After Yang Drama

Review: ‘After Yang’ is a Contemplative Exploration of Grief, Loss and What It Means to be Alive

March 9, 2022Ben MK

Loss is an unavoidable part of the human experience. And when it comes to films that deal with grief and loss, Hollywood has proven time and time again that it's something that can be explored from a myriad of viewpoints. Whether it's a colorful and whimsical animated adventure like Up, a YA romantic drama like The Fault in Our Stars, or a suspenseful horror thriller like The Sixth Sense, cinema has provided many with an outlet by which to process their emotions and to move on. Now, in the poignant sci-fi drama After Yang, acclaimed director Kogonada is adding his contribution, in this story about a family who are left wondering what to do next, after their beloved android suddenly shuts down.

The setting is the near future, and Jake (Colin Farrell), his wife Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith), their adopted daughter Mika (Malek Emma Tjandrawidjaja), and Mika's older brother Yang (Justin H. Min) are like many families in their community. Jake and Kyra both find themselves engrossed in their jobs, but every month they all make time to take part in a virtual competition where they and 30,000 other families of four face off against one another in a fast-paced test of their dance skills. Yang, on the other hand, isn't your typical sibling. In fact, he isn't human at all, but rather something called a techonsapien. Programmed to simulate people in every way, Yang is part of a dying breed of synthetic humanoids that were once popular but have now largely been relegated to museums. So when Yang goes offline one evening, Jake quickly discovers just how difficult it will be to get him repaired.

After taking Yang to undergo a diagnostic, Jake receives the bad news that Yang has suffered a core malfunction, and that only his head and voice box may be salvageable. But with Mika desperate to see Yang up and running again, obviously that isn't an option. As a result, Jake takes Yang to a black market bot repairer named Russ (Ritchie Coster), where he's informed about the built-in spyware hidden inside Yang. However, when Jake takes the spyware module to museum curator Cleo (Sarita Choudhury) for analysis, he's surprised to learn that it's in fact a memory bank. It's only after Jake begins to view the contents of said memory bank, though, that he starts to get an idea of the situation at hand. Could Yang have been more than what they thought he was? Could he actually have been alive — capable not just of his own thoughts and desires, but of human emotions as well?

Based on Alexander Weinstein's short story Saying Goodbye to Yang, what follows asks that very question, as both Jake and Kyra reflect on some of their past conversations with Yang — interactions that seemed fairly unassuming in the moment, but in retrospect appear to hint at the sense of self-awareness and nuanced complexity hidden beneath the android's stoic surface. Then, of course, there's the matter of the mystery young woman (Haley Lu Richardson) that Jake finds clips of in Yang's memory banks. Just how exactly did Yang know her, and what was her role in all of this? And might she be able to give any additional insight into his state of mind?

It all adds up to a contemplative drama that fans of Kogonada's first feature, Columbus, will find to be the perfect companion piece to movies like Blade Runner and A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Make no mistake, however, for while the result treads in similar territory as those futuristic masterpieces, After Yang proves altogether different. Deceptively simple but intricately multilayered, this is a film that's as low-key as its titular character. Yet, for those with a penchant for thoughtful introspection, it's just as satisfying as any sci-fi spectacle.

After Yang releases March 11th, 2022 from Elevation Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG for some thematic elements and language. Its runtime is 1 hr. 36 min.

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