**Warning! Spoilers for the book and movie!!**
After Yang by Alexander Weinstein (2016)
(short story from the short story collection Children of the New World)
After Yang directed by Kogonada (2022)
This movie is available to stream on Showtime!
The book and movie kind of go in different directions with this, so here I will share the summary for the story and we will get into the movie details later. This is a very short story by the way, it only took about fifteen minutes to read. Anyway, we have Jake and Kyra who adopt a Chinese orphan. This is in the future, and some people chose to have clones for children but Jake doesn’t want that and there was an earthquake in China so there are a lot of kids in China who need to be adopted.
They are worried their daughter, Mika, won’t be connected to her Chinese heritage, so they by a very human looking robot named Yang to be her “big brother” so look after her and teach her about China.
The story begins when Yang malfunctions and Jake has to take him in. His warranty is over and he first takes him to a guy his neighbor recommended. The guy tells him there is nothing he can do to fix Yang but offers to take his voice box out so they can at least have that. Jake says no, and takes Yang to get a second opinion. The second guy says the same thing, and again offers to take the voice box out and this time Jake says yeah.
They bury the remains of Yang in their backyard, then come inside and Jake places Yang’s voice box next to a family photo which has Yang. Jake tells Mika to tell Yang goodbye, and when she does, Yang’s voice box replies asking why is she saying bye and where is she going. He then tells them a random fact of China.
I really liked this short story. We see how Jake doesn’t want to admit how much Yang really meant to him. His neighbor asks how he’s doing and Jake brushes it off as if it’s no big deal because Yang was just a robot after all. But he and his family are truly grieving the loss. They also depend on Yang to watch Mika while they are at work, and now, the neighbors twins are going to help out and babysit for them. The twins are clones and Jake had a prejudice against clones, but by the end he kind of changes his view of the clones as well as the neighbor whom he judged for having clones plus for being someone who paints his face for sporting events.
This was such a short story, and I had wished there was more. Yet, I think it works really well being what it is.
I went into this book planning to only read After Yang, which is the first story in the book. I ended up loving After Yang so much, that I read the rest of the book. The stories all have a Black Mirror vibe, because all but one deal with people, with a focus on children, living in a world overrun and overdependent on technology. A number of the stories can get sexual, because satisfying your sexual appetite is a big part of this futuristic world. But it is satisfied through use of avatars and in one story, people never physically touch each other and only have sex when logged in online.
All the stories talk about children in one way or another. One story early on was a tough one about the lengths a man will go to to financially stay afloat. Another story is about a couple grieving about the loss of their children, but the way their children are lost is very different and to reveal any details would be a spoiler for that particular story. Those are some of the ones that really stuck out, but another common theme is how people are searching for ways to feel whole and are trying to find that fulfillment through technology in one way or another. When really, in one story in particular, he’d had what he was looking for all along he just hadn’t thought it was good enough. Then another story about a washed-up skier also had an interesting end.
Anyway, what I’m saying is you should read this book. It is sci-fi in a way, and if you like the show Black Mirror you will definitely like these stories.
Right off the bat, I will say I wasn’t totally feeling this movie. I really wanted to like it and thought maybe I’m just not deep enough to appreciate what it is setting out to do. And that could very well be the case. I read and watched other reviews to try and help myself decide, and honestly the review I connected with the most was by Fish Jelly Film Reviews. They gave the movie one star, and while I didn’t dislike it as much as they did, I agreed with a lot of their complaints.
I’m going to begin with the acting, so I will echo what Fish Jelly said, by saying that all of the actors felt wooden and I didn’t feel much chemistry. The two people that probably had the most chemistry was probably Mika and Yang. Well, actually, now that I think of it, Yang and Jake have a scene in particular where I could feel their chemistry as well. The scene when Kyra is connecting with Yang I wasn’t feeling quite as much.
Colin Farrell is in the lead role of Jake. I love Farrell and despite my complaints I just mentioned, he is good in this it’s just he and his wife Kyra didn’t have any chemistry. His role is more subtle, as this man tries to learn about Yang and uncovers the “technosapien’s” past. His best scene is probably the one I mentioned, when he is talking to Yang about why he is passionate about tea.
Jodie Turner-Smith plays the wife, Kyra. She felt a bit bland in this and I just wasn’t feeling her character. Maybe the director should have delved a bit more into her and that could have helped her be more fleshed out and interesting.
Justin H. Min is Yang and I have no complaints. He did a good portrayal of a robot who is trying to connect with himself and who he is and what he is drawn to. He has one on one scenes with the three family members and those scenes where some of the best in the whole movie.
Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja is very cute and plays Mika. While her character is spoiled, I still thought she was a cute character and has some strong scenes with Farrell.
A big change the movie makes, which to be fair, this is a very short story so in order to make it into a movie, you have to add a bit more. Anyway, the movie adds more intrigue by showing us that Yang has recordings from every day of his life; he kept ten seconds of every day and the ten seconds he chose to keep are what he felt was most important. When Jake takes Yang in, he is given this piece and is it very controversial and conspiracy theory-esque because the company that makes these technosapiens can get that video recording of these people lives.
Farrell spends a fair amount of time looking at Yang’s memories, and this is a cool scene because the memories are like stars in a galaxy kind of.
We learn that Yang had been in use long before reaching Jake’s family and Jake sees when Yang lived with a woman and the woman has a family member visit and Yang seems to fall in love with this woman. He has since been “refurbished” but happens to meet the clone of the woman he had fallen in love with, and the two of them have a semi-secret relationship.
Putting Yang on display
In the book, the guy the neighbor recommended, wants to take Yang apart and Jake doesn’t want that being done. The guy also has a sign that is racist towards Asians, which is all the more reason Jake doesn’t want this guy messing with Yang. When he takes him to the corporate people, they also say they can take him back and recycle him, but again Jake doesn’t want to do that. He didn’t see Yang as a thing to be torn apart and recycled. As said, they bury him instead.
In the movie, there is a woman, played by Sarita Chowdry who I talk about in my Green Knight book vs movie! But her character owns a museum type place that is all about technosapiens and she really wants Yang and some of his memories to be put on display. Similar to the book, Jake decides against it because of what Yang meant to them, but even more so because of what he has learned of Yang and sees him as a robot even less so than before.
In the book, they still have Yang’s voice box and in a way he is still part of their family in a weird way. This is not in the movie and the end has the daughter singing a song from earlier, showing her moving on from Yang and the family being at peace with the change in their life by not having him around.
In the movie, they live in a world that is filled with Asian culture. They are eating ramen, the clothing is more Asian and he even owns a tea shop. This wasn’t a thing in the book. The movie includes the guys racist sign, but in the book that seemed like more of a things and them living in a Asian run world wasn’t part of it. Referring to Fish Jelly once more, it seems in this future there was war with China, and China won. Causing the world, or at least the parts China took over, to have a more Chinese feel.
In the book it is explained that the reason why some people are racist towards all Asians is because the US invaded North Korea and this war caused some people to lump all Asians together and is racist towards all of them. It is never said who won this war with Korea.
Pros of the movie
I did find this movie to be very beautiful with a lot of symmetrical shots. Farrell described it to be a very meditative film and I would agree with that as well. It is slow, calming, and quiet.
(The interview where Farrell says that of the movie is when he went on Hot Ones. I discovered the Hot Ones interviews over a year ago, and they are seriously the best interviews ever! And I loved Farrell’s interview. I already liked and admired him and seeing him that interview made me admire him all the more!)
It also has a cool credits scene where we see Jake and his family competing with other families in a choreographed dance competition. I loved this intro and thought it was really fun and a cool way to start the movie. It doesn’t really match the pace of the rest of the film though.
Book vs movie
I want to say I like the book better, and as a whole I do like Children of the New World better than the movie After Yang. But when it is the short story After Yang versus the movie it’s a bit tougher since the story was so short. I do think the movie could have gone in more interesting directions than it did. It goes into the questions of what it means to be “human” and there is a great line where Jake is talking to the clone Yang had been with and he asks her if Yang ever talked about wanting to be human. She replies how that is such a human thing to ask-to assume that everything wants to be human like them.
I had thought the film would dwell on grief more than it does and I hadn’t expected it to go the route of learning about Yang’s past. I just didn’t find that to be the most interesting direction to go in. As I’m writing this, maybe I expected this to be more like Pig, which is a movie about grief. While After Yang does go into that, and in the end, we see them accepting the passing of Yang, it just didn’t feel as impactful as Pig had been.
I liked this movie well enough, but I don’t see myself ever watching it again. Whereas I could see myself rereading the book.