Thursday, June 25, 2015

NYAFF ’15: It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a wildly cinematic city, but it is not conducive to rom-coms. Johnnie To keeps trying, but it is his gangster-cop dramas that will be remembered. Still, two American ships passing in the night will take their best shot at talky flirtatiousness in Emily Ting’s It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong (clip here), which screens during the 2015 New York Asian Film Festival.

Ruby Lin is a Chinese American toy designer who does not speak a word of Cantonese. Josh Rosenberg is a fluent American expat working in finance. There paths cross on the one night she happens to be in Hong Kong for business. He helps her navigate the city, sparks fly, and then epic fail. One year later, they bump into each other on the Kowloon ferry. She is now temporarily working in HK, but she still does not feel comfortable there. Much to her surprise, Rosenberg has chucked in his high paying corporate gig and has adopted the lifestyle of a literary bohemian. It’s all her fault, by the way.

They start slower on their second go-round, but eventually they generate the same heat again. However, this time they are uncomfortably aware of the other’s respective romantic partners. Maybe it cannot lead anywhere, but the food looks delicious and the scenery is picture postcard perfect.

Yes, it is kind of like the Linklater trilogy. So what? Frankly, even Before Sunrise was not so earth-shatteringly original when it first released. There was a 1945 film called Brief Encounter that covered similar thematic terrain and it was based on a play from the 1930s. David Lean did it better than anyone, but Ting has a huge trump card in the city of Hong Kong. It is easy to imagine a lot of indulgent boyfriends and husbands getting dragged on a It’s Already Tomorrow pilgrimage tour (or maybe vice versa). Seriously, Ting and cinematographer Josh Silfen make the mega-city look ever so seductive (and also quite a bit overwhelming).

As Lin and Rosenberg, co-executive producers Jamie Chung and Bryan Greenberg exhibit real chemistry, as apparently they ought to. Even their idlest chatter is pretty hot, yet it almost always sounds believably grounded. Even though they riff on Seinfeld, Ting’s screenplay mercifully never sounds like it is trying to deliberately coin catch-phrases.

NYAFF’s screening of IATIHK is presented in conjunction with the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in New York, who really should be at the theater selling HK tourism packages. They would probably get a lot of takers. In many ways, the film follows a predictable pattern, but its ambiguous romance and the perambulation through the streets of Hong Kong is an entirely pleasant and satisfying way to spend some fleeting time. Recommended for those who enjoy rom-coms and city symphonies, It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong screens this Sunday (6/28) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.