Two young people wander a foreign -- to us, anyway -- city at night, mostly just talking. No, it's not the next installment in Linklater's Before series, though even the temporally-focused title of Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong points towards this influence.
This time it's Ruby (Jamie Chung) and Josh (Bryan Greenberg) meandering through Hong Kong. In a bit of a change-up, Josh is more the native here, having lived in the city for ten years as an investment banker. Ruby is visiting on business as a toy designer.
There's also a tinge of When Harry Met Sally going on, in that we actually see Ruby and Josh meet twice, about a year apart, and given their existing romantic partners there's a fair bit of talk about whether this is a burgeoning friendship or something more. I actually hoped that writer/director Emily Ting would revisit the pair in a series of vignettes to see how things grow and change over time, but instead the first, short meeting mostly sets the stage for the second one, which takes up the bulk of the movie.
Speaking of which, this one clocks in at a brisk 81 minutes, and even a big chunk of that is taken up with montages of Ruby and Josh making their way through various night markets, in the sort of gee-whiz exoticism that it seems no Western-trained director making a movie in the Orient can escape. I found myself wondering if a more ruthless editor could have cut the second section down to a really good short film that doesn't bury the best parts amongst others that come off more repetitious than anything else.
There's a lot of "hey, here's something weird (from an American perspective) about Hong Kong" moments, for example. And these are usually followed by "yeah, but you get used to that; how about another montage?" Some of them really work, like the street restaurant Ruby and Josh visit, or the fortune teller who lets his little bird select the fortune. Even the shot of the Hong Kong skyline from the ferry manages to serve a purpose. But after a while these start to get lost in the shuffle, and they take time away from the conversation.
Because if you're trying to draw on Before Sunrise, the conversation has to come first. And, ideally, it should range a lot wider than this one does. At its best, Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong puts some serious thought towards the disconnect between our assumptions and reality. If you saw this couple on the street in Kowloon, which one would you assume spoke Cantonese? What would you think their relationship is like? Their talks even flirt with something more meaningful and dangerous: what are they assuming about each other? Can culture-shock exist between two people?
But, ultimately, the movie we get always turns back to the safe ground of will-they-or-won't-they rom-com standards. And I get it; I do. It's the comfortable, familiar choice that might not be what you grew up with, but ultimately isn't going to ask too much of you. Still, when it's over you might wonder, what if I'd pushed myself and tried those chicken feet after all?
Rating: 2 out of 5