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Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 02/20/16 11:02:53

"Before sunrise on the other side of the world."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Sometimes, I feel like I'm an easy mark for movies like "Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong" - they are basically two people flirting for an hour or two while walking around a foreign city, allowing the viewer to play tourist by proxy, and that doesn't seem like much for the pleasure they give me. On the other hand, who doesn't enjoy sightseeing and falling in love? This movie delivers that without distraction but with just enough personality that it doesn't need more.

The star-crossed couple meets outside a bar: Joshua (Bryan Greenberg) is smoking a cigarette and seems kind of annoyed, while Ruby (Jamie Chung), in the city for a business trip, is trying to meet friends at a spot across town but has an old phone without maps. Having been living in Hong Kong for ten years, Joshua offers to walk her there; she accepts, they talk, they seem to connect, but it's not the right time. The next year, they meet again on a ferry, and while it seems that not enough has changed for them to become more than friends, who knows?

Since making the movie, stars Bryan Greenberg and Jamie Chung have married, and this does seem to be a happy case of on-screen and real-life chemistry lining up. Writer/director Emily Ting had them comment on other pairings of white men and younger Asian women, but makes the way these two complement one another more specific - she's often nervous but sharp, while he's settled enough to cover his insecurities by staying in a comfort zone. They're built to draw each other not so much out of their shells but out of their ruts, engaging rather than standing back, and the pair respond to each other well. We only see them separate briefly, but putting them together generates a clear spark that is a little muted otherwise.

They are a pleasure to watch both together and individually, just in how they portray their characters. Chung in particular is great at giving a quick, funny response without it sounding like rehearsed banter, and a luminous smile when Ruby finds something that delights her unexpectedly. Greenberg handles the frustration that lurks under Joshua's optimistic words very nicely; when it comes out, it doesn't feel like a dark core but wrestling with bits of reality not living up to his hopes. There are only a few other performances in the movie that get enough screen time to be noticed, most notably Richard Ng as a fortune-teller who exemplifies how the wisdom of age is not always as universal as one might hope.

Important characters necessarily exist entirely off-screen, and it's impressive how Ting builds them in relatively few words and references, just enough to keep them from being complete ciphers but allowing the audience to fill gaps in. The way Ruby and Joshua spent the year or so between meetings fills in nicely too - if Ruby is no longer a lost tourist, she is still only familiar with Hong Kong in a fairly utilitarian way (perhaps explaining why Ting doesn't quite go the love-letter route in showing the city), while Joshua seems to draw some resentment from former colleagues. It helps keep a certain amount of doubt in play as the end approaches.

I do have some mixed feelings about the end; I half-wonder if an important piece or two was cut because the scene didn't work and Ting decided that ambiguity was better than a late moment that didn't ring true. Maybe that shows that, much like most things, making this sort of lightweight-seeming romance is harder than it looks.

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