With his prior feature Columbus, filmmaker Koganada established himself as someone with a distinct point of view. It immediately made him someone to watch, leading to a lot of anticipation surrounding his follow-up. Back at the Cannes Film Festival last year, that movie finally debuted in After Yang. Solid reviews followed, but A24 never released it in 2021, leading to the movie continuing its rollout this year. It’s to our benefit, however, as After Yang is an effective and tender effort. Playing at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, it’a not just one of the higher profile flicks, but one of the better ones so far, too.
After Yang is subtle almost to the point of going over some heads, but if you’re paying attention, it’s all there. The science fiction genre can be at its best when engaging in this way, and while this doesn’t quite reach those heights, it adds a lot of flavor to a story that’s keen to mix emotion and intellectualism. It’s not always perfect, but it definitely works.
There isn’t a whole lot of plot here, but the story reveals itself slowly over time. Set in the future, androids and clones exist, living in harmony with humans. When Jake (Colin Farrell) finds that his family’s android Yang (Justin H. Min) is malfunctioning, he’s initially just annoyed. His wife Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) lectures him for not buying a new model, while their adopted daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) is distressed over the fate of her beloved companion. Initially purchased to help Mika connect to her heritage, Yang has become a part of the family. So, his fate quickly becomes an issue the whole group has to contend with.
As Jake searches for a way to repair him, he runs into both roadblocks and some interesting discoveries. In doing so, he begins to realize what he’s been missing out on. Both Kyra and Mika have drifted from him in a way he’s only able to understand when looking at how Yang sees them all. To say more wouldn’t be fair, but the sci-fi here is truly just a way to tell a very human tale in a slightly new manner.
Colin Farrell leads a cast that’s completely dialed in to the premise. Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith, initially the coldest of the cast, bring in layers as the film progresses. Farrell especially goes through quite the evolution. Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja does a solid job with her somewhat one-note part, while Justin H. Min showcases a very human feeling android. They’re all good, even if they never have the kinds of scenes that bring extra attention to them. Supporting players here include Sarita Choudhury, Clifton Collins Jr., Haley Lu Richardson, and more.
Kogonada writes and directs, giving After Yang what is now his trademark style. While this is pretty laid back for science fiction, barring a jolt of a title sequence that’s a real highlight, it’s always engaging. Whether it’s your head or your head, his filmmaking just speaks to what’s true in life. The subtlety won’t be for everyone, but as long as you’re open-minded, there’s a lot to like here. It’s truly the sort of movie that’s meant to be mulled over with others after a festival screening.
After Yang is one of the more polished Sundance titles this year, but don’t let that throw you off. This is still arthouse cinema, but done in a way that shouldn’t really exclude anyone except the impatient. In particular, those who like light sci-fi will be compelled by what’s on the screen here. As much as anything else, it continues to suggest that Kogonada is an exciting indie storyteller. Whatever he wants to do next, count me in.