After Yang


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Colin Farrell as Jake in After Yang. Kogonada: 'I love this idea of catching up to grief, you know, that it wasn't this immediate grief that a parent would feel, but it was like it that in order to grieve, you have to love first'
"Kogonada is the directorial equivalent of a careful tea maker himself, he knows how to infuse his films with complex ideas without getting preachy or overtechnical about it."

Near the start of After Yang we see a mixed heritage family that seems literally in sync. It’s the near-future but tea seller Jake (Colin Farrell) still likes the old-fashioned method of using leaves, with items which mimic that swirl and percolation returning as a leitmotif through the film. He and his wife Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith), daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) and son Yang (Justin H Min) are taking part in a televised competition in which thousands of families dance in time to a tune and are eliminated if they make too many mistakes. All is not quite as it seems, however, as Yang is in fact a highly sophisticated AI robot, who helps around the house and assists their adopted daughter with cultural questions about her origins.

All of this begins at the end for Yang, who simply refuses to ‘wake’ the next morning, a malfunction that means they have lost their helpmate when it comes to working through issues like the grief they are about to face. Kogonada is a director who finds balance in his films, whether it’s architectural, as seen in his debut feature Columbus or the internal construction of self that we see scrutinised here. Jake thinks he knows what Yang is, essentially little more than a sophisticated gadget, but as his attempts to get him ‘fixed’ to ease his daughter’s more immediate sense of grief he discovers there was more to Yang than meets the eye, which leads Jake not only on a journey into Yang’s secret ‘other’ life but also causes him to increasingly reassess the impact the AI had on him and his family.

Kogonada is alive to the small interactions that can take on weight, encapsulated by Yang’s secret, which unlocks a gateway to family memories which, though everyday, could be regarded as potentially significant.

The shape of memories is, in that Kogonada way, balanced by the shape of self. Yang knows he is constructed to be a certain way and Kogonada, adapting from Alexander Weinstein’s short story Goodbye to Yang, probes at the idea of how much we build ourselves or how we are built by experience or the influence of others. An apple tree graft lesson for Mika about her origins offers an invitation to think about how people who may not be related by blood can still grow together over time, for example. Kogonada is the directorial equivalent of a careful tea maker himself, he knows how to infuse his films with complex ideas without getting preachy or overtechnical about it. Farrell’s understated emotion and the director’s measured shooting style avoid the melodramatic in favour of an experience that, like all the best brews, gently strengthens the longer you sit with it.

Reviewed on: 20 Sep 2022
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After Yang packshot
In a near future, a family reckons with questions of love, connection, and loss after its A.I. helper unexpectedly breaks down.
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Director: Kogonada

Writer: Kogonada, based on the short story by Alexander Weinstein

Starring: Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H Min, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, Haley Lu Richardson, Sarita Choudhury

Year: 2021

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK

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