“Usually, the missing or abducted girl is a flat character who gets just a handful of lines, at best. Thankfully, Searching has other ideas.”
Title: Searching (2018)
Director: Aneesh Chaganty 👨🏽🇺🇸
Writers: Aneesh Chaganty 👨🏽🇺🇸 and Sev Ohanian 👨🏽🇺🇸
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
Searching is an impressive feat, especially considering the youth of its director, Aneesh Chaganty, at 27 years old. This experimental movie could have easily slipped into the realm of mediocrity, thanks to a high-minded concept that would prove tricky for any director to execute. Luckily for us, veteran John Cho—in lead role as desperate father David Kim—anchors Searching with a steady hand. The wrinkle of his forehead or the tense line of his shoulders, captured through grainy security cam footage and fisheye FaceTime distortion, elicits the deepest sympathies from Cho's rapt audience. Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian have created a technical script that leads its viewers by the hand through twists and turns with surgical intent. But it’s Cho, Debra Messing as Detective Vick, and Cho’s onscreen family of the Kims who convert the precision into human drama.
As memorable as the cerebral conceit is, however, it’s a double-edged sword. By revealing its story entirely through the invisible glass of technology, Searching never manages to truly break through at the gut level. It stirs the emotions, yes. I have the tear-soaked sleeve cuffs to prove it. But I never felt the catharsis I wanted. Trapped behind the film’s self-aware toolbars and security camera timestamps, David felt both entirely vulnerable yet impossibly unreachable. Perhaps a metaphor for how little we can ever truly “know” each other? Probably. But an intimate, visceral film, this was not.
By premise alone, Searching reads like a formulaic thriller where a golden hearted father strikes off on a lonely (and stoic, and macho) journey to save his innocent daughter. In these films, whether it’s Liam Neeson in the Taken series or Jackie Chan in The Foreigner (2017), to any number of titles listed under this Hostage MacGuffin trope, the missing or abducted girl is usually a flat character who gets just a handful of lines, at best.
Thankfully, Searching has other ideas. While it's true that David remains the runaway protagonist of this film, his daughter Margot (Michelle La) haunts the the narrative from start to finish. David anxiously unearths his daughter’s secrets with the fearful trepidation of a man who has everything to lose, peeling back Margot’s many layers with every password gate he circumvents or breaks.
Still, Margot could be read as a symbol—a prize for David to recapture, or a clichéd view of women as otherworldly creatures, omniscient and unknowable. (Women are from Venus, right?) Enter Detective Vick, who is anything but a symbol. Rather, she rolls in the trenches with David as they partner up to investigate Margot’s disappearance, both of them chipping away at either ends of the mystery. Vick is both strong and flawed; she’s an impressive woman with a resume full of commendations, yet she has the same parental blind spots as David does—loving your child so much that your actions can appear demented to the outer world. Vick and David swap stories of what it means to raise a child you can never fully understand, and the humanization Messing brings to her character makes for a solid showing on gender inclusion, especially for a film that refurbishes the classically testosterone-driven plotline of recovering a missing or abducted young woman.
GradeMyMovie.com Assessment: 84% of key cast and crew members were POC.
Searching represents the future of American storytelling, with both behind-camera and onscreen talent hailing from a variety of backgrounds. While the writers are both California natives, Chaganty's parents immigrated from Andhra Pradesh, India, and Ohanian is Armenian American. Onscreen, Korean American Cho and the actresses who make up Margot’s character—Alex Jayne Go at 5 years, Megan Liu at 7 years, Kya Dawn Lau at 9 years, and Michelle La at 15 years—show up en force. Throw in flashbacks of David’s wife, Pamela (Sara Sohn) and recurring scenes with David’s brother, Peter (Joseph Lee), and you have an easy coup in this category by sheer breadth alone.
Even beyond strong numbers and the authenticity of having Korean diaspora actors playing Korean American characters, Cho commands such overwhelming screen time that it rebuts the laughable, industry excuse that Asians are not “expressive enough” to feature in American movies. With titles like Searching or Crazy Rich Asians (2018) in the world, gatekeepers really have no justification.
Mediaversity Grade: A- 4.50/5
This virtuosic movie with its compelling concept should be on your watch list by technical merit alone. The fact that it breaks ground on Asian American representation, and does so while bringing women along with it? Let’s get this movie a #GoldOpen when it goes to wide release on August 31! 🎟🎟🎟