What if Blade Runner but less mercenary and more dreamy?
There’s the lull: the moment before you reset, before you correct your vague, off-kilter buffering, before returning to the world. After Yang lives in the lull, with beautifully subdued and contemplative performances all round, led by a melancholic Colin Farrell, enveloped in hypnotic production design, lighting, lensing, and sound design which gently immerse us in the lull.
AI ‘helper’ Yang (Justin H. Min) was gifted to his human little sister Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) as a means for her to learn more about her Chinese heritage than either her white father Jake (Farrell) or black mother Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) could provide. When Yang stops working, we follow Jake’s search for a way to revive, or at least recover, as much of Yang as possible. In attempting to preserve Yang’s memory files, however, Jake discovers Yang’s search for an identity of his own.
After Yang takes the Blade Runner (1982) sci-fi conceit that it’s our memories which couch our emotions, which in turn are what make even androids human, out of the noir detective space and into an abstract detective space.
In After Yang, director, editor, and co-writer Kogonada traffics in the emotional power of disembodied and decontextualised images. This gently but inexorably lures the viewer into doing some Kuleshov forensics: does a single shot, without a counterpart or reverse shot, carry inherent meaning? If we probe deep enough, what clues, what embedded narrative, might we find contained within the very aesthetics of an image? Eyes, lighting, colour – what do these say when devoid of cultural context, and what do they then say when different cultural lenses are applied?
As Jake probes the details of these scant images, so too the film invites us to probe the aesthetics of Benjamin Loeb‘s beautiful cinematography and Kogonada’s abstract, almost Brechtian editing of alternate takes, which stitch together slightly different camera angles and line deliveries, asking us to consider the component parts of subjective experience, to dreamily disorienting, uniquely reflective, and deeply moving effect.
“I want the special effects to be the language of cinema,” Kogonada tells AFI:
In film language, Yang’s memories, as presented to both Jake and to the viewer, play on what we usually depend on to create meaning: they are shots without a sequence to help us make sense of them or build a narrative – an effect known to us as The Kuleshov Effect: