After Yang: “A missed triumph”
South Korean-American director Kohonada brings After Yang to the Un Certain Regard section of Cannes, a sci-fi drama that takes place in a world where cloning, self-driving cars and AI bots are normal, resembling a Charlie Brooker/Alex Garland setting. Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) are parents to Mika, who they adopted from China. To ensure she is tethered to her roots they purchase Yang (Justin H Min) a “techno” – instead of the term “bot”, which seemingly is politically incorrect – who babysits Yang and teaches her about Chinese culture.
They live a fairly good life, as Jake runs a tea shop and Kyra leads a stressful but undisclosed role, and they take part in family dance competitions, making it clear that the latest arrival is seen as a second child instead of a service. However, their lives are uprooted when Yang suddenly malfunctions and Jake embarks on a long and twisting route to fixing him, discovering that the techno has been storing secrets of his own.
The film manages to place the unordinary within the ordinary and, much like Black Mirror, it asks the questions: what would humans do if certain technologies were available to them and how would that affect their existence?. After Yang gets off to a strong start with some of the most beautiful set designs in recent years, their home feeling like an oriental oasis. But as it goes on, the narrative loses its velocity, becoming duller and losing interest.
The idea at the core is both original and relevant, raising themes of parenting, marriage and the disconnect that falls within families. It could have been executed in a much more poignant way but the refined dialogue and pursuit of style over substance makes it a missed triumph. There are too many scenes where sentences are repeated, Jake watching Yang’s memories, which were impactful enough the first time, with no need for a second and a third and so on.
In terms of performances, the acting is strong but it is not the film where one thinks that only the actors picked could have done those roles. Smith and Farrell have both cemented themselves as extremely capable and devoted actors but this picture is neither of their best work. It must be said though, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja plays the frustrated and spoiled only child so well, it’s a given that she has a long career ahead of her.
After Yang is an original and powerful story of loss that lost its way in its pursuit of artistic excellence.
After Yang does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.