Friday, March 4, 2022

Review: Excellent "After Yang" Explores the Memories of an Absent Brother

After Yang (c) A24 / Showtime

Film: After Yang 
In Cinemas and Showtime 

Premise: Two questions. First, who is Yang (Justin H. Min)? That’s the easy one. He’s the android brother purchased for Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrwidajazu), the adopted Chinese daughter of Jake and Kyra (Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith) to teach her Chinese culture. The second, much more difficult question: Who was Yang? When Yang stops working, the couple discovers that fixing him is going to be a difficult task and will probably be very expensive, if they can find a way to do it. Of course, this is made more difficult because their daughter has grown up with this AI as if he was her brother and she is not easily assuaged by grown-up logic. A small subplot regarding this futuristic society is if these androids are actually spying on the families they are placed with. So, when Jake is asked to watch Yang’s stored memories to see if this is the case (in 15 seconds blasts), he realizes he may not have known how complex and inquisitive Yang really was. 

My Take: This is first great movie of 2022. Imagine if Terrence Malick directed a gentler and less sinister “Ex-Machina.” This is director Kogonada’s second film and he fulfills the promise he showed in 2017’s “Columbus,” which was able to portray Columbus, Indiana, (just by its architecture) as almost otherworldly. And so it is with this unnamed American city of “After Yang,” which seems to have adopted a subtle but overall Asian-infused aesthetic. Based on the Alexander Weinstein short story “Saying Goodbye to Yang,” Kogonada’s futuristic vision is delicate but always present, mostly through technology such as cars, video phone calls and Yang itself. This is a very quiet movie, and although not much happens moment to moment, it does bring up intriguing themes, like how small moments that are important to one are barely remembered by another. Farrell and Smith-Turner are both excellent as they try to be a calming force in the film, although there is always an unnamed tension to their marriage. Sarita Choudhury is wonderful in the small role of a curator of a technology museum (keep a close watch during the opening dance montage for a bit more of her), as is Haley Lu Richardson as a shadowy figure lurking around the family. There will be a lot to uncover in subsequent viewings, but for your first one, you will find a rich yet empty, joyous yet sad world as seen through the prism of Kogonada’s imagination. See this in a theater if you can. 

After Yang (c) A24 / Showtime

VIP:  Justin H. Min. This movie would not work if Yang was not a believable technosapien. Min gives Yang just enough emotion when asked and a blank slate when needed. His interactions with Tjandrwidajazu (also a find) create the emotional through-line for this film. But he also has outstanding interactions with Farrell (about tea), Smith-Turner (about butterflies, which turns out to be a perfect metaphor for Yang) and Richardson (about curiosity). Min, who is most known for the streaming series “The Umbrella Academy,” may feel like a detached presence as Yang at first, but there is so much empathy in his performance that by the end of the movie, the family’s loss is our loss as well.

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