It is impossible to discuss “Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong,” writer-director Emily Ting’s debut feature, without bringing up Richard Linklater’s “Before” films (”Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset,” and “Before Midnight”). Ting’s film is so clearly modeled on Linklater’s template—man and woman, both attractive, converse and flirt their way through the streets of a great city (in this case Hong Kong)—that he might deserve a royalty. “Already Tomorrow” compresses the first two installments of the trilogy into one film, borrowing the overall trajectory (and even cribbing “Before Sunset”’s most memorable moment), while adding just enough dramatic wrinkles so that it doesn’t feel like a pure retread.
Our Jesse and Céline are now Josh and Ruby (Bryan Greenberg and Jamie Chung). He’s a Jewish-American expat working in finance. She’s a Chinese-American toy designer visiting Hong Kong for the first time. They meet outside a bar and feel an indefinable spark of attraction—what some might call “love at first sight.” Josh leaves a party to guide Ruby to a nearby bar where she is meeting up with friends. But they both decide to ditch their friends and spend the night together. It all goes swimmingly until it doesn’t. The film then breaks, picking up about a year later, when the two unexpectedly run into each other. The film is thus neatly divided into the “Before Sunrise” half and the “Before Sunset” half.
If I keep bringing up the Linklater films, that’s because “Already Tomorrow” never really escapes the shadow of its superior predecessors. That’s not simply because it is derivative—”Before Sunrise” was itself indebted to the films of Eric Rohmer—but because its central duo is simply not as interesting as Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s Jesse and Céline. Josh and Ruby make for a pretty bland couple. Josh dreams of quitting his job in finance, as all sympathetic movie characters who work in finance must. He wants to be a writer, as all sympathetic male film characters do, even though he expresses a fondness for no particular writer and never says anything that suggests any aesthetic sensibility at all. His fondness for a charmingly grungy seafood joint is supposed to provide sufficient evidence of his “authentic” personality. As played by Greenberg, he’s basically a generic slab of Attractive Man.
Ruby is a bit more distinctive, owing mostly to Chung’s slightly more tenacious performance, but she still suffers from a lack of specificity. In one exchange, they bond over a mutual affection for “Seinfeld,” one of the most popular sitcoms of all time. In another, they rib each other about the superiority of New York or LA. This is stock getting-to-know-you banter, hardly suitable for a first date, much less a film. One could argue that Ting is aiming for realism here—our actual conversations are not typically as interesting as the ones we see in movies like “Before Sunrise”—but it doesn’t make for very captivating cinema. “Befores Sunrise and Sunset” were about the joys of conversation, the push-and-pull of two people discovering each other, whereas the dialogue here feels tentative, afraid of causing offense. The overall blandness isn’t helped by an extremely insipid score and an oddly muted sound design.
Even with its problems, “Already Tomorrow” does manage to hold one’s interest (if only just). It is likably earnest, and it never overplays its hand dramatically. There is plenty of tourist-friendly footage of Hong Kong, and the leads are nice to look at. It’s just a shame they don’t have more to say.