Richard Linklater Haunts Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong

As it gets to be more and more of a challenge to draw audiences in to sit through a romantic movie, writer-directors have to try even harder to angle their stories from a unique, fresh perspective. With Emily Ting’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, an innovative approach is, obviously, borrowed from Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset and Before Sunrise.

The glimmering, bright lights of Hong Kong open the film, segueing into the exterior of a bar called Heat, where a seemingly bored, disgruntled expat named Josh Rosenberg (Bryan Greenberg) overhears Ruby Lin (Jamie Chung) tell a friend on the phone that she doesn’t have “GPS” (which, one assumes, means a smartphone) so she won’t be able to find her way to Lan Kwai Fong without specific directions. “No reception” leads her to drop the call before she can establish the way, making Josh her only viable knight in shining armor. Although he’s there for “a party,” he offers to walk her to Lan Kwai Fong since he “doubt(s) anyone will miss him for five minutes.” But, naturally, that five minutes comes across as more of an hour while they walk the streets of Hong Kong through the famed Central–Mid-Levels escalator to get to Ruby’s destination, all the while learning information about one another in much the same way as Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) in Before Sunset–walking and talking with the city as the backdrop as a means to keep the audience riveted.

And yes, Josh and Ruby have their fair share of banter, including a debate about the injustice of white people being called expats while non-whites get relegated to “immigrant.” Josh tries to argue that an “immigrant” is there to stay in a country, while an “expat” is only slated to be in a certain country for a more limited amount of time. To this, Ruby counters, “And how long have you been here?” The answer to that is: “Ten years.” Thus, Ruby’s point about discrimination is proved, and they move on to the next topic, which is career goals and how Josh should give his job up in finance to pursue his real passion: becoming a novelist.

Josh sees the logic in Ruby’s urging, but expresses that he can’t deny he’s gotten accustomed to a certain lifestyle. This is after he’s agreed to grab a drink with her at one of his more “locals only” bars when Ruby decides that she can meet her friends the next day instead, as she’s “had a really great time getting lost with [him] tonight.” Josh, overtly hesitant to accept her offer at first, gives in when he reads the disappointment on her face. It is later, when Josh finally reveals that he has to get back to the party because it’s actually his girlfriend’s birthday party that he’s been missing, that we fully understand his hesitancy. Ruby’s expected reaction is anger, as she’s been blatantly led on all night by Josh’s “emotional cheating.”

The story doesn’t end there, though. One year later, Josh encounters Ruby again on a ferry to Kowloon. Both have significantly adjusted their appearance in terms of the clothes they’re wearing; Josh is now dressed down from a suit, while Ruby has amped up her wardrobe with more Financial District-ready attire (which is a bit far-fetched considering she’s still a toy designer from Los Angeles). As they get to talking, Josh offers to accompany her to the tailor to pick up a suit, which he soon discovers is for her boyfriend. After Josh negotiates the price down for her in Cantonese, Ruby can’t resist his offer to continue the night with a drink, followed by dinner, more drinks and, eventually, a trip to his friends’ band’s show. The entire time, it’s blatant that their connection is mounting, yet neither can seem to admit to what’s happening right in front of their faces, mainly because they both still have someone else to return to.

The “open-ended” conclusion that has become so cliche of late in romantic movies was, undeniably, initiated by Linklater’s Before… series, and works just as effectively for Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong. And yet, there is something that just doesn’t ring quite as true for Josh and Ruby. Maybe because they’re both desperate to establish a connection–any connection–that’s more interesting that the one they have with their current significant others.