Kogonada’s After Yang A family’s future with a broken robot

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After Yang, Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja

Flowing through the previous works and movie essays of Kogonada resembles a journey onto still water. His analyses, shown through clips and frames, revere the marriage of harmony and melancholy, an exploration of life and belief systems he conveys rather than imposes. This tranquility that infiltrates his direction and movies pays his recent movie with A24 a visit. Titled After Yang, the South Korean-born filmmaker redefines the calm before the storm.

To be released on March 04, 2022, the film’s premise looks into the meshed lives of humans and products of artificial intelligence, based on the movie’s plot. When his young daughter's (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) beloved companion - an android named Yang (Justin H. Min) - malfunctions, Jake (Colin Farrell) searches for a way to repair him. In the process, Jake discovers the life that has been passing in front of him, reconnecting with his wife (Jodie Turner-Smith) and daughter across a distance he didn't know was there. Reading the synopsis may lend an aura of dystopia, but after watching the trailer - and, perhaps, knowing Kogonada - everything is far from being and turning into an apocalypse, at least at a first glance.

Kogonada’s serene and philosophical play toys with the characters’ dilemma. “Come on, Yang,” Jake instructs the robot in a movie clip. “What are you doing? Come on!” The setting takes the viewers in a green field with canopies of trees in the background, an ideal landscape to take a family portrait with Yang. But the android stands frozen behind the family camera, gazing at the horizon. Later, Yang’s system shuts down and won’t restart. Jake lies the robot down on the family table in the dining room in the hopes of repairing him soon, but the anguish expression that crosses Jake’s face foreshadows a series of downfalls and discoveries that will soon unfold.

Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, and Justin H. Min in After Yang
Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, and Justin H. Min in After Yang.A24

“As much as After Yang is sci-fi, it still belongs to the world of everyday life,” says Kogonada to A24. “I didn’t imagine that my next film would be in the sci-fi genre. That wasn’t something that was on my mind. When I watch blockbuster sci-fi movies where the whole world is at stake, I'm often curious about the people in the background who have to make a living—what are they doing within that landscape? What are their families like?”

When he stumbled upon Alexander Weinstein’s Saying Goodbye to Yang - the short story the film is based on - Kogonada picked it up and turned the text into a moving, visual narrative. “I was struck by the first story in the author’s 2016 collection, Children of the New World. It was about a family in the future dealing with a broken robot, which in this world was more like an appliance or educational gadget. What initially seems insignificant and annoying for the father becomes increasingly existential.”

Throughout the trailer, the tension that simmers grips the viewers, but never rises to the surface. It only rocks like the gentle waves of the sea, an impending plight wrapped with warm screen colors, still frames, languid movement of the characters, and a mellow delivery of lines. Kogonada - a pseudonym borrowed from the Japanese screenwriter Kôgo Noda - weaves the fabric of his background into the realm of the film. Growing up, he was raised to look at the forms of forms, a slice of wisdom passed onto him by his father. This philosophy manifests in the film as he brings out the essence of every frame with the lighting, angles, metaphors, dialogues, and purposes of the objects, emotions, and stillness.

Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, and Justin H. Min in After Yang
Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, and Justin H. Min in After Yang.A24

The nostalgic haze circulating around the frames of the movie may owe its influences to the reflective state of Kogonada during which the films that have impacted him the most resurfaces to his memory. Through this, his relationship with wistfulness and family-oriented storylines come out at work, as underlined in After Yang.

The trailer hints at the story’s direction, one that Kogonada engineered. The first is when Yang tells Jake he wishes he had a real memory. Jake asks him what he means before the clip fades out. The second follows a conversation between Jake’s wife, Kyra, and Yang. “May I be honest with you?” Yang asks Kyra.

Kyra is taken aback by the android’s question. “Wait, is not being honest an option for you?” she asks.

The intrigue may lull the viewers to just read the short story and find out what happens next, but if they do, they may miss out on the poignant storytelling that Kogonada has in store for them in After Yang.

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