When thinking about the world’s most romantic cities, Paris and New York probably leap to mind—they are, after all, familiar settings for romantic comedies and novels. But a new book and movie, both released this weekend in tandem with Valentine’s Day, use Hong Kong as the backdrop for their love stories and prove that the former colony’s blend of East and West, old and new, makes it a perfect place for romance. And given the single-digit temperatures in New Jersey this weekend, it was the perfect time for me to hunker down and escape to Hong Kong with these two stories.
Shannon Young’s novel Ferry Tale opens with a meet cute between protagonists Katrina and Sam aboard the iconic Star Ferry, which has been chugging between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui since 1888. Katrina is a young singer from Ohio trying to flee infamy as an unfortunate YouTube star back home; Canadian Chinese Sam works as an investment banker in one of the financial institutions that make Hong Kong run. Hoping to prevent Sam from finding the humiliating viral video that features her, Katrina lies about her identity, thus setting up the conflict that will rear its head as their relationship develops.
Ferry Tale is a fun, fizzy story that takes readers from the smoggy ferry decks to the spectacular harbor views of the InterContinental Hotel’s Lobby Lounge. Young’s fondness for her adopted home of Hong Kong—described in her memoir, Year of Fire Dragons—comes through on every page of this cheerful and charming romance.
While Ferry Tale is as effervescent as champagne, Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, playing in selected theaters and available for purchase or rental on iTunes, has the weighty feel of a tumbler-full of scotch. Already Tomorrow takes its cues from the Richard Linklater movies Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, following expats Josh and Ruby as they wander the streets of Hong Kong on two separate evenings a year apart.
Strolling beneath the neon lights, the pair discuss work, family, culture—and the relationships that each are in with other partners. If Ferry Tale is a light-filled “daytime” story of young love, Already Tomorrow is its older, darker, “nighttime” counterpart, featuring two thirtysomethings who have too many other entanglements to make a romance between them easy. Josh and Ruby seesaw between attraction and ambivalence, unsure if the mutual pull they feel is enough to justify upending their lives to find out whether they could have a future together.
Like Young’s novel, the film revels in its setting: Josh and Ruby meander the narrow streets of Central and Kowloon, visit “the depths of hell” (aka hopping bar district Lan Kwai Fong), and venture into the vaguely sinister corridors of Chungking Mansions. (There is, of course, also a ride on the Star Ferry.)
Maybe Hong Kong isn’t as familiar as New York or as timeless as Paris, but as Ferry Tale and Already Tomorrow demonstrate, it has its own alluring and romantic qualities. Young’s prose and Already Tomorrow’s shots of the city will have you digging out your passport and checking plane ticket prices to experience the gritty glitz firsthand—and if you’re lucky, you’ll do so hand-in-hand with a special someone.
♥ Happy Valentine’s Day ♥