“It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong” – 2015 NYAFF Review


Midway through Emily Ting’s “It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong” (2014), there is a scene where the female lead, played by Jamie Chung, adamantly declares to her love interest that, though hungry, will not eat chicken feet under any circumstances. Her co-star responds in kind to her by chortling. End of scene, and anything in the way of respect or admiration for this picture.

You might be thinking that I’m just overreacting, that this small scene in a film bursting at the seams with an abundance of cliché tropes might be harmless, but for me it illustrates exactly why I hate this type of movie.  First of all, labeling the picture as Asia’s answer to Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy is wholly false advertising. Yes, the film is dialogue heavy and is propelled by a romantic storyline but the similarities between the two end there. The Before trilogy charted the relationship ups and downs of two people, from meet-cute to reunion and then marriage. Each entry was a rollercoaster ride as the couple in the story struggled to reconcile their feelings for one another with external factors that were always trying to pull them apart. What made Linklater’s films classics of the romance genre was that the director eschewed melodrama for a more contemplative visual and narrative style.

Ting copies Linklater’s visual style well enough. There are the requisite long takes of a couple walking and talking, their conversations foregrounded by beautiful location photography. However, while the audience can get lost in a sense of wonderment as it travels with Linklater’s couple, the sites Ting chooses to represent Hong Kong are so generic that aside from one or two landmarks, one wouldn’t be able to tell this Hong Kong from another Westernized Asian city. It’s also quite annoying in this day and age that filmmakers still deem it a relevant practice to visually express time passage through the use of time-lapsed footage of cars moving in traffic. Once is fine, but it feels like one-third of this film’s runtime is devoted to just showing cars zooming through busy intersections.

Casting real life pairing Bryan Greenberg and Jamie Chung to play the couple in the picture means that the actors’ familiarity with one another actually works against the film.  As a result, there is no tension because both halves are so compatible, which actually hurts the film’s credibility. From the moment they first meet until the movie’s cloying ending, we know these two will end up together. There is no sense of struggle, or even any development or evolution in their relationship. They start off flirting with one another and just continue dancing around the obvious. Even when the story shoehorns the fact that Greenberg’s character has a girlfriend and Chung’s Ruby character has a fiancé, it’s obvious that the two have only each other on their minds – the stakes never get too heated.

However, my biggest issue with “It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong” is its premise of a white guy teaching an Asian woman about her cultural roots. I won’t even delve into the Orientalist quagmire that’s present in the film; that issue is far too complicated to hash out in a review.  But what is troubling about Ting’s picture is that Ruby’s purpose is to serve as a foil for Greenberg’s character, who lectures her on the finer points of everything from cuisine, Hong Kong topography, Chinese etiquette, and dating rituals. I don’t mind that the white male lead is well-versed in Cantonese and interacts with the locals – which makes sense for his character since he’s lived in Hong Kong for more than 10 years – but does that mean the female lead should be devoid of any sort of cultural awareness?

“It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong” screens Sun., June 28, at 6:45 p.m. at the Film Society of Lincoln Center as part of the 2015 New York Asian Film Festival.