Film Review: After Yang (2021)

In a quiet and relaxed future world lives a family of… four, I suppose. Husband and wife Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) live a peaceful life with their adopted Chinese daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja; an actress who makes me thankful for copy/paste). Neither being Chinese themselves, Jake and Kyra have invested in Yang (Justin H. Min), a second-hand robotic child, to help Mika better connect to her heritage. Although Yang is a “Techno-Sapien,” he is still very much considered part of the family, at times even being more of a father figure for Mika when Jake is busy with his tea business. 

One afternoon, Yang malfunctions and is sent into a practical robo-coma; any attempts by the family at a reboot leave him unresponsive. Determined to save Yang, especially for Mika’s sake, Jake sets out to find someone who can repair him, eventually settling on a cheap repairman named Russ (Ritchie Coster). Russ says fixing Yang won’t be possible, but reveals an interesting find; inside Yang is a camera which has, for years, recorded short video clips each day, resulting in a virtual bundle of Yang’s memories being saved. Jake delves into these literal memory-banks, and quickly learns things about Yang he never knew. 

After Yang calmly transports its audience to a future world with minimal bravado in its portrayal. The outlook it sees for civilization isn’t shown with a boastful yell of “hey, look at this!” like we’re so accustomed to science fiction subjecting us to. Rather, the film calmly taps you on the shoulder and whispers, “This is sort of just how it is now.” For this reason, After Yang lends itself to sci-fi without ever feeling like a typical genre movie. There’s no desire to hastily showcase the technological and societal innovations of this world, and it ultimately lets audiences learn the nuances of the world without being explicitly told about them.

For example, in this future, human inequality still exists, but it’s changed. The world is wordlessly shown to have moved beyond discriminating against modern-day minorities, but not against discrimination itself. In this world, clones are the latest group in the midst of a cultural revolution — a revolution that appears to be met with both plenty of open-mindedness and plenty of hesitancy. We get all this from only a couple of short passive-aggressive scenes between Jake and his neighbour, whose two daughters are both clones. It’s small details like this that make a very sci-fi-ish world feel so grounded and plausible. 

The film shies away from any dissections or explanations of the human experience and instead opts for a path of experience itself. One particular flashback scene has Yang asking Jake what he likes about tea and why he has chosen it as one of his life’s pursuits. Jake thoroughly ponders the inquiry, recalling a documentary he watched which professes the ability of tea to contain a whole world within it by comparing it to a walk through a dew-laden forest. The two each drink a cup of their own, and when Yang asks Jake what he thought, Jake responds by saying he’s not sure if he can truly taste the forest, and concludes his ponderings with, “maybe I haven’t the language for it.”

There are plenty of absorbing and contemplative collections of dialogue in After Yang, but the true weight comes instead from the wordless moments. Ironically, the tea conversation hits the nail on the head with what the film achieves; language can’t fully explain what makes things beautiful, but experiencing that beauty can. This is illustrated through the snapshots of life recorded by Yang. These saved moments are often wordless or context-less in nature, but have an inherent beauty and allure to them that mere words simply can’t do justice. After Yang reminds us that beauty exists everywhere and in everything, even when we can’t explain how or why.

Overall rating: 8/10

Published by Jeremy Bader

Aspiring writer, film and music lover, drummer.

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