Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, Justin H. Min
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… a movie served cold, with an idea that could have delivered much more.
After Yang begins like a song that’s two bars in – it leaves you clutching at the beats to work out what this number is about. It doesn’t take too long to reveal itself as a near future sci-fi, but it isn’t until the thirty-five minute mark that it starts to take off – well, just a little.
The movie initially has a vibe similar to Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, with the fly-on-the-wall look at a dysfunctional family. However, most of that feel evaporates as soon as we realise that one of the household members, Yang, is an android.
The film is based on Alexander Weinstein’s story Children of the New World: Saying Goodbye to Yang, intentionally dealing with issues of racism, and a future peppered with new forms of bias. The future in Weinstein’s book is a speculative fiction narrative where androids take their place in everyday society, with families purchasing them to aid, if not enrich their lives. It also brings into focus medical advancements allowing people to clone other people.
There are definitely overtones of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, with a central relationship between a child and her robot ‘bestie’. However, as far as the movie adaption is concerned, there is little to draw from any of the relationships on display.
After Yang captures the essence of the original story, with married couple Jake (Colin Farrell) and his wife Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith), and adopted Chinese daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja). Jake and Kyra decide to purchase a ‘pre-owned’ android, Yang, for their daughter to grow with, acting as a surrogate big brother and cultural teacher. Yang is a ‘Chinese’ android and is not just a big brother to Mika, but a beloved mentor. Yang’s database is filled with cultural facts, and he is able to pass on his knowledge to Mika as they interact each day. Beyond this, Mika seems to be closer to Yang than her adoptive parents.
Jake and Kyra’s marriage is strained, with Kyra always busy with her career, and Jake with his tea shop. Neither seem to have time to play with Mika and are emotionally cold throughout the movie, with barely a hug between any of the characters. It doesn’t take long for Yang to malfunction, and the journey begins to repair and bring him back to his old self. Jake eventually finds a specialist who helps him uncover Yang’s true memory. Jake journeys through Yang’s visual memory and sees the world through Yang’s eyes, and finds their android has had a romantic relationship with an unknown young woman from a local café. As Jake pieces Yang’s life together, it becomes clear that there is more to Yang than anyone knew.
At the outset, After Yang is a meandering attempt at tackling issues we might face in the future, bringing home contemporary biases we face now. However, it tries too hard to feel complicated when it is not. The resolution is uneventful, and the cultural issues it attempts to tackle are tiring and pedestrian. The premise is more preachy than intriguing, despite the usually interesting sci-fi android set up. Even as Jake joins the dots with his investigative work, the reveal barely makes a ripple, let alone a wave.
After Yang is a movie served cold, with an idea that could have delivered much more.