After Yang

Another A.I. drama that’s quite essential for any film lover.

In the tradition of such A.I. dramas like “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” and “Ex Machina,” “After Yang” joins the club. Written and directed by Kogonada, in his first entry since “Columbus,” the movie could care less about the most obvious approaches, and has its own questions about humans and androids, and whether or not they function similarly. It’s also released by A24, which distributes intelligent character studies of various genres, especially any standards. And it’s also ideal to have it premiere simultaneously in theaters and on Showtime, if some people can’t get to the nearest art house theater.

We meet a family with parents Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) and their adoptive Asian daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja), all of whom buy a previously-owned robot son named Yang (Justin H. Min) from the company Brothers & Sisters. These people have a lot in common with the robot, since they all talk like robots or aliens. It’s like they’re big fans of Farrell’s family in “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.”

Anyway, because the robot is previously-owned, it starts to become defective and will eventually decompose. Replacing his core would be illegal and parts would have to be replaced, but Jake is willing to save his android son. That’s why he turns to a cheap repairman named Russ (Ritchie Coster) and a museum specialist named Cleo (Sarita Choundhury) for help and info.

The movie opens with a virtual dance-off with different families of four, including Jake and Kyra’s family. Each scene changes with different families and different colored backgrounds, until the main family gets eliminated. Bad move, I guess.

“After Yang” shows us Yang’s memories as stars in a galaxy through special glasses, and each star has a complex nature about life. It’s like you’re looking into one parallel universe after the next, and it’s quite dazzling the way it uses yellow stars.

In one memory, as Jake says he runs a tea shop, after being inspired by a documentary about a man who discovered tea through the search and taste. That person couldn’t describe the taste of tea, while his German friend thinks otherwise. “Somehow that is all in this tea,” he says. Jake explains that to Yang, who wishes he could have a memory of the drink in China.

Another memory shows us Haley Lu Richardson as a former coffee shop clone named Ada, whom Jake is trying to find and get in touch with, since Yang knew her. She often sneaks around at their house and might know some things that Jake didn’t really know. I’m so glad it doesn’t become one of those run-of-the-mill situations, and intends to be more than meets the eye.

The segments regarding little Mika wanting to see her robotic brother gets really exhausting, but it’s not often we get to see a little girl refer to a brother as “Gege,” which is Mandarin for older brother. Half those scenes are generic, while the other half has some value, especially during the final ten minutes, but we’re mostly here to see how well Farrell, Turner-Smith, Min, and Richardson are all able to function well within the screenplay. They’re all able to match the tone and emotions of their characters, and that’s how their acting is top notch.

Kogonada is able to adapt Alexander Weinstein’s short story “Saying Goodbye to Yang” with a certain kind of depth and complexity. It’s not always understandable, but it does take its delicate steps in expressing its own views about whether or not the android wants to be human. And it maybe an android, but it’s still able to grow up from a baby and into a young man. Isn’t that something?

Rating: 3 out of 4.

In Select Theaters and Streaming on Showtime

Categories: Drama, Sci Fi

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