After Yang chronicles the in-between of a family tragedy. Set in the not-so-distant future (similar to Spike Jonze’s Her), an assistive android named Yang (Justin H. Min, in one of this year’s strongest supporting roles) suddenly malfunctions. Yang’s assigned family are shaken up as they grasp for an action plan. The search for a satisfying resolution falls on the father, Jake (Colin Farrell), who slowly discovers more of Yang’s purpose as he shops around for repair advice.
Yang was initially purchased to mentor Jake’s adoptive daughter (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) and educate her on her Chinese culture. But during his research, Jake finds out how vast Yang’s internal memory is and the extent of how much of their personal family life had been recorded through the years, which instantly opens the film up to current discussions of data mining. However, while Jake’s paranoia is slightly heightened upon hearing the news, he’s also assured that these androids are amazing individuals that haven’t been built for malicious reasons and won’t develop in that way after extensive use. Jake is further placed at ease when he gains access to Yang’s banked memory, which gives him a perspective of how Yang had developed relationships with others, including a mysterious wallflower (Support the Girls’ Haley Lu Richardson) who is introduced to Yang’s current family after the critical malfunction.
Not only is After Yang one of the best movies of the year so far, but it’s a brilliant movie for writer/director Kogonada to follow up his previous feature, Columbus. Columbus worked in quiet ways just as After Yang does to explore human emotion during trying times. But while Columbus succeeded in exploring the human psyche, it was also hampered by slow pacing issues. After Yang inherits the same slow pace, but it feels more appropriate here as the approach is interpreted as a meditative process that preludes grief. Jake becomes increasingly stressed as he loses faith in Yang’s reboot, but After Yang isn’t about a scramble for a resolution. Without bumming out the audience, the movie is about appreciating relationships and the thought-provoking personal growth they provide.
While the lack of a traditional beginning or ending may be jarring for most movie goers, After Yang wins us over with its high concept sci-fi premise that grounds itself to authentic emotions. Kogonada is perfectly in touch with his audience, which is so special and rare nowadays for a filmmaker to exhibit.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie