There’s a lot about Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong that’s familiar. With much of the film made up entirely of conversations between its two main characters, Ruby (Jamie Chung) and Josh (Bryan Greenberg), as they wander around a non-U.S. city, and much of the drama revolving around their unspoken romantic tensions, Emily Ting’s debut feature owes a clear debt to Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy—perhaps too clear. For all the easy chemistry between the two stars (easy, in part, because the two actors are married to each other), their characters feel a bit blander and more generic than Céline and Jesse in Linklater’s films, their dialogue less thoughtful and incisive. And the moments when Ting tries to ramp up the drama, mostly through late-breaking revelations, can’t help but seem artificial in this otherwise naturalistic context, smacking of writer’s contrivance more than anything else.
Nevertheless, Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong charms anyway if you can get onto its swooning romantic-fantasy wavelength. And if the larger story it tells isn’t exactly fresh, Ting peppers her film with enough well-observed details to keep us thematically and emotionally invested. Take, for instance, Ruby’s action of stepping away to secretly take a peek at Josh’s Face-book profile after he sends her a friend request in order to get a glimpse of Josh outside of their two separated-by-one-year nights together—an accurate depiction of the kind of behavior native to our social-media-saturated time.
There’s more to the film’s attention to detail than just such cute topical grace notes, though. Consider the irony of the white American Josh being the one who has lived in Hong Kong for many years and being much more knowledgeable and comfortable with the culture than Ruby, a Chi-nese-American toy designer born and raised in the U.S. who has never learned Cantonese and thus feels ill at ease in the country of her parents’ birth. Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong swims freely in such cultural contradictions, forming the basis of much of the conversation between the two characters. Josh passionately extols Hong Kong’s metropolitan glamour (enchantingly captured by cinematographer Josh Silfen), while Ruby finds it not only alienating, but indicative of a culture she sees as predominantly focused on conspicuous consumption (a perspective Josh doesn’t challenge so much as accept as fact, without judgment).
Other such culture-clash matters abound in their dialogue. Ruby feels a certain measure of guilt over the long-distance interracial romance she’s carrying on with a guy in Los Angeles, while Josh doesn’t bat an eye when he talks about his Chinese girlfriend. Still, there are things they miss as expats: One of the more insightful exchanges between the two revolves around a Seinfeld joke that they can only share between each other, since few people in Hong Kong would understand the humor in the reference.
Outside of its cultural concerns, however, Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong tells a more universal tale of characters struggling with professional and personal desires, romantic or otherwise. Josh begins the film as one of the many in hustling and bustling Central Hong Kong work-ing in finance, and in their first night together, he candidly discloses to the more risk-taking Ru-by his fears about quitting his high-paying, cushy job in order to focus on his passion for writing. Later in the film, during their second night together after a year apart, Ruby admits she has put aside her dream of creating her own fashion design business, rationalizing it by saying she finds enough challenges in designing stuffed toys to get by, for now at least. Especially for the economically volatile state in which the world currently exists, such worries are bound to resonate with many viewers.
In the end, though, romance is at the heart of Ting’s film, coming down, as it inevitably must, to a decision one of the characters is forced to make when they both realize how much they love each other, and how acting on their feelings would mean hurting their current significant others. This thread turns out to be less satisfying, especially in the cop-out way it’s (not really) resolved. Nevertheless, Ting’s occasional insights into characters negotiating cultural differences and professional/personal transitions are bound to linger long after the specific details of its characters have faded from memory.
Director: Emily Ting
Writer: Emily Ting
Starring: Bryan Greenberg, Jamie Chung
Release Date: February 12, 2015
Kenji Fujishima is a freelance film critic, contributing to Slant Magazine, Brooklyn Magazine, The Playlist and the Village Voice. He is also Deputy Editor of Movie Mez-zanine and former editor-in-chief of In Review Online. When he’s not watching mov-ies and writing and editing film criticism, he’s trying to absorb as much music, art, and literature as possible. He has not infrequently been called a “culture vulture” for that reason.