Something about After Yang (2021) felt eerily familiar. The core concept reminded me of the Swedish series Real Humans, for one, but it may just be that its science fictional ideas spoke so powerfully to the present: contemporary themes craftily veiled with futuristic gloss. Either way, it’s a quiet, mature, intelligent science fiction drama that muses interestingly on issues of personhood and connection.
Set in the near future, the story involves a couple, Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith), who are raising an adopted Chinese daughter named Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja). The family owns a lifelike humanoid robot named Yang (Justin H. Min), purchased to assist Mika with learning about her cultural past. When Yang starts to malfunction, though, it increasingly looks like the damage may be irreparable. Mika is so attached to the robot and distraught at the thought of his demise that Jake decides to go the extra mile to restore him. In the process, he gains access to Yang’s memories, and uncovers mysteries about his robot’s “past lives.”
Smart and subdued, After Yang doesn’t need much flash and dazzle to sell its futuristic backdrop—which in any event is a one-step-removed version of our present. There are ubiquitous computing devices, online distractions, planned obsolence, and a general sense that the slick, disruptive technology supposedly connecting us may in fact be doing the opposite. Writer/director Kogonada effectively leverages a modest budget to sell the film’s solemn scenario, and if the results aren’t exactly earth-shattering, they’re solidly executed and thought-provoking, anchored by professional performances from Farrell, Sarita Choudhury, Haley Lu Richardson, and the rest of the cast.