At last, a movie about an AI robot who does not secretly long to be human, nor is he turning Westworld and plotting to destroy the humans who made him. Instead, we have a sweet and thoughtful sci-fi film that interrogates the relationship between people and their androids without the dysfunctional angst.

The story focuses on a married couple, Jake (Colin Farrell) and his busy professional wife Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith), and their refurbished robot, Yang (Justin H Min), who is a sibling friend and cultural companion to their adopted Chinese daughter Mika.

Yang’s sunny face and manner is unthreatening and he is full of fun facts about… everything. When he suddenly malfunctions, Mika is distraught.

The setting is in some indeterminate future where life is not overly different to now, but for the everyday presence of robots – or “techno sapiens”, as they are known. South Korean director Kogonada adapted the screenplay from a short story by Alexander Weinstein, Saying Goodbye to Yang, which he liked for the way it seamlessly incorporated futuristic technology into familiar lives.

The dance routine at the start is gorgeous to watch, while cleverly signalling that competitive virtual dance-offs are an everyday family activity.

After Yang is lovely to look at and, partly as a nod to the film’s engagement with Asian identity, has a strong Japanese aesthetic, in the maple tree outside their home, in Kyra’s kimono dress, in the focus on household art objects including ikebana, in the ramen they eat at night and in the artisanal tea house Jake runs with great attention to detail.

Yang’s future becomes more precarious when they learn they will have to access his core to find out what went wrong. What they discover inside troubles Jake and Kyra, and attracts the interest of an android museum. It could be advanced spyware that has been eavesdropping on their lives, or it could just be a bank of family memories.

Kyra thinks they should let Yang die, forcing her and Jake to step up and stop outsourcing Mika’s upbringing to a machine, but Jake is on another path.

The questions and answers After Yang raises are far from precise, and to say that is not to find fault. If anything, the film’s gentle and ruminative style is its strength, because it offers us a way to imagine a future with androids that doesn’t fill us with existential terror.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.