Hong Kong’s dramatic skyline only makes a brief cameo in films like The Dark Knight, Contagion and Blackhat, but Asian-American director Emily Ting I-tien’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong is a 78-minute tribute to our city and its nightlife. The story, which has been compared to Before Sunrise, follows the budding romance between two expats in Hong Kong, and Ting takes audiences right into the hustle and bustle of places like Lan Kwai Fong and Temple Street. Earlier this week, she tells Young Post what inspired the movie and what challenges she faced:
Why did you want to make a movie about Hong Kong?
I lived in Hong Kong for five years as an expat during my 20s. The time I spent in Hong Kong was so instrumental in shaping who I am today, this was my way to give back. I know how beautiful and romantic Hong Kong is, and now I want the rest of the world to know.
How did you want to portray Hong Kong and what techniques did you use to show that in the film?
I feel like Hong Kong cinema is mostly associated with kung fu or gangster films. I wanted to portray Hong Kong as a city of love, the way Paris, New York, and Tokyo have been portrayed in cinema. I made sure to choose all the best looking locations in Hong Kong (sometimes at the expense of geographical logic) and just let Hong Kong look like Hong Kong. I didn’t want to overlight it and I wanted to use as much available light as possible.
What inspired the storyline of the movie?
I feel like it’s really common to meet someone you feel a spark with, only to find out they’re not available. Everyone’s had at least one such encounter in life. Mine was when I was visiting Hong Kong a few years back, and I just really wanted to capture that feeling of missed opportunity, and what could have been if only the timing was different.
What was the biggest challenge to making the film?
Crowd control! I had the best production assistants ever, who sometimes stopped traffic when we didn’t have the budget to close the streets down. There were also a lot of drunken expats in Soho who weren’t very happy about us shooting on “their street”. Some of them yelled at us or purposely waved to the camera to ruin the shot. I finally had to bribe them to be quiet for five minutes to let us finish our take.
How was it to film in the busy locations in Hong Kong?
It was absolutely nuts! That scene when they’re walking through LKF was shot at midnight on a Saturday night when things are at its rowdiest. I gave the actors one shot to walk through frame and deliver their lines, and they knocked it out of the park. For scenes where it’s a long walking and talking sequence, it was much tougher because as soon as we get interrupted by the crowd, we have to reset and reshoot the entire scene from the beginning again.
Was getting filming permits difficult? We noticed that you didn’t include the MTR in the movie - what’s the reason behind this?
My producer Sophia and her production team took care of all the permits, and as I understand, it’s a very easy process and it’s all free. At one point, we did write in a scene on the MTR – the scene where they’re taking a taxi to go back to the Hong Kong side was meant to be on the MTR – but I know that wrangling a whole crew to shoot on the MTR would be difficult, so I nixed it and made it a taxi scene instead, to give us more control.
Why did you decide to cast Jamie Chung and Bryan Greenberg?
Jamie was always my dream choice for Ruby because I think she’s one of the best Asian-American actresses working today. But I didn’t have any connections to her. I had worked with Bryan before on a film I produced called The Kitchen, and at the LA premiere of that film, he asked me what I was working on. I told him about this script, and he thought it would be a great project for his girlfriend, Jamie Chung. I told him very excitedly that Jamie is actually my first choice and I would love for him to send her the script. And when I sent him the script, I told him that he could have the male role if he liked the script. And then the stars just aligned from there! The fact that they’re a real life couple really showed in their on screen chemistry.
ATIHK was screened last year at several film festivals, why did it take so long to open in HK cinemas?
That is a really good question! We are wondering about the same thing as well! We actually assumed that we were going to premiere at the Hong Kong International Film Festival last year, but it was very presumptuous of us to assume that. You can’t just make a movie in Hong Kong and assume you will get in. I think I still needed to prove the merit of the film by taking it to all these different film festivals worldwide and garner the positive reviews that we’ve been getting. And even after 20+ film festivals, we are still constantly being told that our film is too small and too indie.
Not a single distributor in Hong Kong wanted us, and we’re so grateful that AMC is taking a chance on us. But there is also a reason why we’re only in one theatre and not in more theatres all over Hong Kong. For some reason, the people in power don’t believe that this is a film people in Hong Kong would want to see.
The screenings of ATIHK have been sold out. Are you surprised by the reception it is receiving?
This is going to make me sound really conceited (and I swear I am not), but honestly, not really. I have been telling the people in power for a year now that if you just release the film, people in Hong Kong will want to see it. Even the people taking a chance on us are cautious. AMC originally only booked us for two screenings but then they kept on selling out, so they had no choice but to keep on adding more screenings to keep up with demand. We’re now extended through next weekend.
And I think the buzz is growing. We will receive a theatrical release at UA Galaxy in Macau on Thursday, April 21, and based on the positive reception in Hong Kong so far, they’ve booked us for a full week there.
Are you planning any other films/projects that are related to Hong Kong?
Yes, I’ve actually been talking to the Hong Kong Tourism Board about potentially doing something together. Despite popular belief, they were not involved with this film. But of course, they loved this film so much that they want to see if there’s any way they can help make a follow-up film happen. I think everyone wants to see what happens to Josh and Ruby, and I would love to be able to resolve their story in a new film!