New York Asian 2015 Interview: IT'S ALREADY TOMORROW IN HONG KONG Stars Jamie Chung, Bryan Greenberg And Director Emily Ting Capture The Romance Of The City

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New York Asian 2015 Interview: IT'S ALREADY TOMORROW IN HONG KONG Stars Jamie Chung, Bryan Greenberg And Director Emily Ting Capture The Romance Of The City
It's Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong is director Emily Ting's love letter to Hong Kong. With breathtaking panoramas and a Before Sunrise-style romance between two ex-pats, played by rising stars and real-life couple, Jamie Chung and Bryan Greenberg, the trio spoke with me about how actual experience and creative location shooting formed this portrait of the Pearl of the Orient.


The Lady Miz Diva:  Tell us about the inspiration for this project?

Emily Ting: 
I had lived in Hong Kong for five years as an ex-pat, so I know the city very intimately, not like I just plucked Hong Kong out at random.  When I lived there, I really wanted to make a movie there.  When I was living there, I was always lamenting, 'Oh, I wish someone would come here and do a Before Sunrise set in Hong Kong, that's like in an homage to the city and to love and to everything,' and no one sort of came along and made that movie.  So, when I was ready to make my first film, I decided to make that my first film.

So, while I always had this idea in my head, 'Oh, I want to make a Before Sunrise-type film in Hong Kong,' during that time, I actually met an ex-pat in Hong Kong and basically what happened to Ruby and Josh happened to me, and that became the impetus of the specific story.  I always say that the film that got inspired from the encounter is a lot more romantic than the actual encounter, cos in the end, he just went back to his girlfriend.  End of story. {Laughs}  There's no lingering feelings or anything, so a lot of the film is like my fantasy of wish fulfillment, I guess.

Bryan Greenberg:  Has he seen it?

ET:  No, he knows about the movie.

Jamie Chung:  Really?

ET:  Yeah, if it ever gets released in Hong Kong, I think he'll probably buy a ticket to go see it. {Laughs}

LMD:  I think anyone who watches this is going to be dazzled at the images of Hong Kong.  A lot of this year's festival focuses on films that capture the beauty and character of HK like CITY ON FIRE, COLD WAR or FULL ALERT.  Was it part of your intention to make a living portrait of the city now?

ET:
  Oh, absolutely.  Like I said, I feel like I've seen a lot of local films made in Hong Kong, of course, and they are exactly the type of films you just described, a lot of action, and I just felt like I had never come across a film told from the ex-pats perspective about Hong Kong.  And me being an ex-pat living in Hong Kong, I wanted to paint a portrait of Hong Kong through the lens of the ex-pats.  So, I very much set out to do that, and I also purposely - I think local people who'll watch this will be like, 'They're taking way too long to walk to that restaurant' - and I think you have to kind of just suspend your disbelief and just go on the ride, because I did want to showcase all my favorite places in Hong Kong.  It's a love letter to Hong Kong.  With all the locations that we scouted, it's like, they're going to go through this very long, winding walk so that we could hit all of my favorite spots.

LMD:  How did Jamie and Bryan become attached to the project?

JC: 
She {Emily} worked with Bryan before on this little movie called The Kitchen and she was working on the screenplay and Bryan was like, what are you working on?  She said, "Oh, I have this screenplay, actually I'd love for you to read it."  And she didn't realize that we were dating, but then she found out and she was like, "Oh, I'd love for Jamie to read it, as well."  So then she sends us the script and we read it out loud together and we thought it was great.  There were teeny little things that we wanted to tweak, but in terms of where the story took place, from the point of view of the different characters living in Hong Kong, we just found that really interesting.  And the city itself being a character, of course was fantastic, but also kind of flirting with the idea of, what is cheating?  You meet this fantastic person, it's obviously not the right time, but when is it gone too far?

LMD:  Had either you been to Hong Kong before?

JC:
  Never.

LMD:  You looked very comfortable out there amongst the locals.

BG:
  It was kind of difficult to find the right time to shoot out there, because of the heat.  It's really hot out there.  So we didn't want to go too deep into the summer, but I think we had other films that we couldn't do it.  We had the window of May, which isn't the ideal time to shoot...

JC:  It's monsoon season.

BG:  Yeah, we got really lucky with the weather as far as rain goes.  It was really hot, but as rain goes, we got really lucky. But we got out there about a week early just to run through all the scenes and sort of get a feel for the city and get over the jet lag, and I think that was really imperative to feeling like I could show someone around like I knew the place.  Also, I had to learn some language and I needed time to learn some Cantonese. {Laughs} I had a lot of help.

LMD:  There's a stigma about real-life couples acting on screen together, that sometimes their chemistry doesn't always translate to film. Were you worried about that?

JC: 
I was more terrified about that part.  And then also working long hours with someone, sometimes it's too much.

BG:  Yeah, I mean I think we both were well aware of the stigma of two actors who are a couple working together and it failing.

ET:  Gigli. We didn't want to be making a Gigli. {Laughs}

BG:  But then we kind of looked at each other and we were like, 'All right, you know what?  When are we going to get a chance to a movie while we're engaged?' That's crazy - and in Hong Kong?  And also, no offense, Emily, but it was an indie film, so if it sucked, no one's gonna see it.  But now that it's good, we're out here doing press for it and people are enjoying the film, but I feel like, let's be honest, the risk was pretty low, so it was like, let's just have fun with it, what's the worst that could happen?

JC:  I think that's when something great comes out of something that's so...  I think that's the great thing about Emily was that she was willing to play, she was willing to listen.  She didn't really hold anything too dearly to her.  And when directors are writers do that and they're afraid of change, it kind of shuts the doors for things to really happen naturally, and I think one of the things that we really appreciated was that she was willing to play and see what happened.

BG:  And even before we shot, I remember we went through about four drafts before we finally got to the draft that we were all comfortable with.  I mean, it was good to begin with, but I could tell just during the note process how great Emily was being and how efficient you {Emily} were with changes.  It already established a good line of trust between us, the collaboration was there, and we had worked together before, too, but you want to trust your director, it's the most important thing and we already had that going in.

LMD:  The scenes between Ruby and Josh just walking and talking through the Hong Kong streets feel very natural, I wondered if any of it was improv?

JC:
  Most of it is Emily's dialog.

BG:  Well, the montage stuff {has improv}, like when we're going through the night market.

JC:  There was a couple of lines, but we would give notes at the end of the scene, like this or that, and Emily was very open to everything.

BG:  The dialogue was there, and I think that's what we responded to; it's like this is how people talk, you know?

LMD:  Having interviewed a few Hong Kong directors, they always have something to say about location shooting.  Almost universally, there's no permits, there's no blocking off of the street. What was your experience shooting on the streets of Hong Kong?

ET: 
Well, we definitely had permits to shoot all over the city, but that's just a piece of paper; we had no budget to block off anything.  So, everything you saw, all those extras, they're just real people in Hong Kong.  The first day of shooting, we shot on Nathan Road, which is like the busiest intersection in Hong Kong, and I was like, "Okay guys, you're going to go do the scene," and we went across the street and shot with the long lens and we put lavalier mics on them, and people didn't even realize that they were acting.  And that was exactly what I wanted; it was like, just do your scene and we were far away. 

But for some of the really long walk-and-talk scenes, it's obvious you have a camera crew right in front of them walking backwards, and that's a little harder to get around with.  We would do these long five-minute walk-and-talk takes, and literally everything would be rolling so well - the camera work is great, the performances are great - on minute three or four, you'd have some drunken ex-pat in the background like, "Hi mom!" and ruin everything.  I'd say, "Sorry guys, we gotta do it all over again."

BG:  For the record, it was never the locals doing that, it was always the ex-pats.

JC:  They weren't always American, too.  It was an eclectic group of ex-pats.

LMD:  What was it like for the two of you playing visitors in that environment?

JC:
  Playing the visitor, it was fun to kind of experience everything as Ruby would.  I felt like the hardest part of this character was to unknow the person that I was doing the scene with.

BG:  I've shot a lot on location, like in New York City, it's sort of my favorite thing to do; that run-and-gun, like get lost in the crowd-type of filmmaking, so I was familiar with that style.  I knew how to do that; you gotta just work with the environment, not against the environment.
But I think the biggest challenge for me on this film was heat, to be honest, because it's not a place where we had like dressing rooms, so we would just be on the street and I would sweat really quickly.  And so we had a van that would be running and it had the air-conditioning on, and we would literally do our scene, jump into the van, cool off, go around the block and then come back and then shoot the scene again.  And that's how we would do it, it was like a real run-and-gun shoot; it was fun and we got it done.

LMD:  There are some thought-provoking moments like the scene on the bus when they see the mixed couple and Ruby says she can't help being judgmental about them, but then mentions how she mostly dates white guys.  How important were those messages to include?

ET: 
That bus scene about the whole Asian girl dating a white guy; all my friends who read that thought that was a very bold scene, to just attack it straight out.  In fact, I had some friends who cautioned me against it, saying, "Are you sure you want to include that, you might not want to piss off anybody." But to me, I feel like that is so who I am, and you get into these situations all the time, because I have a Caucasian boyfriend, as well, and I'm constantly being judged about it.  I wanted very much to address it straight on, and to me that bus scene was very important to this whole film.  I definitely had people just out of kindness saying, "I don't want you to get attacked by press or Asian-American audiences who might not like that. I just want you to be careful." 

But I felt like it was very important to include that discussion in the film because you see it all the time, but I don't ever see it really discussed that openly, like just head on. And I've had people come up to me - like we've just come back from Scotland and I had a girl come up to me, who said, "I used to live in Hong Kong and I felt exactly the same way as Ruby did. When I would step out with my white boyfriend, I would constantly feel like people were judging me thinking, am I a golddigger?  Did he just pay for my services?"  These are the kind of things that you kind of go through, and as an ex-pat living in Hong Kong, I have experienced that and that's why I included it into the film.

JC:  I thought it was interesting conversation, because it was someone who was blatantly judging strangers, who then is contradicting herself because she too is dating someone white.  So, I think it went full circle.

LMD:  I think everyone is going to be curious about the ending. I was actually holding my breath waiting when the screen went black.

ET:
  Yeah!  That was how we wanted you to react.  We want you to react, rather than just shrug.  I can tell you every screening we've been to, people are very, very passionate about the ending, and that's what you want.  And I think a lot of people didn't even realize how badly they wanted the two of them to get together until it ends, and then they're like, 'Wait, what?'  It made them really think about everything that they just watched on the screen; what they truly want these two characters to end up doing.

I can guarantee you that if we had ended it with her saying yes or no, the reaction would not be the same.  As much as people want to say, 'I can't believe you ended it that way,' I'm like, just wait a couple beats and think about it, and then you'll understand why we did it this way.

LMD:  Was that always your plan?

ET:
   Not always.  I think in the original draft they received, there was a whole epilogue that was set in Los Angeles another year later.  I think that was their {Jamie's and Bryan's} biggest contribution to the film, saying, "This movie is about Hong Kong, it should just end in Hong Kong. There's no reason to drag it out to what happened another year later."  So, we cut all that out and decided to end it Hong Kong in this sort of ambiguous way.  So it was always written in the script that it would cut to black, but on set, we did shoot her saying it both ways just to cover ourselves, just in case.

JC:  Sometimes I like the movies that do the epilogue and they show what happens afterward, and that kind of brings me joy, a bit of satisfaction, but something that is a bit more conflicting, like it wasn't a very straightforward relationship.

LMD:  I saw the good Dave Boyle listed as one of the film's associate producers.  As his MAN FROM RENO was a big favourite last year at Japan Cuts, please tell us his connection to this film?

ET:
  Dave's a good friend of mine.  I executive produced Man From Reno, and then he actually did a script polish, because especially with the guy character, {I asked him to} please take a look and make sure he speaking with a guy and not too much like a girl.  So when we were gearing up for production, he really helped me with the script, doing the dialogue polish and also just giving me a lot of good notes on things like fat to take out.  Because he was so instrumental in that, I gave him an associate producer credit, and we're good friends so we always helped each other on each other's movies.


This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos there.

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Bryan GreenbergEmily TingJamie ChungNYAFF2015

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