Movies · Reviews

NYAFF 2015, Day 3: Full Alert and It’s Already Tomorrow In Hong Kong

By  · Published on June 28th, 2015

Mei Ah Entertainment

The New York Asian Film Festival returns for a 14th year showcasing an exciting and eclectic mix of movies from Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, China and Malaysia. This year brings a total of 54 feature films including two world premieres and three international premieres, and while I’m once again unfortunately unable to experience the fest on the ground in NYC I’m excited to cover as much as I can remotely.

Day three of the festival features four films including Full Alert, It’s Already Tomorrow In Hong Kong, Insanity and My Love, Don’t Cross That River.

NYAFF 2015 runs June 26th through July 11th. Follow our coverage here.

— – — – — – — – — – — – — – — – — – — – — – — –

The discovery of a murdered corpse leads to the arrest of an ex-con named Mak Kwan (Francis Ng), but his conviction leads to information about an even bigger crime planned for the near future. Inspector Pao (Lau Ching-wan) works various leads, from Mak’s associate’s to his possibly connected girlfriend, but when Mak is broken out of prison the investigation moves into overdrive. As the clock ticks down the two men face troubles both professional and personal before fate brings them together one last time.

Full Alert is, for my money at least, Ringo Lam’s finest film and easily one of the top thrillers to come out of Hong Kong in the ’90s. The two leads give powerful performances that choose humanity over style, and the action sequences consistently exciting to watch.

Coparisons to Michael Mann’s Heat are warranted as we follow both the gang and the cops as they work through the planning and execution of their respective jobs. It all builds to a big heist, an even bigger shootout and a final face-off between Lao and Ng, but many of the highlights hit along the way. The car chase action is electrifying as cops and robbers weave dangerously in and out of civilian traffic – if IMDB is to be believed Lam filmed the sequences without permission and with real traffic – and it benefits from the lack of staged maneuvers. The gun fights have impact too thanks to sharp visuals and sound design that drop viewers in the middle of the projectiles.

The characters get their due too as we see the emotional fallout on Pao, his family and his co-workers – he wants to quit and his short temper with other cops is causing trouble. Lau doesn’t get the same attention as Lam’s earlier leading man, the supposedly cooler and more iconic Chow Yun-fat, but he’s a stronger actor. He’s also aided by a pair of eyes constantly hinting at a sadness within. (Check out Mad Detective if you haven’t yet.) Ng gets the flashier role as the villain, but like Robert De Niro in Heat he manages to work an emotional undercurrent into his cool, badass exterior. Pao and Mak’s eventual meet-up carries the same weight as that film’s epic finale, and it creates power without the need of artificial machismo.

Full Alert was Lam’s last big action hit before “retiring” from feature films in 2003. He made other genre movies until then, but none have stood the test of time – sorry Jean-Claude Van Damme. He’s finally returning this year with the highly anticipated Wild City, and action fans should probably put themselves on… wait for it… full alert.

— – — – — – — – — – — – — – — – — – — – — – — –

Unbound Feet Productions

Ruby (Jamie Chung) is visiting Hong Kong on business as a toy designer when she meets an American expatriate named Josh (Bryan Greenberg). He’s been living abroad for a decade while working in finance and now calls the city home. The two share a leisurely stroll through downtown – he’s helping her find a bar where her friends are partying – and share a clear connection made evident in their ease of conversation and growing interest in each other. The night ends abruptly though when he reveals his girlfriend is waiting for him back at another bar. A year later the two run into each other again, but will changes in their personal life lead to a different ending this time?

Writer/director Emily Ting’s narrative feature debut, It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, is a delightful, honest look at personal connections and the trouble with timing. Chung and Greenberg are front and center throughout, but as is required by law for film’s featuring a city’s name in the title, Ting ensures that the city itself becomes a third lead.

Comparisons to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise are inevitable, but while his characters spent the one night together Ting’s film doubles up to split the action into two. The changes in Ruby and Josh’s lives between these two random encounters fuels the topics they discuss and the themes of the film. We see his shift from corporate stooge to someone working on becoming a writer, and we witness her appreciation for Hong Kong grow even as she reveals an attachment back home in Los Angeles. Unlike Linklater’s films these two aren’t engaging in grand philosophical debates between flirtatious discussion – instead their focus is their own lives, the ups and downs, the differences between wants and needs.

The film is fast-moving due in part to its excessive brevity, but it doesn’t work to the film’s favor. At under eighty minutes there’s little time to flesh out elements beyond our central pair, and that hurts the film’s depth. Ting’s script setles for being too one-note in regard to Ruby and Josh’s significant others and offers only the most stereotypical, throwaway commentary on their faults. Ting also commits to independent cinema’s favorite ending, and while it lacks power for me your own take may vary.

Ting’s Hong Kong is a far different and far more beautiful backdrop than many films from the region provide, and while that’s due in part to a narrative devoid of gun fights, gangs and poverty it’s also because we only see the city at night. Cinematographer Josh Silfen films the illuminated urban landscape with clear affection for its electrical beauty, and it’s easy to fall in love with the city if you turn down the volume and just enjoy the film as a travelogue.

As stated above, Chung and Greenberg are onscreen from beginning to end, and both deliver charismatic and naturalistic work here. Their uncertain flirtation and growing affection feel authentic, and their situation is bound to remind viewers of similar circumstances in their own lives – the ease of conversation with someone who’s not your partner, the idea of emotional infidelity, the risks we take when we feel a connection.

That ultimately is the real power of It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong. It reminds us of times and decisions from our own past, ones that worked out for the better and those that didn’t end as happily, but it never judges those moments.

— – — – — – — – — – — – — – — – — – — – — – — –

NYAFF 2015 runs June 26th through July 11th. Follow our coverage here.

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.