To the surprise of practically every box office predictor on the internet, Sony’s new internet-based thriller Searching raked in an impressive $6m three day weekend after expanding to over 1000 locations. The film opened strong at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and had a staggering $43k per theatre average in its first week from only nine cinemas. Audiences love it, according to CinemaScore, and critics are well in its corner with a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes as of the writing of this piece. In a month where Crazy Rich Asians continues to dominate the box office, Searching offers a resounding ‘Yes’ as answers to many Hollywood conundrums: Can you successfully make a web-based story or was Unfriended a fluke? Is there still an audience for low-budget thrillers and crime movies outside of T.V. and Netflix? Is John Cho a bona fide leading man?
Yes. Yes he is.
The review at the AV Club noted how Searching gave Cho ‘a too-rare chance to hold the screen on his own, and he makes such a natural, empathetic everyman that the movie may well provoke frustration that he hasn’t had more of these opportunities.’ The Verge celebrated his ‘strong performance, capturing the denial, grief, and anger David experiences as the situation with his daughter becomes increasingly more dire.’ Even the New York Times played up the joy the film gives in ‘watching a typically underused Mr. Cho take on a meaty lead role’. Throughout many of these reviews, there’s a shared sense of satisfaction in seeing a film let Cho, oft described as the first Asian actor to take on the lead in a Hollywood thriller, truly sink his teeth into a substantial role. It’s about damn time, after all.
We here at Pajiba have long been fans of John Cho. Just check out his appearance in the illustrious Pajiba 10 for this year, a repeat performance after storming into the 2017 list. We’ve written up our many praises and screamed into the wind for too damn long over the entertainment industry’s seeming unwillingness to embrace his endlessly appealing on-screen presence. After years of bit parts, Cho broke through in comedy roles like Harold and Kumar and the American Pie series, appeared in many television series that were cancelled far too early, became our generation’s Sulu, and then became something of a symbol for fandom culture. Now, it’s clear that the powers that be have no excuse for not elevating Cho to the upper echelons of stardom and actor clout.
Cho isn’t just a great actor and screen favourite to so many fans: He’s a stand-in for a particular idea of Hollywood’s failings. Check out any fan casting on Tumblr and the chances are you’ll see Cho appear as frequently as Idris Elba. You’re reimagining a classic story with a new cast? Why not bring in John Cho? He can do everything: Comedy, drama, historical, sci-fi, horror, the works! Sure, make John Cho Mr. Darcy, you know he would be perfect for it. Personally, I’ve been mounting a one-woman campaign to have him as the front-runner for the lead in the inevitable live-action adaptation of Cowboy Bebop for a solid year now.
Come on, you totally see it too, right?
I’ve also seen fan-castings for Cho as Newt Scamander and James Bond, as well as the face of many a rom-com pitch. The appeal of Cho has always partly been in that seemingly endless potential he has, and how fans have latched onto that in opposition to an industry allergic to change.
Mostly, Cho is a fan casting favourite because it offers people the chance to give him the roles denied of him by the entertainment world. It’s an endless reminder of how wasted he has been in minor parts, or maligned in ones that should have been star makers. It’s an imaginative tool that allows us to see a 40-something Asian-American actor in the kind of roles producers would never perceive as anything but the denizen of buff white men. Hollywood too often reduces Asian men to sexless comic relief or unintelligible stereotypes to mock and fear. Actors like Cho aren’t given anywhere near the same level of opportunities to be the love interest, the concerned dad, the go-getter boss, when compared to any of our much-loved Chrises.
That’s one of the reasons Searching is so exciting. It’s a great concept and a great leading role that John Cho got because he was the best person for the part. It’s easy to imagine a Sony executive trying to push for a white actor, much in the same way others tried with both Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Such blinders make it near impossible to tell new stories or to even explore sturdy formulas from new angles. Perhaps the one-two-three punch of this trilogy of successes will force Hollywood to accept what they’ve denied for so long, but it’s still disappointing that it took so long and after much moving of the goalposts.
The proto-typical leading man role in today’s Hollywood has only narrowed in requirement since the franchise age took hold. That’s not to say that Cho wouldn’t excel in a Marvel or Star Wars movie but our hunger demands a greater variety of options. Besides, leading men cannot thrive on that label alone anymore: They need to be supporting bit-players and find work in comedies and also be willing to sign onto a T.V. series now and then. In that sense, John Cho is perfect for our new era of leading men. We know what he can do and now he has box office clout to back it up.
So, Hollywood, you strange and intoxicating and utterly infuriating concept: Please consider John Cho for all the roles. Literally, all of them. You won’t regret it.
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