'​After Yang' Just Might Go Down as a Sci-Fi Classic

Directed by Kogonada

Starring Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H. Min, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, Sarita Choudhury, Clifton Collins Jr., Haley Lu Richardson

BY Rachel HoPublished Mar 3, 2022

There's a point in After Yang where it feels like the film might turn into a thriller, when Colin Farrell and company will embark on a heist against the government in the name of data privacy. Instead, Kogonada's sophomore effort becomes a beautiful, pensive film about life, death, memories, love and family.

Based on a short story, "Saying Goodbye to Yang" by Alexander Weinstein, the film is set in a future not entirely dissimilar to our present, but with technology and cultural norms that don't (yet) exist. After Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) adopted their daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) from China, they purchase a cultural technosapian named Yang (Justin H. Min). Yang is a lifelike android meant to provide Mika with a connection to her heritage and ancestry — or as Jake puts it, to dish out Chinese fun facts. But over the years, Yang ingratiates himself into their family, not just being a cultural liaison for Mika but also a brother and a son.

When Yang malfunctions, Jake takes him in for repairs. But because he's a refurbished model ("certified refurbished," Jake adamantly repeats), Jake needs to go underground. The parts dealer Jake contacts discovers a chip inside Yang that is initially believed to be an illegal tracking device placed by the government. However, the chip is found to be a memory bank installed as an experiment by the designers. If androids could record a moment they consider important, what would those be? 

Jake explores Yang's memories and, in a gorgeous The Tree of Life-esque sequence, we see Yang's most cherished moments unfold. Through these stored memories, Jake learns things about Yang he never knew. As Jake attempts to save Yang, he confronts his relationship with the android and what Yang truly meant to their family.

Kogonada builds a world starkly different from our own, but that still feels familiar and tangible. More than any film I've seen in awhile, After Yang has an indescribable texture that floods the screen. The East Asian influences create a serene vibe, which mirrors the languishing silences and pauses in the film. It's in these gaps that Kogonada gives audiences a moment to meditate on the interactions between characters and Yang's memories.

After Yang's ensemble is tight, resting on the performances of the four leads. As a man seeing how he measures up as a father and husband, Farrell's quiet performance is intense and heartfelt. Turner-Smith isn't given as much to work with as Farrell, but in the moments where she's given the opportunity, she shines bright.

Despite the star power of Turner-Smith and Farrell, the heart of the film and the chemistry that I kept wanting to revisit was between Min and Tjandrawidjaja. Their brother-sister and teacher-student dynamic is wholesome and pure. There's a real joy to seeing Yang's affinity for Mika, and conversely, Mika's reverence for Yang. Both Min and Tjandrawidjaja deliver performances full of heart and wonder, which complete the film.

An early contender for one of the best films of the year, After Yang shows how artistic, beautiful and grounded science fiction can be. Kogonada has a potential classic on his hands.
(Elevation Pictures)

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