A screenlife Asian-American story

In 2015, the release of Unfriended (Levan Gabriadze, 2014) had forever changed the world of genre cinema. Timur Bekmambetov started the concept of Screenlife filmmaking, which is basically a movie taking place on a computer screen from start to finish. It’s a very unique form of cinematic storytelling that requires a lot of hard work from both the cast and crew on set. In a world where the digital age has proven itself to be a valuable era in terms of culture and society, I’m inspired to finally write about Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching (2018). Starring John Cho, the premise revolves around a single father, David, who’s looking for his missing daughter, Margot (Michelle La), through clues found on her laptop. As he continues to investigate, he uncovers some secrets that will forever change his life. The film also utilizes the Screenlife format in order to talk about particular issues, such as depression and immigrant identity crisis. 

Searching means a lot to me. It’s not only one of the best films of 2018, but I also find it highly influential. As a Korean-Canadian myself, it’s very inspiring to see an Asian-American star in a Hollywood thriller. It’s not only incredible to see a movie take place on a computer screen throughout, but it’s also an important movie to the Asian community. Being fed up with a constant bombardment of stereotypes — which is why we have never been taken seriously in the industry — I’ve always been an advocate of wanting to see more Asian-American lead actors in Hollywood. 2018 was a life-changing year in terms of Asian-American films, such as Crazy Rich Asians (Jon M. Chu) and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (Susan Johnson). In an interview with Variety, Chaganty stated in regards to the casting, “… the thing that I’m most proud of is, we just told a good story, and these characters happen to be Asian-American — they happen to be Korean American — and in doing so, I think we are hopefully moving the conversation forward in a way that says, ‘You don’t have to justify anyone’s skin color to be in a thriller, to be in an action movie, to be in a mystery.’ Let the story tell itself, and the people in it should hopefully just reflect everybody who lives in this country.” (Carras 14) It’s commendable that the filmmakers went with this route because it promotes more diversity and representation in Hollywood. John Cho has experienced racism throughout his career and wants to take on roles that don’t perpetuate Asian stereotypes. It’s rare for Asian-Americans to be cast as leads nowadays, especially in thrillers and dramas. We’re starting to get more attention with films such as Minari (Lee Isaac Chung, 2020) and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Destin Daniel Cretton, 2021), which is great. We still have to do better. 

As mentioned earlier, Searching is indeed part of the Screenlife genre. Through this technique, we get a proper glimpse at what it’s like to be a teenager in the 21st century. David realizes the harsh reality that his daughter was not the person he always thought she was. We see him using apps like Facebook, Instagram, FaceTime, and iMessage, which sadly shows that social media is the only form of communication he has with Margot. She’s been feeling depressed as a high school student, but her father never seemed to notice she was going through emotional pain. John Cho initially declined to star in the movie, but he eventually changed his mind after discussing it again with the director. While being interviewed by Cinemablend, he said, “The problem was that Aneesh and I spoke over the phone. We spoke through a technological device, and we didn’t really connect. But he said, ‘I’m not going to take no for an answer.’ We sat down, we met face-to-face, eye-to-eye, and that’s when I saw the person I wanted to work with, and that’s when he convinced me.” (Eisenberg 5) This just proves that technology isn’t always a helpful tool. It’s actually quite flawed, because sometimes we need our interactions with our friends and family to be face-to-face. We can never take them for granted. It’s wonderful that our society has been having technological advancements lately, but the film proves we should always be there for our loved ones instead of just relying on telecommunications all the time. We shouldn’t constantly depend on the internet to make our lives better. 

Searching is a necessary watch for viewers to understand what it’s like to live in a digital age. This is one of those features that genuinely left a huge impact on my life in terms of Asian-American representation and visual storytelling in cinema. Screenlife showcases the fact that it’s not only an intriguing gimmick, but also a way to tell unique stories through different perspectives. 

Works Cited

Carras, Christi. “‘Searching’ Director on Asian-American Representation: ‘It’s Quantity That Ends Up Solving These Issues.’” Variety, Variety, 22 Aug. 2018, https://variety.com/2018/film/news/searching-aneesh-chaganty-john-cho-1202914327/. 

Eisenberg, Eric. “John Cho Actually Turned Down Searching When He First Got The Script.” CINEMABLEND, Cinemablend, 1 Aug. 2018, https://www.cinemablend.com/news/2454966/john-cho-actually-turned-down-searching-when-he-first-got-the-script.