After Yang
★★☆☆☆
Columbus, the début feature by video essayist Kogonada, was one of the best, though least-seen, films of 2017. So perhaps my expectations were too high going into the writer/director's sophomore effort, the more high-profile, A24 production After Yang. This metaphysical sci-fi family drama, set in the near future, follows a married couple (Colin Farrell & Jodie Turner-Smith) living with their adoptive daughter and a refurbished robotic sibling named Yang. In theory, the couple purchased Yang (Justin H. Min) to help their child learn about her Asian heritage, but in practice, Yang has taken on the role of a caretaker, co-parent, and beloved companion. When Yang malfunctions, the father must confront issues in his family dynamic as well as more existential concerns.

Kogonada is obsessive about design, color, and composition. In Columbus, he offset that controlled, aloof aesthetic with an emotional narrative about flawed, messy, relatable characters. The dichotomy is one of the elements that make Columbus so fascinating, and it's what's missing in After Yang. Every shot in After Yang looks like it was staged for some high-end architecture magazine and then insufficiently lit by the photographer. Every emotion felt by the characters seems to exist at a cerebral level, displaced from actual humanity. I suppose that's part of the point—this isn't exactly a dystopian future, but the film is set at a time when the line between human, clone, and machine is difficult to notice. Still, the cautionary nature of this theme would be easier to embrace if the film didn't seem to fetishize the cold precision of non-human entities.

The line between a multilayered picture that invites the viewer to ponder the big questions of life and a ponderous picture that fails to connect the many themes it explores is both blurry and in the eye of the beholder. But that line becomes very clear when viewing Columbus and After Yang.

Twitter Capsule:
Kogonada follows up his brilliant debut Columbus with this overthought but underwritten (and underlit!) collection of interesting ideas floating around in an inert setting.
Directed by Kogonada
Produced by Caroline Kaplan, Paul Mezey, Andrew Goldman, and Theresa Park

Screenplay by Kogonada
Based on the short story "Saying Goodbye to Yang" by Alexander Weinstein

With: Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, Justin H. Min, Orlagh Cassidy, Ritchie Coster, Sarita Choudhury, Clifton Collins Jr., Ava DeMary, Adeline Kerns, Ansley Kerns, and Haley Lu Richardson

Cinematography: Benjamin Loeb
Editing: Kogonada
Music: Aska Matsumiya

Runtime: 96 min
Release Date: 04 March 2022
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1
Color