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Film Review: After Yang (2021)

Based on a short story by Alexander Weinstein, After Yang is a contemplative sci-fi film starring Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H. Min, and Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja as a multi-racial family in a utopic, technologically advanced near-future where incredibly life-like robots (called “technosapiens”) can be bought and integrated into a family. Yang (Min) was purchased secondhand by Jake (Farrell) and Kyra (Turner-Smith) to connect their adopted daughter Mika (Tjandrawidjaja) to her Chinese heritage and act as her older brother, but when Yang breaks down unexpectedly, Jake endeavors to have him repaired. Along the way, he runs into the philosophical quandaries and questions of existence, connection, memory, grief, and love.

This is the second feature film by South Korean-American director Kogonada, whose first film, Columbus (2017), was a critical darling. His initial claim to fame, however, was through his video essays on various auteurs like Stanley Kubrick, Jean-Luc Godard, Wes Anderson, Alfred Hitchcock, and Yasujirō Ozu. It is evident how someone with such a high regard for structure, visual beauty, and camera position would produce something as exquisitely rendered as After Yang. The film brims with warm light, textural details, and a humanist perspective. Long steady pauses and quietly moving performances by Farrell and Min transform what could easily have been a trite, too-short tale into a beautiful fable that viewers will want to linger in beyond the hour-and-a-half runtime. Plaintive music by Mitski and East-Asian toned garb by 3.1 Philip Lim is also a plus.

The use of technology on-screen is notable. Seemlessly integrated into the characters’ lives and often organic instead of cold and lifeless, the viewer experiences the interactions instead of having the remove of a glowing screen or flashy buttons. When Jake and Kyra video call each other, we see them on-screen as if our screen were theirs. And when Jake delves into Yang’s comptuer drive full of memories, it’s not portrayed as through he is clicking through files and folders but actually exploring a breathtaking galaxy full of stars with VR glasses on. Really, he is able to relive Yang’s most precious moments via the empathy machine of cinema (to paraphrase Roger Ebert) and understand Yang as a person with depth, complexity, and emotion, which gently reignites his own ability to feel and connect to his family.

Ratings (out of 5):

Directing: 4.5

Story: 4

Acting: 4

Dialogue: 3.5

Editing: 5

Visuals: 5

Music/Score: 4.5

Overall Average: 4.4


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