After an incredibly successful debut at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, Searching, starring John Cho, Michelle La, Debra Messing and more, was picked up by Sony Pictures for a worldwide release. The thriller is the feature debut for director Aneesh Chaganty, who co-wrote the script with Sev Ohanian (also a producer alongside Adam Sidman and Natalie Qasabian) and previously worked at Google Creative Lab in New York city where he developed, wrote and directed Google commercials for two years.
Rather than a traditional press junket, the team of Searching decided to go for a more unconventional approach in Hong Kong with an exclusive press conference at this year's RISE Conference – a move which completely makes sense considering the digital thriller addresses many of the ethical issues surrounding technology and social media and the fact that it is told primarily through computer screens.
"We like to describe it as a very classic thriller told in an extremely unconventional way. The classic part about it, is that it’s about a dad, played by John [Cho], whose 16 year old daughter, played by Michelle [La], goes missing. The extremely unconventional part about it is that the whole movie takes place on the technology devices that we use every day to communicate. It’s told on smartphones, it’s told on laptops, it’s told on computer screens. Basically any single screen that we use to communicate as David Kim, played by John Cho, breaks into this daughter’s laptop to look for clues to find her. So that’s basically the plot of the movie" explained director and co-writer Aneesh Chaganty.
The film provides a stark picture of how we're increasingly being immersed into and becoming reliant on a digital world with little knowledge or awareness on the digital trail we leave behind or the potential dangers we face. It sees the main characters using the exact same computer many of us use everyday, visiting YouTube and posting on Twitter with the cursor directing and pointing us through the movie.
The issues explored in Searching hit a lot closer to home than a lot of us are comfortable with. For John Cho, "[The film] has made me think more about [my own kids] and social media accounts. Furthermore, the sounds of a computer booting up have an emotional connotation for me that I wasn't even aware of. That's part of the excitement of the film, aside from the story, it's just opening up a new vocabulary of storytelling. The pause in the cursor carries a weight that I wasn't aware of."
Aside from its entertainment value as a cutting-edge thriller, the story addresses the very real and current state of the complex and co-dependent relationship many of us have with social media as well as the secrets and lives that we're living in the virtual world. Many of the conversations we have today are increasingly taking place over Whatsapp and Instagram instead of face-to-face interactions or via the phone and the way in which Searching manages to accurately represent this and dramatise these conversations is an incredible feat for filmmaking.
Searching also marks a sense of personal achievement for Cho as an Asia-American actor. "It was unexpectedly moving for me to see a lovely family that looked like mine portrayed on an American screen. That was a big deal with me and remains a big deal for me and it’s a part of the achievement of this film and I thank these guys for writing with this for me in mind," said Cho.
Searching will be on screens starting from August 2018.