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Friday, February 5, 2016

On Indie Romcoms, The Duvernay Test, and ALREADY TOMORROW IN HONG KONG

It was Viola Davis who commented about the lack of substantial roles as love interests for women of color on the big screen. They're often prostitutes, sexual victims, or practically asexual (meaning, their characters help the protagonist--a white woman--with her romantic dilemmas with no sexual desires of her own). It's preposterous.

That said, I love that Jamie Chung plays the romantic lead in ALREADY TOMORROW IN HONG KONG, a film she also co-executive produced with her real-life hubby and co-star, Bryan Greenberg. I also love that Davis, Chung and other WoC in Hollywood are taking matters into their own hands by creating their own films and narratives (Davis even has a film production company). Chung partnered with writer/director Emily Ting on a story that lends itself pretty closely to Richard Linklater's Before series in that it focuses on the dialogue between two strangers flirting with ideals on love, companionship, and ambition.

We see that familiar and very white narrative unfold between an interracial pair in ALREADY TOMORROW IN HONG KONG, except this time it's infused with cultural nuances that, while they don't reinvent the wheel, offer a fresh perspective. Take for instance, the fact that Ruby (Chung) is the fish-out-of-water American visiting Hong Kong for the first time, and Josh (Greenberg) is the white American living in Hong Kong for the past decade, who shows her around town. Too often it's been the other way around where the Asian woman who lives in the non-American city, doesn't speak any English, and falls for the mysterious (and culturally tone deaf) white American (this is is, of course, if the Asian female character isn't playing a sex worker).

Another intriguing aspect of the film is that Ting is unafraid to approach dialogue that doesn't avoid the fact that the two have different ethnicities and are enveloped in an open conversation where comments like "Oh, you have an Asian girl fetish?" aren't out of place. In fact, they're completely appropriate given the narrative.

But it takes a lot more than diverse romantic leads and authentic dialogue to make a great film. PoC characters don't automatically legitimize a film. Though the conversation around "The Duvernay Test" (named after filmmaker Ava Duvernay), which challenges Hollywood to cast actors of color in substantive roles, is an important one to have, we must still advocate for characters that are interesting and three-dimensional. Sadly, ALREADY TOMORROW IN HONG KONG is just not enough--even with its commitment to depicting society as it really is: diverse. Both Ruby and Josh are underdeveloped and we don't feel invested in their characters outside of the conversation that's driving the plot. For a romantic comedy starring a real-life couple, it remarkably left me quite cold.

I want to see more of Jamie Chung on the big screen, and I am intrigued enough by Ting's passion for the project to be interested to see what she does next. But I'm all set with this project. 

ALREADY TOMORROW IN HONG KONG opens in theaters and On Demand February 12.

Rating: C


Karen said...

Sounds like a my kind of movie, but I watched the clip you posted and it does look flat. Chris Evans' Before We Go was a similar Before Sunrise type film and I thought that was really good. Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong is a step in the right direction though. I find Greenberg charming so I'll give it a watch.

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