Not every New York gangster film has to be the equal of “The Godfather,” and plenty of directors have made exorcism movies outside the shadow of William Friedkin. So it certainly ought to be possible to make a film about two loquacious strangers gradually falling in love while ambling around a foreign city for a night without drawing unfavorable comparisons to “Before Sunrise.” Yet first-time writer-director Emily Ting’s “It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong” isn’t quite up to the task, and this earnest, slight romance doesn’t generate enough sparks to overcome the anxiety of its obvious influence. But as a simple valentine to Hong Kong’s expat nightlife, the film makes for charming, breezy viewing, and the director shows promise going forward.
In contrast with Jesse and Celine’s initial existential gauntlet, “It’s Already Tomorrow’s” central thirtysomethings cross paths under rather prosaic terms. Josh (Bryan Greenberg) is having a smoke outside a bar when he spies Ruby (Jamie Chung) struggling to find directions to her next destination, and he offers to accompany her there himself.
While both are Americans, Josh has been living in Hong Kong for a decade while working at an investment bank; Ruby, a stuffed-animal designer, is just in town for a quick business trip. The two hit it off immediately as they walk, talk and eventually begin to flirt. Making a pit stop for drinks, they discuss their ambitions and careers, with Ruby urging Josh to follow his dreams of quitting banking to become a writer. Just as things are starting to get interesting, a key miscommunication breaks the spell, and they awkwardly part ways.
A year later, the two run into each other again on a ferry. Ruby is now living in Hong Kong, while Josh — who’s since traded his crisp suit-and-tie for a beard, a messenger bag and a Murakami paperback — is having a go at being an unemployed novelist. They make amends for their earlier unpleasantness and pick up where they left off, visiting a crab joint and a fortune teller, all the while trying to dance around the fact that both have offscreen significant others.
Ting’s screenplay gives them plenty to talk about, from East-West relationship stereotypes to homesickness, finance and “Seinfeld,” and though their dialogue feels natural, it’s rarely particularly insightful. Lead actors Chung and Greenberg are apparently a real-life couple, and clearly have no issues generating basic chemistry, but there doesn’t seem to be much binding their characters beyond immediate attraction, no sense that a once-in-a-lifetime connection is being forged or slipping away.
Indeed, even at their most digressive, the freewheeling conversations in the “Before” trilogy were always imbued with deeper tensions, of innocence vs. experience, desire vs. memory, the heart vs. the head. “It’s Already Tomorrow” has a clearer narrative arc than any of those three films, yet the stakes feel comparatively featherweight. On the whole, these characters just seem like average people on an unusual date, and the film’s hurried attempts to introduce real complications for them come across as a bit unearned.
Ting nonetheless has a great feel for Hong Kong. Shooting almost entirely outdoors at night, she and d.p. Josh Silfen capture the city’s washes of neon in crisp, warmly saturated tones, and she manages to keep the vibe intimate even when Ruby and Josh are trudging through gargantuan crowds. A two-minute Steadicam shot along the water and some deceptively simple staging on a jittery city bus both demonstrate sharp filmmaking instincts, and as long as the director’s next project gives her more interesting characters with more interesting things to say, her skills could be put to great use.