Movie Review: After Yang

Having worked for years as a supplemental material producer for The Criterion Collection and for Sight & Sound magazine, the secretive, pseudonymous filmmaker Kogonada made a large impression among art-house filmgoers with his languorous and affecting 2017 debut feature Columbus. I don’t think anyone who saw that movie would have expected him to follow it up with a science fiction story, but I also expect that they will be pleasantly surprised by what he has done within the genre.

Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) are a busy couple, raising their adopted daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) with the help of a “Technosapien” named Yang (Justin H. Min). As much as they are explained in the movie, Technosapiens appear to be some sort of organic / mechanical hybrid, capable of doing many of the same things that humans can but also being programmable to serve specific functions. Yang was designed to operate as an older sibling for children adopted from China and has formed a strong bond with young Mika. But one night, during a rather amusing opening title sequence involving an online interactive family dancing competition, Yang begins to malfunction and ultimately winds up being stuck in an “off” state.

Mika is understandably distraught and begins acting out as Jake takes charge of trying to find a way to fix Yang. Though he is still under warranty, they can’t take him to the original manufacturer as they had purchased him “certified refurbished” from a 3rd party store which in turn appears to have gone out of business. As he struggles to find a solution, Jake obtains a device which allows him to view Yang’s “memories”, brief snippets of video featuring events that Yang found to be important from his full life. Seeing those moments and remembering some of them makes Jake reevaluate his initial feelings about Yang and his place in all of their lives.

As with his previous film, Kogonada sets a very steady, deliberate pace here, with plenty of time for long meditations on a variety of heavy themes. What seems at first to be a comment on our addiction to technology instead proves to be more interested in ideas about love, family, death, grief, and even the very essence of what it means to be human. The cast are all natural and flawless but Min in particular stands out as Yang, speaking in a mildly flattened and mechanical manner with just the right mix of wide-eyed innocence. It’s hard not to find yourself feeling moved while watching this beautiful little film, especially during the last third, when it really starts to pile on moments of profundity, sadness, or both. After Yang is a mini-masterpiece. ★★★★★

Rated PG for some thematic elements, and language.

★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor

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