, she enlists the help of construction worker Feng (Lawrence Ko) and Lee (Yuan Huang), the son of Hsu’s landlord who has autism, to help her track it down.
Over the course of the film, bonds of friendship are formed as each slowly begin to confront the emotional pain and guilt that in their lives.
While the framework for an interesting character study is there, the methodical pacing does a disservice to the already thin plot. By time the drama finally ramps up, one has lost interest in both the characters and the titular “Johnny”. The latter of which is an unseen individual, and running gag, whose family and friends constantly calls Hsu’s phone in error inquiring about him. Despite showing signs of life in spurts, Missing Johnny never reaches the potential it teases us with.