We first heard about Kogonada‘s next movie in June 2018. Back then, the filmmaker’s dreamily meticulous feature debut, Columbus, had quietly entranced the film community just a year prior, everyone had been waiting on news of a follow-up, and we absolutely rejoiced.
Deadline has announced more riveting news about the project since. Kogonada’s sophomore effort After Yang has landed its star: Colin Farrell.
Farrell is confirmed to headline the film, which is based on Alexander Weinstein‘s speculative short story, Saying Goodbye to Yang. Kogonada is slated to write as well as direct the movie, which A24 has picked up and greenlit.
After Yang is a family drama with a sci-fi bent, set years in the future when scientific innovation has unearthed new forms of childrearing and family planning. The narrative follows a white couple who adds two children to their household. First, they adopt a Chinese girl named Mika. They then purchase Yang, her robotic counterpart.
To quote a portion of the short story (which can be read here), “[Yang is] a Big Brother, babysitter, and storehouse of cultural knowledge all in one.” Thanks to his intelligent programming, he is able to help his sister stay in touch with her Chinese roots. Furthermore, Yang is actually adept at American customs that his new parents are used to as well, effectively making him the perfect son.
So, when the boy suddenly malfunctions, the family must learn to cope with losing someone who has become more than a caretaker and helper within their family unit.
Everything about After Yang rings true to Kogonada’s sensibilities as a filmmaker. It may sound conventional in plot, but imagining how he will incorporate his shrewd yet lovely insights into a different kind of relationship-based story is a treat.
Because putting John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson together in Columbus sounded like a great if unlikely collaboration at the time. However, through Kogonada’s visionary craftsmanship, the film portrays its protagonists’ personal journeys — as brief friends at vital crossroads of their lives — with deeply-felt empathy.
Columbus is a visually meaningful film, too. The architectural genius of its Indiana setting doesn’t simply splice pretty shots together into an empty collage either. Instead, Kogonada creates a genuine and organic onscreen relationship that drives the softest and most fulfilling tale of self-actualization through clean frames of modernist architecture complementing similarly complex interpersonal discussions.
And despite being set in the present day, as well as defined by starkly relatable issues, there is something timeless and otherworldly about Columbus. The all-encompassing filmic experience of the story wakes audiences up to different kinds of beauty in the world within and out of the film, reflecting conceptions of passions and self-worth off of gorgeous towering structures.
I don’t doubt that Kogonada will bring that same ethereal realness into the futuristic story of After Yang. The movie is very much rooted in the complicated nature of what it means to be a complete, “real” family. After Yang utilizes sci-fi mechanics that allow characters — who end up being far more than meets the eye — to unearth their true selves in heartrending, natural ways.
Where does Farrell fit into Kogonada’s dreamy aesthetic? For a long time, the actor was the most easily identified through a range of roguish and oftentimes violent characters that pepper his repertoire. Farrell’s onscreen presence was heavily defined by an obvious defiant charisma that oozes throughout his work, from his Martin McDonagh collaborations to Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled. Even bigger studio pictures — S.W.A.T., Fright Night, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, to name a few — employ or tease a hot-headed bad boy persona.
Nevertheless, Farrell still has a chance to shine in a Kogonada drama. Notably, After Yang‘s unexpectedly funny source material will work to his advantage. Weinstein’s writing isn’t just poignant. There’s enough humor in the prose to break apart its emotional undercurrents. And Farrell is electric with comedic material, if Intermission, In Bruges, and Seven Psychopaths are any indication.
But I think if we looked at Farrell’s filmography holistically, we’ve got a man named Yorgos Lanthimos to thank for truly pushing the actor the furthest within the auteur sphere. The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer are quiet standouts requiring more subdued performances that Farrell delivers extremely well. Their individual premises are certainly stifling. Nevertheless, they ensure that unsettlingly human questions spawn from wacky and creepy situations.
The Lobster displays instances of pure ache and desire that encourages a more immediate comparison to Columbus. Meanwhile, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is pretty much the diametrical opposite to a film so loving.
Nonetheless, these Lanthimos projects immediately came to my mind in the wake of Farrell’s involvement in After Yang because of their uncanny marriage of setting, aesthetic, and performance. They are all complete cinematic outings in their own ways. Farrell does well to find more indie success with yet another distinctive filmmaker, while After Yang nabs a credible star. Match made.