Colin Farrell appears in After Yang by Kogonada, an official selection of the Spotlight section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Benjamin Loeb / A24.

Sundance Film Festival 2022 Review: After Yang ★★★

Kogonada returns to Sundance after premiering his debut feature Columbus there in 2017. The filmmaker presents After Yang starring Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith in this feature which has been picked up by A24. This ponderous science-fiction piece takes a retro-modernist style as it introspectively examines what it means to be human.

Based on a short story by Alexander Weinstein, After Yang sees Jake (Farrell) and Kyra (Turner-Smith), the parents of an adopted daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja), find that Yang (Justin H. Min) their ‘techno-sapien’ lifelike human android abruptly stops functioning. After buying the product as “certified refurbished” from a now-defunct store, Jake takes the lifeless Yang to both a conspiracy theorist technician and later a technology museum curator, who discovers that Yang was actually recording memories. Jake soon begins to delve into these memories provoking questions about Yang’s potential for understanding human emotion and Jake’s own realisation that he has been a distant participant in his own life.

Opening with an elegant piano driven score from Ryuichi Sakamoto, we get a sense of gentle and introspective style that Kogonada will utilise for the feature. The filmmaker prioritises the use of long-shots capturing the retro-modernist setting (laced with minor futuristic details – a sleek skyline composed of futuristic buildings, glossy outfits), whilst often framing his characters in distinctive ways (often completely centred) and crafting intriguing character perspectives to produce an absorbing visual experience. Cinematographer Benjamin Loeb explores the family home interiors and exteriors with bright airy visuals – the bold greens and pinks of trees and flowers – whilst crafting a sense of homeliness in the charming cluttered yet spacious family home.

From its earliest moments exploring the taking of a family photo, it is clear of the family’s dependence on Yang. Workaholic father Jake, initially unbeknown to himself, uses Yang as a substitute for his own interactions with his daughter – it is not until Yang’s abrupt breakdown that Jake is forced to confront this reality. Kogonada plants seeds of intrigue throughout After Yang as Jake attempts to find a way to repair the android in the process discovering Yang has been recording memories – notions of Yang as a piece of spyware for a large technology firm are floated, but this is not the route the feature heads down. Instead Jake begins to access the memory drives of Yang, reviewing the technosapien’s interactions with his family and its observations on his own behaviour provoking some introspective truth seeking.

The disconnect with his own family soon becomes apparent, whilst fractures in his relationship with wife Kyra become clearer. Through the retrieval of these memories, Kogonada quietly explores the sense of Jake’s life discreetly passing him by – he is not wholly absent from his family’s life but undoubtedly could feature more. Pacing can feel somewhat sluggish as Jake recounts numerous metaphorical images and cerebral themes in such a ponderous and delicate manner – at moments After Yang verging on saccharine sweet. Scenes delving into Yang’s capacity to understand and respond to human emotion attempt to build up a sense of authentic sentiment – with an irony being it takes an android to show what it means to be human – yet a disconnect between the main characters and the film’s lingeringly gentle style mean this fell flat for me.

Responses have shown that the patient and lyrical approach to After Yang is hitting the spot for numerous Sundance viewers and there is no denying Kogonada has crafted an intimate glimpse at the human experience. The overreliance on metaphorical lyricism and its lingering cloyingly sentimental style did provide a disconnect for this reviewer.

After Yang plays as part of the Sundance Film Festival’s 2022 programme. Find out more details here.