Cast: Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H. Min
Koganda’s debut Columbus was an artfully sad story of a young girl figuring her place in the world. Koganda was able to find the beauty within the mundane and deliver on a sad, yet hopeful look into the future. In After Yang, Koganda reaches the future, and in doing so he ups the level of sorrow to an eleven. This film is a slow one, and if that isn’t necessarily your thing, I recommend staying away from this film. Similar to Koganda’s previous feature, the story is told much through imagery as the director displays his abilities to visually tell a story through little words. This film is highly meditative and doesn’t ever rush to the ending. Unlike Koganda’s previous feature, After Yang isn’t a film about looking into the future – which is ironic with the sci-fi film being set in the future – but remembering a past that is soon to be lost.
Set in the future, Colin Farrell plays Jake, a tea maker/connoisseur who is a father to adopted daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) and husband to Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith). After adopting their Asian daughter, both Jake and Kyra decide to get her an A.I. helper named Yang (Justin H. Min) who is supposed to be a cultural guide to Mika. After unexpectedly breaking down, Jake sets out to discover what went wrong with Yang.
There is a moment early on in this film where Jake seems to accept the fate of Yang. Jake is given the opportunity to look through the memories of the A.I. He doesn’t just do this to see his memories with his family one last time, but to fully see Yang’s memories as well; the more into Yang’s database that Jake goes, the more he discovers this isn’t just an artificial intelligence, but a life just like anyone else. Yang was as much alive as anyone else. He had ambitions, wants, and loves. He spent multiple lifetimes trying to help people, while also still living a life of his own. Jake’s journey through this discovery allowed him to fully understand this being as a son and brother to Mika.
Colin Farrell in this film is excellent, giving the best performance of his career so far. Farrell has to deal with his recent discovery while simultaneously having to decide what the future holds for this being. Farrell manages to display an amount of nuance during some of the more sad scenes, all while still questioning whether he should feel sad or not. It is a completely subtle performance, but every move Farrell makes is layered in grief.
This is a film about accepting grief, but also remembering the life that was lived. It is sad at its core, but at the same time it is peaceful in knowing that life was lived fully. Konganda’s visual and storytelling style pave way for one of the most poignant films of the year. A full range of emotions are on display, as the film asks you to question mortality of the things around you. The score from Aska Matsumiya and Ryuichi Sakamoto manages to help every scene flow and deliver on the melancholic nature extremely well, and the editing from Koganda allows this film to always maintain structure, even with the many flashbacks.
AFTER YANG in theaters and streaming on Showtime March 4
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.