We often think about sci-fi movies like pompous, grand canvases for spaceships, lasers and robots. But After Yang, the new film from South Korean-born director Kogonada uses several of these elements to be grand in a completely different way. This is an emotionally rich story about family and loss. fascinating world is bursting at the seams with an opportunity. A world in which there are robots among us, and one of them, the main character Yang, has a deep, kindred and beautiful effect on the family.
After Yang stars Colin Farrell as Jake, husband and father, owner of a tea shop. He and his wife Kira (Jodie Turner-Smith) have an adopted daughter named Mika (Malea Emma Tyandravijaya) whom they consider unsuitable for teaching her Chinese heritage. So they buy Yang (Justin H. Min), an artificial sibling who acts as Mika’s older brother and teacher. However, one day Yang breaks down and when Jake sets out to fix him, he realizes that Yang is not the only one who needs to be fixed.
After a very memorable, hilariously inappropriate opening credits sequence, After Yang looks like a dream. There is always a slight drizzle on the screen. Lighting makes everything feel warm. The characters live on sets designed as sparse but homely. And the dialogue is almost exclusively spoken more quietly, which gives each word a certain respect and importance. Wrapped in this soothing aesthetic, the world of Cogonada is luxurious and provocative. It’s a world that is at times familiar, but punctuated by sweeping plans and elements of technology that make the setting futuristic. The place we want to know more about.
The biggest of these futuristic clues is, of course, Yang. And when Jake takes Yang’s lifeless robot body with him, we learn that these creatures are special. They are not just mindless or even sentient robots. They are called technosapians, they were created by one mysterious corporation and are studied with endless surprise by the scientific community. This company has a monopoly on creatures, and this creates all sorts of problems for Jake, who is trying to cut costs. In the end, this journey leads him to a shocking discovery: Jan cared not only for his daughter. He had a life of his own, and this revelation humanizes Yang in ways Jake never imagined.
The whole thing is incredibly intriguing, and, as said in calm cinematic style, After Yang draws the viewer in. It really gets good when Jake’s research and Yang’s background starts to intersect in a few universal lessons and themes. Things like how important it is to treat others kindly. The power of memory. Pain of the past. Future possibilities. Mysteries of science, religion, all this is touched upon. Jake learns more about Jan when he is incapacitated than ever when he was awake, and the regret and sadness over it changes his outlook on his wife, daughter, and the world.
In the end, After Yang suggests ambiguity. We won’t learn anything about this futuristic world, about these artificially intelligent beings, or even about what lies ahead for Jake and his family. But it is precisely in this decision that the meaning lies. After Yang empowers us to think about many aspects of life in a fascinating and powerful way without giving answers. Because often there are no answers. And as a result, you will think about After Yang captivating storytelling and style long after you’ve finished watching it.
After Yang The US premiere took place at the Sundance Film Festival in 2022. A US release date has yet to be announced.
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