One of the most popular genres of film gaining traction are stories involving human-like androids and how they interact with humanity. In the A24 film After Yang, directed by Kogonada, this genre is further explored on a much deeper level. There is no threat against society as robots take over Planet Earth, and there is no corrupt government agency seeking dominion over the world for capitalistic gain. Instead, After Yang brings us a compassionate story about a family seeking to console their daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) whose sibling android Yang (Justin H. Min) malfunctions. In the meantime, Jake (Colin Farrell) searches for a way to repair him, and his wife Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) is caught between trying to cope with loss and keeping the family together.
This sci-fi narrative deep-rooted in humanism is an eccentric effort of Kogonada as he looks beyond the tropes of what is normally depicted in films of this kind and probes further. Jake is a man that is curious, inquisitive, and wants to learn more about their friend Yang, who is referred to in the story as a “technobeing.” Jake owns a local tea shop and lives in more than modest contemporary surroundings. The technobeings as depicted in After Yang, are quite different from androids in other films and TV shows of this kind.
Yang has the ability to sip and drink tea with Jake. Director Kogonada, also the film’s writer, never explains in his narrative how these beings are able to consume liquids as humans do. When Yang malfunctions and Jake checks out a refurbished facility for these technobeings, the warranty specialist mentions that they have the capacity to decompose. This is another aspect of the functionality (or dysfunction) of these bots that are never explained in the film’s plot. Arguably it could be said that these details may not be necessary for the overall theme of this specific tale; the fact that the decomposition conversation is brought up more than once makes it a detail worth noting.
Jake and Kyra are not the only family that owns the technobeings. Their friendly next door neighbor George (Clifton Collins Jr.) has one of his own. There is an interesting dance sequence during the opening credits of the film that feature various families with their technobeings bopping to an upbeat tempo. The main protagonist family featured here are quite progressive — an interracial couple who adopts a Chinese girl and intentionally chooses a Chinese android older sibling as her companion.
During Yang’s malfunction, Jake discovers that his technobeing stored memories and carried a device full of all of the beautiful moments shared in their family circle. The device also has playback, where Jake can repeat and play the memories over and over again.
Writer/director Kogonada expressed the following about the nature of technology in this project:
“I wanted to take this premise and ask if the truth to be discovered in this futuristic world was as ordinary as the memories we all carry now in our devices or more fluidly in our brains. What if Yang revealed what has always been true: that we are all ongoing records of love, of loss, of life, of time itself? We are all Yang. What starts out as an annoying task of getting an appliance repaired becomes increasingly existential.”
While After Yang is truly a passionate effort and offers a unique artistic vision from Kogonada, unfortunately the movie is too caught up in its own cinematic metaphors. The jarring jump cut editing of playing back Yang’s memories from play to repeat to play again circulate so much during the film that as a viewer, I lost track of the meaning of these moments. Metaphorically, the play and repeat had some meaning here, but it was a bit excessive.
After Yang was too focused on its beauty and subtext to tell an actual story. The pacing is incredibly slow, and I found my mind wandering off between scenes that took too long to get to the point. Farrell and Turner-Smith offer charming performances, but it wasn’t enough to keep you engaged in the film’s storytelling.
At times, the movie felt like it was going in different directions. Was this a mission to uncover the memories found in Yang? Was this about consoling Mika about losing her sibling? Was this about uncovering the dysfunction of technobeings? These were questions that I needed answers to.
While I think there is something to this story for certain, if the filmmaker wasn’t too hard-pressed with experimental storytelling this could potentially have been an incredible story to see. I do, however, appreciate the filmmaker’s approach to challenging the genre by going against the grain with a story that avoids all of the trappings of your typical sci-fi android movie.
After Yang premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online publication and multimedia space for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association and executive producer of the Black Girl Nerds Podcast.