“After Yang” is the filmic adaptation of Alexander Weinstein’s short story “Saying Goodbye to Yang.” Directed by Kogonada, this science-fiction drama film takes viewers on a ride of beautiful contemplation about childhood, memories, family, and our existence as human beings. The film tells the heartfelt story of a family of three and their android humanoid companion, Yang, in a very calm and almost therapeutic manner, giving enough time to think and feel, and with an exquisite sense of subtlety that makes it a unique and enjoyable watch.
‘After Yang’ Plot Summary
Jake is a middle-aged man who is very passionate about tea leaves and the process of brewing tea, but his tea shop is losing business rapidly. His family includes his wife Kyra, their adopted daughter Mika, and Yang, who is an AI humanoid companion. As Mika is a young Chinese girl growing up in America, her Western parents decided to get the humanoid robot, who is also Asian, to help Mika feel at ease and also to teach her about her Chinese heritage and culture.
One of the most popular pass-times for the family is participating in a monthly dance-off competition, which can be done from the comfort of their own home by performing in front of the television. On one evening, as they are eliminated from the dance-off due to a break in rhythm, Jake, Kyra and Mika find that Yang has malfunctioned as he does not stop dancing at first, and then when he does, he does not wake up anymore. Jake had bought Yang as a certified refurbished model from a used humanoid dealership, but when he goes there to claim the warranty, he finds that the shop has gone out of business and there is a new shop in its place.
Meanwhile, Mika is tremendously upset without her elder brother, with whom she shared the closest bond, and she is even unable to understand what has happened to him. Jake also tries to find a solution with the Brothers and Sisters Incorporated, the company that makes these humanoid companions, but they only recommend he gets Yang replaced with a newer model and get a heavy discount. Jake knows that doing that would hurt Mika even more, and he himself does not want to do it, so out of a desperate desire to save and repair Yang, he goes to an unauthorized repairman called Russ.
After a day or two, when Jake returns to the workshop, Russ tells him of a special spyware chip that he found inside the robot, one that (according to him) is used by foreign countries to breach the privacy of households. The chip supposedly records videos and captures certain moments, and Jake is immediately drawn to it to find out what it is. On Russ’s recommendation, he goes to the Museum of Technology and talks to a specialist named Cleo. After examination, Cleo informs Jake that the chip is not spyware but rather a very rare memory bank chip that had been introduced into some techno-sapiens (that is the name of the humanoids in the film) for a brief amount of time, which allowed the AI minds to capture and record a few seconds each day and store them forever, in the same way, that human brains create memories. Although it had been done to research what the artificial minds considered worthy of remembering, it had soon been stopped due to issues of a privacy breach. She tells Jake how to view the memories on the chip and also informs him that there is no possibility for Yang to come back to life. Jake decides to go through the memories before donating Yang’s body and the memory bank to the museum for further research.
Major Spoilers Ahead
What Had Yang Stored In His Memory?
Going through the memory chip that night, Jake at first finds some memories of a young, attractive woman, which suggests that Yang had the ability to feel romantically. Then, gradually, he comes across memories of them, from when Mika was a toddler, when she still responded to her traditional name, Mei-Mei, and then her gradual growing up. Yang had not only kept memories of people, but also of things; a window with sun rays, a rainy afternoon, tiny leaves stirring inside a glass of amber-colored tea; Yang had kept track of whatever he found beautiful. Throughout the film, Yang is presented as an extremely calm and loving person (for he is definitely more than a robot), who was also profound and thoughtful at times, through these recollections (also through flashbacks). He had helped Mika understand who she was and how she was a part of the family even though she was adopted. He had expressed a lot of interest (and support) in Jake’s serious passion for brewing tea, wishing that he could understand the finer details of tea better. When Kyra had asked him about his butterfly collection, Yang had expressed their beauty in his own perception, and then the two had discussed the improbability and the unnecessariness of the thought of an afterlife. In these finest moments of recollection and memory in the film, Yang hardly feels like an AI machine. It is almost like the film talks about human memory in general, especially modern memory, which is mostly short-lived, lasting only a few seconds. Do humans not remember in the same way now, through photographs and videos of memories on their smartphones and devices? The film also presents this passive recollection in an intelligent manner—when Kyra or Jake remember their own memories of the same events captured by Yang, there is often a repeat of dialogues and scenes (from different camera positions), signifying the difference in perspective.
After nights of watching the clips on the chip, Jake goes out in search of the unknown woman, to the coffee shop where Yang would meet her. After the manager refuses to share her details with Jake, the woman herself comes to his house and introduces herself as Ada. Confirming that she was indeed in a relationship with Yang, she and Jake share sympathies with each other, as the woman has lost a lover and the family has lost a son. Ada and Mika go to the museum to see Yang’s corporeal body and to see the area where he would be put up. Tinkering some more with the memory chip, Jake realizes that his family was the third household that Yang had been a part of. To find out more about Yang’s past, Jake reaches into the previous two memory clusters; the second one is nearly empty, but he finds what he is looking for in the first one.
‘After Yang’ Ending Explained: What Had Happened In Yang’s Earlier Life?
The first memory cluster on the chip is filled with short video clips, as Yang had lived an entire life a few decades back, from the present. He had helped raise an Asian boy, and when he left after growing up, Yang had been a companion to his elderly mother. To help the mother more, the son had also hired another woman to help, a woman who looked exactly like Ada. Yang had fallen in love with her and had been in a relationship until she was killed in a road accident. Ada meets Jake and tells her about all this, and Ada informs him that she is a clone of that same woman, who used to be her great-aunt, but Yang had never told her about this. She wishes that he had told her about all of this, and then she seems to disappear. Later, Jake and Kyra decide that they do not want to let Yang be put up for exhibition, although they do want to let him be used for research.
When thinking of why Ada disappears in the scene with Jake, the most probable answer is that it is because her love is now not just her but quite generational, meaning that it does not have any corporeal existence. The scene can be looked at as a camera trick, even, signifying that it is some other time when Jake goes on a walk alone. Either way, the film does not say much about it, because it is not of significance. It can be argued that the film loses its tightness in this last bit, and the ideas of rebirth (albeit in a twisted sense) have been raised without much exploration.
Nonetheless, “After Yang” remains a thought-provoking watch. There is a sense of childlessness (like many other sci-fi worlds) in this world—there are corporate companies that manufacture non-human siblings and children for people, and it is common for people to make clones: Jake’s neighbor had cloned his own daughter because he wanted twins. A subtle sense of racism and xenophobia exists as well—a shot shows an American flag with the words “There’s no yellow in the red, white, and blue,” which was a racist song in America during WWII; and characters like Russ and George are skeptical of the foreign country’s (China’s) ill-practices of installing spyware in tech products to spy on American homes. All of the layers of thought it provides, combined with touching acting performances from Colin Farrell (as Jake) and little Malea Tjandrawidjaja (as Mika), make “After Yang” a wonderful viewing experience.
“After Yang” is a 2022 Science Fiction Drama film directed by Kogonada.