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The following is a written review, but be sure to listen (above) to our in-depth examination of the film where we disagree on many points. Outside a busy bar, Ruby (Jamie Chung) is mildly distressed talking on her phone with friends. They are someplace else waiting for her and she doesn’t know to get there, being her first time in the city. Standing nearby is Josh (Bryan Greenberg), who overhears and offers to help, giving directions at first, and then volunteering to walk her to her friends. She declines initially, but relents, charmed by his kindness.
They begin to stroll and we learn that Josh is an American ex-pat from New York who has lived in Hong Kong for ten years, working in finance. Ruby is a Chinese-American from Los Angeles, a toy designer on her first trip to China. The more they walk, the closer they become as they share some personal pasts and aspirations, and when they finally arrive at Ruby’s destination, she abandons them to spend time together. They get a drink and it’s there that he confesses that back at the bar, he was attending a birthday party . . . for his girlfriend.
Ruby naturally is upset and walks away, frustrated that he kept what she felt was something with potential. They part and that seems the end of it until a year later, they meet again on a ferry and while there are some tensions, they again end up on a long walk where more is discovered and clear romantic emotions bubble to the surface, even when things are learned that should stop them from feeling the way they do.
Written and directed by Emily Ting, in her feature debut, Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong is a talky film that plays out like a filmed stage play as the movie’s only characters explore themselves and take viewers on a tour of the city. All conversation is plot-directed of course, meant to drive the couple closer together and build up audience expectations, a formula that has proven itself effective time and time again. This is a story designed to color a very specific picture, to wedge them into well-defined molds that leave little room for anything else.
Josh and Ruby are obviously drawn to each other and as they walk and walk and walk, we are pawns in the game that have us asking all the while if they will just get together or not, the caveat being that on their second meeting, they both have significant others. Those ‘others’ are superficial at best of course, invisible hurdles that keep the two at bay even while they can barely stand being apart.
There’s no denying some good chemistry between Greenberg and Chung, who both deserve a bit better than this, despite some good moments. There is a structure to it all that lacks fluidity and a sense of organic growth, instead played out with a deliberate pace that uses dialogue as a series of carefully-constructed bridges. A series of obviously contrived sequences, such a montage at an outdoor market and a hopelessly artificial moment with a street fortune teller (played by the legendary Richard Ng) keep things tepid at best, even if both leads are endlessly charming to watch. The problem is the fundamental flaw in the characters who are both in relationships that are never explored, leaving us feeling like these are just two attractive people who are destined to cheat.
Watching a film like this, it’s not hard to recall Richard Linklater‘s superior Before trilogy, and it’s perhaps unfair to compare. Yet, there is a feeling this wants to be as provocative, especially with its ending. The long conversation genre movie is a tricky business, with few able to keep the balance, and while Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong has the right intentions, it’s simply too well-packaged and presented to feel authentic and comes away forgettable for it.
Movie description: Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong is a 2016 romantic-drama about an unusual relationship between a young woman and man who meet on a walk in Hong Kong.
Director: Emily Ting
Writers: Emily Ting, Emily Ting
Stars: Jamie Chung, Bryan Greenberg
Language: English, Chinese