Hsu Zi-qi has just moved into a new apartment. She opts for a more simplistic life by dedicating herself to the pet parrots she raises, as well as losing herself in her job. These actions help her forget her past and, in particular, her romantic desires. After helping her rescue one of her birds, a handyman named Feng catches the woman’s interest. Hsu starts following the handyman while he completes his duties, and the two connect on a more personal level as they discuss their troubled pasts and current problems.

Missing Johnny is screening at the 17th New York Asian Film Festival

Underscoring the difficulties Hsu faces as a woman trying to find herself, “Finding Johnny” also explores the lives of the family that owns the building. With each member of the family dealing with their own daily pressures, they struggle to keep the family unit happy. By taking a grounded approach to the struggles of its subjects, “Finding Johnny” captures these moments in a unique style.

The most prominent artistic choice in “Finding Johnny” comes within the structure of the story. The narrative is driven by short vignettes of the character’s interactions, intended to convey daily struggles. There is no deep sense of tragedy or profound character defining moments. The characters themselves could easily be neighbors, just going through their daily life and facing struggles that you would expect all families to go through. This means, of storytelling, while creating a sense of realism, requires a fair amount of patience to get through. Any plot synopsis of this film seems rather forced, including my own attempt, as this is really just about the small moments accumulating into a broader picture of the character’s moment in life. The movie gives the impression that what transpires is not even necessarily an important moment in the protagonists’ life. Although some deeper conclusions are drawn, if you were to look at the direction people are heading in life, even within their own daily narrative, these moments might just be a side note in their life story. This creative choice is something that needs to be embraced in order to enjoy the movie.

The visual style, like the script, is pretty minimalist and although complementary to the film’s subject matter, it won’t leave a strong impression. The score is also rather muted, with there only being a few scenes where I noted that there was one. However, when I did take note, it seemed fitting and did a good job of highlighting more poignant moments.

With most of the technical aspects being rather subdued, I feel that the film needed some strong performances in order to quell up some interest in the subject matter. Thankfully, Rima Zeidan gives an exceptional performance as Hsu Zi-Qi, that did win her the “Golden Horse Award for Best New Performer”. She really nails the role and brings a sincerity to her character which some debuting actors seem to struggle with. Lawrence Ko, who plays handyman Feng, also gives a memorable performance. The interaction between the two actors is a real highlight, and the biggest take away from the production. Consequently, the interactions between the family that owns the building become rather tedious, despite the fact that they are still well acted and contain a few touching moments. These scenes act as more of a distraction from the romantic narrative. Given the film’s runtime and subtle approach to drama, these family sequences ultimately drag down the production.

Missing Johnny, is an endearing story of finding love during moments of transition. The script succeeds in creating sincere and realistic interactions between its stars, by keeping the dialogue simple. The performances from Rima Zeidan and Lawrence Ko just add to a great foundation. The production seems to embody the “Slice of Life” genre, by giving glimpses into a certain period of the characters’ life while not giving a complex narrative or a strong sense of conflict. The naturalistic approach to this drama is both its strongest and weakest point. “Missing Johnny” serves as a rewarding experience for those who embrace the formula and appreciate a more methodical pace.

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