Review: 'After Yang' Programs Tenderness, Beauty

by Kevin Taft

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday June 21, 2022

'After Yang'
'After Yang'  (Source:A24)

Beautiful, and introspective, filmmaker Kogonada's "After Yang" is a gorgeous meditation on love and loss, and the yearning desire to feel both.

The time is the not-so-distant future, and a young family is living life in a gently contemplative way. The world is not dystopian nor bleak, but a calming vision filled with earth tones and conveniences that aid life rather than dampen it.

Jake (Colin Farrell) is the owner of a tea shop that specializes in making tea with care and thoughtfulness. While his way of doing his job hasn't totally taken the "industry" by storm, he has found peace in the practice, even though it takes him away from his wife, Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith), and daughter, Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja).

Having adopted Mika from China, the couple purchased an "Asian" A.I. sibling for her after she was born to help her learn about her culture and to keep her company when her parents were otherwise engaged. That A.I. is Yang (Justin H. Min), a sweet and tender companion that looks and feels human, and has become a permanent part of the family.

But when Yang malfunctions and totally breaks down, Mika is devastate. Jake goes about trying to find a way to get him fixed. Because he didn't originally buy him from the manufacturer and, instead, bought him "refurbished," finding someone to figure out the problem and correct it proves challenging.

Eventually, Jake finds someone that will remove the "core" of Yang (something the original manufacturer claimed would be illegal), giving him access to three-second recordings that Yang made on a daily basis. These moments would be things that Yang felt were important or even drawn to.

As Jake tries to figure out if there is any way to save Yang, he is also offered the chance to have Yang's core memories displayed in a museum by a researcher named Cleo (Sarita Choudhury), who feels the A.I.'s experiences and impulses would educate the world on the breadth of what an A.I. truly is.

Jake dives into Yang's memories and, in doing so, alters the way he looks at his life and his family. This new perspective causes them all to remember Yang in different ways, replaying conversations that — at the time — might not have seen as significant, but now play in a totally different way.

Koganada has taken a short story by Alexander Weinstein and crafted one of the most beautiful movies of the year so far. It is not only a reflection on what makes us human, but at how humans can be monumentally affected by things non-human. It causes the audience to look at humanity and consider whether something that is programmed by humans might also have the capacity to live and love on their own as they grow into the world around them. Just as Yang was programmed by the company that made him, humans are programmed by the people that raise them. In that, is there a difference? And is one worth more than the other?

Farrell has never been better. He allows his face and small mannerisms to reflect the tremendous contemplation he endures as he struggles to understand what Yang means to him and his family, as well as what Yang's existence teaches him about his relationship with his wife and daughter. It is a touching and thoughtful performance that once again proves he has a range that should be applauded. Similarly, Turner-Smith ("Queen & Slim") is stunning, drawing us into her strength and unease as the family contemplates Yang's effect on them.

The tech credits here are exemplary, with Kogonada thoughtfully crafting his film moment by moment. Different types of interactions have different aspect ratios, scenes of memory have an echo-like fluidity to them, and the entire film is shot in a way that makes us feel like we are like Yang — watching the world from a small distance away, but fully immersed regardless.

The cinematography by Benjamin Loeb is warm and striking, and the score by ASKA is truly sublime. While the film can be so introspective that you enter a sort of meditative state (it might not be for everyone), "After Yang" is truly an experience to savor. It's not a movie that gives you all the answers it seeks, but it's one that makes you ask profound questions — even long after the credits stop rolling.

"After Yang" arrives on Blu-rayô + Digital and DVD June 21 from Lionsgate.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.