If you’ve ever traveled to a foreign country, you know what a magical experience it can be. New sights, different cultural norms, food that’s sometimes…interesting. The purpose of all of this, of course, is to broaden your horizons and expand your view of the world. In the case of Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, a new film by Emily Ting, part of the journey for two expats in China includes falling for more than just the city they’re in, but for each other.
Set against the nighttime skyline of one of China’s most beautiful cities, the film opens on Josh (Bryan Greenburg) as he meets a somewhat lost Ruby (Jamie Chung) outside of a restaurant and offers to show her to her destination. The two walk through some of the city’s most recognizable landmarks as they discuss what they’re doing in Honk Kong (he lives there, working in finance; she’s a toy designer and is visiting on business.) As the evening progresses, it becomes clear that these two share a very real chemistry, perhaps aided by the fact that Greenburg and Chung were engaged at the time and have since married.
Just when you wonder what the hurdle will be that these two characters need to clear, it comes out that Josh has a girlfriend, and a disappointed Ruby leaves him behind. If you’re pulling for Josh and Ruby to meet again, you won’t be let down as the film fast forwards to a year later; Ruby is now living in Hong Kong and runs into Josh on a ferry. From there (and following a sincere apology from Josh) they spend another fun evening together, exploring more of what the city has to offer.
I had the chance to speak with writer and director Emily Ting, who offered some great insight into where this story came from:
What inspired this film?
I lived in Hong Kong for five years as an expat, and I had a similar encounter one night and thought it would make a great story. I had always wanted to set a movie there and this felt like the perfect way to do it. I feel like so many of the movies set in Hong Kong that the Western world sees have action and Kung Fu, and I wanted to do something romantic. This was my chance.
What was it like shooting in Hong Kong?
It’s so fast-paced there. I’m in New York City now and it has nothing on Hong Kong – it was crazy. We had permits for the places we shot but didn’t use any extras, so the people you see on the streets are real. Often we would shoot across the street with a long lens so we could stay hidden and people wouldn’t know what was happening. We did long walk and talk shots too and it was important to me that we get those in one take, so it was always fun when we were five minutes into a seven minute scene and some guy would pop up in the background and wave to the camera and we’d have to stop and reset everything.
It’s pretty hot in Hong Kong – that must have been interesting.
(laughs) It was so humid while we were there. Our makeup department did a great job of making our actors look fresh in every scene, but if you watch the featurette on the making of the movie, when they pan to the crew you can see how everyone is sweating like crazy.
The city feels like a character in this movie. Were there specific places you wanted to shoot?
About 80% of the locations were written into the script, like the Mid-Levels Escalator, the promenade, the ferry. We shot in a music club and that’s where I met the guy that was sort of the real life Josh, so it felt like the perfect place to use.
Did you have any reservations about using two actors who were together in real life?
Bryan and Jamie were dating when we were casting and they got engaged right before we left to shoot, so in a way it felt like the movie intertwined with their actual relationship. My only thing was that I wanted to make sure they had natural chemistry on-screen, because without that nothing else matters. As long as we weren’t making Gigli I’d be happy. (laughs). I knew Bryan from a movie I had produced called The Kitchen, and when I told him about this idea he recommended I meet with Jamie, and that’s how it all came together.
Their chemistry absolutely works. Was everything scripted or was some of it improvised?
Most of it was in the script, but I’m not precious with the words so as long as we got the information in the scene I was happy. The one scene that had a lot of improv was when Josh and Ruby meet a fortune-teller on the street. He was played by Richard Ng who is a fantastic comedian and has done a ton of movies in China. At one point he tells Josh that his big nose could tell him what his future looked like, and Jamie’s laughing in the background which wasn’t scripted. She just thought he was hilarious and couldn’t keep it together. It all works really well.
Did the story mirror your own life in ways other than an encounter with a stranger in a foreign city?
I’m a toy designer, which Ruby is in the movie. Josh works in finance but wants to be a writer, and that’s something I went through in a way as well. I was helping my family with the their business but wanted to make movies, so I was able to make that leap. I still help my family but I have this as well which makes me really happy.
What do you want audiences to take away from this film?
I want people to feel like they’ve just been on an amazing first date. If you walk away with butterflies then we’ve done our job. Life is about timing and taking advantage of it when it’s right. As Bryan says, you can succumb to bad timing or you can make it into the right time.
And there you have it. An engaging story that’s beautifully shot and acted with such ease that I forgot I was watching a movie, Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong is a date not to be passed up on, and it’s in theaters now.