After Yang tells the story of an extremely lifelike A.I. named Yang (Justin H. Min), who lives with couple Jake and Kyra (Colin Farrell and Jodi Turner-Smith) and is a companion to their adopted daughter. However, one day Yang abruptly malfunctions and leaves their daughter distraught. Jake goes on a quest to try and repair Yang however he can, but finding the right person to do the job proves to be more difficult the more down the rabbit hole he goes. However, this provides him insight into understanding Yang.. and Yang provides Jake insight into understanding his life and his love better than he ever could on his own.
Kogonada’s directorial debut Colombus is a film that means quite a lot to me, so naturally I was extremely excited to see After Yang. Thankfully, I think the film is just as good as Columbus. On a technical level, it’s even better. It goes for even broader, deeper themes but is matched with even more stunning visuals. This is such a radically different story for him as a filmmaker and feels like an even bigger swing. Maybe I’m overthinking it, but any jump to the genre of sci-fi seems difficult – and yet, Kogonada makes it look so easy in the way he puts character over world-building or explanations for things people don’t care about.
Kogonada is a guy who understands that characters are the root to any good story. And After Yang is an absolute love letter to the way people, whether or not they are made of flesh and blood like humans or artificial tissue like A.I.’s, and how they form connections with not just the people around them but the world they live in. Collin Farrell’s character is a wonderful vessel to go on this journey with, as he delivers another tremendous performance full of regret, warmth, and so much depth in each and every facial expression or conversation he has. It’s truly the best I’ve seen him in a while – and he’s always great! I was also thoroughly impressed with Justin H. Min’s performance as Yang, who absolutely made me cry in one scene.
From start to finish, After Yang is a tremendous triumph that is as equally existential as it is cozy and warm. It asks big questions, but presents them in a way that feel digestible and thoughtful. I feel like I could watch Kogonada tackle any genre after this one, but I’d like to see him take even more swings for sci-fi since he’s clearly so good at blending it in with sincere emotion. This is one of the absolute best films of the year, even if it’s only January.