Artificial intelligence is in the spotlight in the sensitive science fiction drama After Yang.
Yang (Justin H. Min) is a highly evolved bot bought as a culturally appropriate big brother for young Chinese adoptee Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja). Mika is daughter to Jake (Colin Farrell), who runs a tea shop, and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith), a businesswoman. Yang is an integral part of the family and has a very close affinity to Mika. With her parents busy, she leans heavily on Yang for guidance. The four regularly compete in virtual dance offs with other families. Then, one day, Yang stops “working”.
Mika, Jake and Kyra want him “fixed”, but given that he wasn’t purchased new, nor from an approved “seller”, that proves to be particularly difficult. In fact, anyone tampering with his “core” would be breaking the law. So it is that Jake runs into a series of roadblocks. Still, in his pursuit of an answer, Jake learns about Yang’s history, which goes back far beyond his acquisition as Mika’s caring, considerate and loving older sibling.
After Yang is based on the short story Saying Goodbye to Yang, from the book Children of the New World, by Alexander Weinstein. The film has been beautifully constructed and realised by screenwriter and director Kogonada (Columbus). The screenplay explores the line between light and darkness. The new world order carries with it benefits and threats, which come down to the increasing role of technology in people’s lives. The film has a reflective quality about it as we learn more about the impact Yang has had. Further, the script considers the issue of appropriate parenting for young Mika.
Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja is wonderfully expressive and confident as the girl who has lost her best friend. Jodie Turner-Smith has dignity and presence as the emotionally aware Kyra. Colin Farrell takes Jake on a journey of growth, awareness and understanding. Justin H. Min imbues Yang with quietly spoken intelligence and patience.
After Yang is visually arresting. Cinematographer Benjamin Loeb (Pieces of a Woman) gives us striking imagery. The original score by Aska Matsumiya adds to the profound nature of the offering.
After Yang is a rare treat for those who appreciate quality independent cinema.
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Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.