The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema/Sky] - AFTER YANG | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema/Sky] - AFTER YANG

after yang review
When a lifelike android breaks down, its owner discovers a memory bank detailing the life it was secretly leading.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Kogonada

Starring: Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H. Min, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, Haley Lu Richardson

after yang poster

One of the most insightful truths I've ever heard came courtesy not of an artist or a philosopher, but from a footballer. While being interviewed on TV, former soccer player turned manager Mick McCarthy was asked the clichéd question of which dead people he would invite to dinner. One of them was his mother, as he claimed he never knew her. "Oh, did she pass away when you were a child?" the interviewer asked, to which McCarthy replied that she had lived to a fine age, but "we never really get to know our mothers, do we?"

It's only when you lose a loved one that you understand how little you knew them. At their funerals you get to meet people who were a major part of their lives, but whom you had never known about, forgotten childhood friends, former work colleagues, maybe even illicit lovers who simply couldn't not say goodbye. What if there was a way to access your late loved ones' most cherished memories? Would you like to see what was important to them, or would it feel intrusive? And what if you didn't like what you saw?

after yang review

Adapting a short story by Alexander Weinstein, writer/director Kogonada examines these questions through the prism of science fiction. Like his debut feature, Columbus, it's a film about finding the soul in objects, in this case an android, or a "techno-sapien" as they're known in the near future world of the film.

After adopting Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja), an infant girl from China, Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) decide to invest in a techno-sapien that will serve as part big brother, part educator. Wishing their daughter to remain in touch with her roots, they select a Chinese model. Sporting a Spock haircut, Yang (Justin H. Min) has the appearance of a teenage boy but has been programmed with a wealth of information on the history and culture of China. Mika sees him as more of a sibling than an educator/babysitter, and Jake and Kyra even view him as part of the family in the way you might a pet dog or cat.

after yang review

Tragedy strikes when Yang shuts down one day. As he was bought second hand, there is no warranty in place, meaning there's no affordable way to have him repaired through the official channels. Following the advice of his neighbour (Clifton Collins Jr), Jake takes the inanimate Yang to Russ (Ritchie Coster) a backstreet repairman who is unable to fix Yang. While taking Yang apart, Russ does come across a memory bank that seems to have been used to store select memories of Yang's experiences. Jake takes the bank home and views its contents. Among the heartwarming images of family gatherings and the delights of nature, Jake is surprised by the constant appearance of a young woman (Haley Lu Richardson) who seems for all the world to have been Yang's romantic partner.

In what feels like a sci-fi riff on Nanni Moretti's classic exploration of grief The Son's Room, Jake tracks down the girl, who turns out to be a clone named Ada. With Ada as his guide, he comes to learn of the secret life, or rather lives, Yang was engaged in. He also has to deal with the ethics of an offer from a museum to put Yang's memories on display. And of course there's the small matter of how he can break the news to Mika that Yang can't be revived.

after yang review

As with Columbus, Kogonada's latest film is as tender as a tear-stained tissue, a mood exemplified by Farrell's magnificently understated performance. Rarely verbalising his feelings, every muscle in Farrell's face is weighed down by the ethical balancing act he's asked to perform. Richardson is excellent as a human who isn't quite human, her cloned nature part of the film's obsession with identity and belonging which also takes in Mika and Yang's cultural bonding. A lovely moment sees Yang reassure Mika that whatever school bullies might say, she is part of Jake and Kyra's family, using the metaphor of the ancient Chinese practice of grafting a limb from one tree onto another to create a hybrid.

In a flashback we see Jake have a conversation with Yang in which he discusses his love of tea with the android. Jake claims to have been inspired by the Werner Herzog documentary All in This Tea, and Yang professes an interest in seeing the film. "Maybe we can watch it some time," Jake promises. When we cut back to the present Jake, the look on Farrell's face tells us he probably never did sit down with Yang to watch the film. If anyone expresses a desire to sit down and watch After Yang with you, don’t put it off.

After Yang
 is in UK/ROI cinemas and on Sky Cinema from September 22nd.

2022 movie reviews