By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
Oh my God, John Cho should be in every movie because I would ruin my life by doing nothing besides watching movies all day, every day.
“Searching” is a multi-dimensional drama-thriller with twists and turns that seriously kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time — and I’m the sort of person that checks my phone a gazillion times during the typical film because I get bored easily!
“Searching” stars Cho as David Kim, a widowed father whose teenage daughter, Margot (Michelle La), suddenly goes missing. David calls the police as his worst fears play out in his head — and Cho is just amazingly convincing and affecting in this role. Detective Vick (Debra Messing) helps David piece together the disparate parts of his daughter’s life via her social media accounts. (This film tells its entire story through digital screens — through FaceTime, text messages, instant messages, video clips, photos, and more.)
As David uncovers more and more about his daughter’s hidden life through her social media channels, he starts to question whether or not he really knew his daughter at all. He also appears to lose his grip on reality as his actions are driven by such grief. In these moments, the viewer starts to wonder if he is still helping or if he is hindering the police investigation into his daughter’s disappearance.
What I really appreciated about “Searching” is that the storytelling quickly surpassed the novelty of the narrative vehicle. Watching a movie told purely over digital screens never felt contrived or forced or impersonal. In fact, there were moments that just gutted.
In the opening sequences, the viewer gets a montage introducing us to the Kim family through their home videos. We meet David, his wife, Pamela (Sara Sohn), and we also watch Margot grow up from a baby to a young adult. “Searching” immediately feels intimate — even before we watch Pamela’s health degrade from cancer, even before we watch David and Margot grapple with the loss of her.
The movie sets up the stakes really quickly and sells us on the years-deep relationships that these characters have together, which is a testament to the writing and also to the skill of the actors. I believed that David loved his wife, and I felt how her absence weighed on him. I saw the way this loss affected David and Margot’s relationship and how they communicate with each other. I also never questioned this man’s devotion to his daughter as he searched for her.
Besides Cho, La, and Sohn, “Searching” also features Korean American actor Joseph Lee as Cho’s character’s brother. They have good chemistry together and offer up some of the movie’s lighter, laugh-out-loud moments — you know — before everything goes crazy and Margot disappears!
So, it’s actually pretty nuts that the majority of the main characters in this movie are Korean American, yet the discussion around the Asian American casting of this movie is notably a lot quieter than the buzz around “Crazy Rich Asians.”
“Searching” is actually really cute and clever in low-key owning its Korean Americanness. There’s not ever a moment that blares out THESE ARE ASIAN PEOPLE LOOK AT THEM, but this film also doesn’t feel distractingly and inauthentically color-blind either. The perfect middle area is a difficult and subtle note to hit, but “Searching” does a great job of inserting cultural identity here and there without making it feel contrived or in service of like, a white audience. (Notably, “Searching” was written and directed by Indian American Aneesh Chaganty.)
We’ve seen John Cho, the actor, grow and evolve, from cool-guy high school-aged cipher in “Better Luck Tomorrow” to socially awkward stoner in the “Harold & Kumar” movies to Hikaru Sulu in the “Star Trek” series to this role in “Searching,” where he plays a father.
In the past, Cho has talked about being a Korean American actor and the racism he has contended with throughout his career. He seems like a person who is deliberate and careful about the roles he chooses — going for “Harold & Kumar” because it pushed against model minority stereotypes, refusing to do an Asian accent early on in his career when all he had access to were bit parts, and being the first Asian American to play a romantic lead on a U.S. TV series (“Selfie,” on ABC).
It’s honestly so cool to watch Cho arrive at “Searching.” He carries this movie by himself because he is its main protagonist. This movie is so good because he is so compelling to watch.
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.