Diversity rules for the second week in a row as an Asian-American family again is at the center of a major studio release. However Sony’s Searching, which stars Jon Cho as a desperate dad trying to uncover the mystery of why his 16-year old daughter has gone missing, could not be more different from director Jon M. Chu’s hit comedy Crazy Rich Asians except that they both feature contemporary stories of modern Asian-American family life.
The biggest distinction for Searching (winner of this year’s Sundance Film Festival Audience Award) is that it could be cast with any ethnicity, and that is a big plus for Hollywood’s move toward real diversity. As I say in my video review above, the other significant thing is that the film, directed by Indian helmer Aneesh Changanty and co-written by him and Sev Ohanian, is a highly inventive suspense thriller that takes place entirely in laptops, iPhones and devices that consume our daily lives. Similar in style to some past found-footage and horror films, this is one where the gimmick of setting the action in the center of our Google world genuinely works for all 100-plus minutes, and even after adjusting to its unusual hook makes you forget the gimmick entirely after a while.
Chaganty uses the possibilities and storytelling innovations within this format to great effect right from the start as we see the Kim family’s history unfold in a series of emails, texts, Facetime conversations, photos, home movies, births, celebrations and health crises — all played out for us in the heart of modern technology we now take for granted. By the time the actual story kicks in, we know everything about them, have been to the memorial for wife and mother Pam (Sara Sohn) and seen young Margot (Michelle La) grow up through four different ages (and actresses). She and dad David (Cho) are left to fend for themselves, and life seems to be getting back to some level of normality when suddenly Margot goes missing. There doesn’t seem to be any easy explanation as startling facts emerge that seem wholly out of character for the teen girl.
Increasingly angry, frustrated and desperate, David contacts the police where a missing persons detective (Debra Messing) is on the case and helps him in his frantic search for his daughter and the truth of her disappearance. To say more plot-wise would be to spoil the twists and turns this film takes in hurtling to its conclusion. Suffice to say that Chaganty uses every angle within the net, social media, computers and video to let this all play out in what seems like real time. It is urgent, exciting, edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting stuff in what might turn out to be 2018’s greatest suspense thriller. And to think the filmmaking is all at our fingertips!
Much of the credit for its success also goes to the fact that this is all laid out as a very relatable human story. Cho plays an everyman — a good- hearted and dedicated dad we instantly can recognize — and it is that gut -wrenching experience he is going through that has us with him all the way. Best known as Lt. Sulu in the Star Trek reboots, Cho likely is the first Asian American actor to take a lead in a mainstream studio movie in this genre, and he succeeds brilliantly. Messing, best known for her comedic abilities on Will and Grace, has a nice change-of-pace role as the compassionate but by-the-book detective. The production techniques never cease to astonish on what is clearly a low budget, with a special shout-out to film editors Will Merrick and Nick Johnson’s exceptional cutting. Producers are Timur Bekmambetov, Natalie Qasabian, Adam Sidman and Ohanian. Sony’s Screen Gems releases the Stage 6 production Friday in limited runs to build word-of-mouth before going wide on August 31.
Do you plan to see Searching? Let us know what you think.