South-Korean American filmmeker Kogonada made a splash at Sundance five years ago with his debut feature Columbus, about the friendship between an architect scholar and an architect enthusiast. He’s now back with After Yang. His new, more ambitious film dips its toes into the realm of science fiction. The movie is set in a future where androids are routinely purchased and used for domestic tasks.
Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) are the parents of an adopted Chinese girl Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja). They purchase a robotic family member called Yang (Justin H. Min), who acts as a big brother and babysitter to their daughter. He also teaches her about her heritage, something with which the Western couple have no personal experience. One day, Yang the “techno-sapien” becomes unresponsive, and his parts have been discontinued. Neither Mika nor Jake want him recycled, and so Jake attempts to to fix him. That’s when he learns some surprising details about Yang’s existence.
Colin Farrell has just become a more interesting actor as he ages. After Yang continues Farrell’s strong run of performances in recent years: it’s very much his journey of discovery. He briefly does a very convincing impression of Werner Herzog. The other three members of the family give strong performances, too. Min is the standout, despite being on the blink for much the film’s running time. He has an unearthly presence, and he makes a particularly strong impression in flashback scenes. His performance is somewhat reminiscent of Brent Spiner’s Data from television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, with Min bringing a real humanity to the “techno-sapien”. Haley Lu Richardson, who also appeared in Columbus, plays a mysterious stranger named after the Vladimir Nabokov novel Ada.
L.A. based Japanese composer ASKA signs the film score, enhanced by a Ryuichi Sakamoto theme. Japanese-American composer and songwriter Mitski covers the song Glide, which first appeared in the Japanese movie All About Lily Chou Chou (Shunji Iwai, 2001; a film about young people failing to connect in an alienated tech future).
After Yang is a beautiful sci-fi tale about grief, loss, and how we only value our personal connections after they literally disconnect. It will appeal to both genre fans and people who generally eschew science fiction for more conventional arthouse fare.
After Yang just showed at the Sundance Film Festival. It premiered last year in Cannes.