AFTER YANG, written and directed by Koganada, is a futuristic sci-fi opus, with gorgeous cinematography and a reflective message on being present, particularly in parenthood. It also takes a page out of films like Spielberg’s A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE that ponder the humanity and morality surrounding AI, or “technosapiens”, issues that are only going to get more topical as the world leans more into advanced technology.
Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) are busy parents, especially when it comes to Jake’s tea business, which is lacking in customers despite all of the time he spends at work. So, the family purchases an AI unit named Yang (Justin H. Min) to assist in babysitting their adopted daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) and teaching her about her Chinese heritage. The family is completely dependent on Yang, especially Mika who sees him as an older brother and best friend. When Yang malfunctions one day during a worldwide virtual dance competition, the family is desperate to get him up and running.
Unfortunately, that isn’t as easy as it sounds. Yang’s manufacturer says he is beyond repair and even a black market repairman can’t fix the unit. As a last ditch effort, Jake takes Yang to a museum curator for “technosapiens”, where they uncover a treasure trove of memories that the museum is keen to research; after all, what do AI units find “memorable?” Jake agrees to review the moments for privacy concerns, but discovers it affects him more than he realizes, not only in the way he perceives the moments with his family, but also how he views Yang’s humanity.
Koganada’s camera lingers in each scene, simmering like the tea leaves Jake so loves; I don’t think that comparison is an accident. And I love that he tells the meatiest part of the family’s story through quick, dreamlike memories that Yang captured throughout his time with the family. To the average person, these moments in time may look ordinary, but as Jake plays them back, he recognizes the beauty in the mundane and begins to realize how much he has taken for granted with his family.
The Colin Farrell renaissance is alive and well and masterfully displayed in AFTER YANG. Farrell’s performance is internal and subdued, which may come as a surprise to audience members that are used to his more extroverted roles. I personally love seeing his more sensitive side. I also want to give a shoutout to Justin H. Min, who is inarguably the key to the film’s emotionality and one of the first actors I have seen that has leaned into the AI’s humanity vice flashes of roboticism. The only time I saw Yang as a non-human was when he was lying with his chest open on the “operating” table.
I would not be myself if I did not dedicate an entire paragraph in this review to 1) Jodie Turner-Smith supremacy and 2) that amazing opening credit dance scene. It took everything in me not to use my 4 hour viewing window to keep rewinding the dance number… and I would be lying if I said I didn’t rewind it a few times before continuing on with the movie. Turner-Smith is one of my favorite actors to watch due to her enormous talent and natural charisma. She steals every scene she is in and besides the dancing, the most memorable part of the film for me was her emotional scene with Yang.
AFTER YANG is admittedly a cerebral slow-burn, even (at times) for me. I fear not all audiences will be as eager to stick with the film through the end as I was. Still, it is a beautifully shot movie, with themes that will stick with you, particularly the power in being present in your life and prioritizing the importance of family, as well as what exactly it is to be human.
My Review: B