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After Yang (Film Review)

3 min read

Sky Cinema

After making popular video essays on some of the world's most revered directors – from Wes Anderson to Tarantino, Aronosky to Ozu, Bresson, Hitchcock and Bergman – South Korean filmmaker Kogonada's moved into directing himself, with 2017's simple yet striking Columbus. An artful that framed its romance against the modernist architecture of Columbus, Indiana. The mysterious director's follow-up, , is an unusually quiet and meditative sci-fi that sees a family's robot ‘die'.

Yang (Justin H. Min) is a lifelike android, one more in the mould of Prometheus's David or Channel 4's Humans, where there seems to be no apparent signs of his true makeup. Part robot, part organic, Yang is technology at its most perfect. Bought by parents Jake () and Kyra (Jodie Smith-Turner) he is the softly spoken older brother to adopted Chinese daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja). Mika is fascinated by her Chinese background, and Yang, equipped with an unbound level of knowledge and a calm temperament, provides Mika with the perfect companion and a connection to her lost heritage. For Jake and Kyra, Yang has become the mild-mannered caregiver in their idyll. So when Yang malfunctions, so too does the family unit.

There is no simple fix either. Acquired via ‘unofficial' routes, Jake has to take Yang's body to an underground technician to fix his “interior core problem”. It's heartening to see that even in a far-off future, the annoyance and exhaustion of a husband doing something on the cheap, and having to reap what he's sown, is a seemingly timeless amusement. For Kyra, the prospect of Yang not returning brings about mixed emotions recognising as she does the ways they have become “over-reliant” on him. She is equal parts frustrated and concerned with her partner's world-weary behaviour, but in Kogonada's vision of the future, life is a gentle mix of withheld emotions and so the friction between the two remains passive.

Jake's struggling tea shop is another secret for a family where communication has been muted. He has failed to adapt to a changing market looking for crystallised teas, instead preferring to serve organic, earthly mixtures. It's a small act of rebellion in an increasingly advanced world. For Jake it's the “idea of tea” the pursuit a process that's “connected to the soil, the plants, the weather and to a way of life.” A cup of tea can contain a world. In this case, it's a lost one.

Jake's disconnect is only broken by the discovery of a small chip found inside Yang's body. On it Jake finds a series of daily bite-sized videos inexplicably kept by the android. Many of these short videos, often no longer than a second or two, are so mundane as to appear pointless, and yet what they build is a bank of ‘memories' that show Yang's capacity for feeling. Some of the film's most striking and poignant moments come with Jake tapping into Yang's library – presented on screen as an unending galaxy of bright lights each representing a snippet of ordinary life. Here, Kogonada artfully explores the everyday in a way the best photographers do, capturing shadows at certain times of the day or fragments of conversation. It is perhaps the closest Yang is able to get to human experience, and yet through this prism we discover a mysterious relationship he had that resembles one with the strength of feeling that we call love.

The discovery of Yang's library feels revelatory in the way that technological advancement can and should be. Grief, often made up of conflicted memories, emotions and images is instead presented by Yang in a way that enables Jake to reframe his own existence. Yang is the unaffected observer of lifetimes, able to capture moments of beauty past, present and (by insinuation) future that reveal a tender thread within even the most cynical of us. Much like these memories, After Yang is worth treasuring for years to come.


After Yang releases on Sky Cinema and select cinemas Friday 23 September