'Lost in Hong Kong': 5 Things to Know About China's Latest Blockbuster

Lost in Hong Kong Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment

The action-comedy from hitmaker Xu Zheng opened to a massive $106.35 million over the weekend, the best debut ever for a local movie in the booming Chinese market.

The Chinese comedy romp Lost in Hong Kong decimated the competition at the global box office over the weekend, grossing some $106.35 million in China alone. Hotel Transylvania 2 came in a distant second with a $76.7 million global haul.

Lost in Hong Kong was given an unprecedented 100,000 screenings across China in its first 24 hours, grossing $1.8 million from midnight showings and $32 million on its opening day — the biggest debut ever for a Chinese film, and the third-largest opening-day performance overall in China behind only Furious 7 and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

In another first for a Chinese-made comedy, the film also performed respectably stateside, earning a solid $558,900 from 27 theaters in a limited day-and-date North American release from Well Go USA.

Here are five things to know about the smash hit Lost in Hong Kong.  

1. We've Been Lost Before

Lost in Hong Kong is the final film in a trilogy of road movies featuring Chinese actor Xu Zheng as a harried businessman stuck with a bumbling goofball on a cross-country journey (think Planes, Trains and Automobiles in Chinese, or Due Date on the road to Changsha). The first film in the series, Lost on Journey (2010), was set in mainland China as an odd-couple-struggles-to-make-their-way-home-for-the-Chinese-New-Year-holiday flick. Directed by Hong Kong's Raymond Yip and starring Xu and Chinese mega-star Wang Baoqiang, it earned mostly positive local press for its social nuance, but had minimal impact at the box office, grossing just $7.29 million.

The sequel, Lost in Thailand, marked the arrival of the mainland Chinese blockbuster comedy, pulling in a historic $208 million – the most ever for a Chinese film until it was unseated by fantasy epic Monster Hunt this July. With Xu taking over as director and co-writer, the screwball action was jacked up a notch and relocated to Thailand, earning the film some exaggerated comparisons to Todd Phillips' The Hangover 2 (although, yes, there was a Thai "ladyboy" scene).

With Xu again pulling triple duty as writer, director and star, Lost in Hong Kong follows his character on a misbegotten trip from mainland China to Hong Kong to pursue a secret liaison with an old college fling (supermodel-turned-actress Du Juan). The comedic crux: his wife (Vicki Zhao, a major box-office draw in China) and her overbearing extended family are coming along for the ride. 

2. It's a Canny Homage to Hong Kong Cinema

What the film lost in star power from Wang's disappearance from the franchise, it makes up for with a nostalgic trip through Hong Kong cinematic history.

A relentless homage to the the city's celebrated golden age of filmmaking, the movie is packed with references and hat-tips to the Hong Kong action, comedy and art-house classics of the 1980s and 1990s, such as Jackie Chan's Police Story, Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express, and Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle. A parade of Hong Kong screen legends make cameos – Sam Lee, Eric Kot, Lawrence Cheng, Paul Yip and Wong Jing – while the soundtrack is made up of iconic HK movie themes from the 1980s.

Given that mainland China's many millions of film fans in their 20s and 30s grew up on the former British colony's movie magic, the nostalgia exercise is undoubtedly a shrewd creative choice – and the proof is in the box-office success.

3. The Timing of Its Release Is Awkward

Although the film itself appears entirely innocent, Xu's love letter to Hong Kong cinema is arriving in a politically fraught period for the HK-China relationship. Hong Kong's "Umbrella Revolution," the 79-day pro-democracy protest movement, began exactly one year ago Monday (Sept. 28).

Along with the Hong Kong people's ongoing lack of full political self-determination, many of the social issues that helped inspire the revolt remain in effect: resentment over an influx of mainland Chinese wealth and an increase in real estate prices; along with a stirring sense that local Cantonese culture is being eclipsed by the cultural, political and economic influence of mainland China and its ruling Communist party. The tensions have often found an ugly expression along ethnic identity lines, with both Hong Kong and mainland Chinese bashing one another online with derogatory epithets.

Incidentally, Lost in Hong Kong has not yet scored a Hong Kong release, although it opened simultaneously in the U.S. and China. How the film will be received by Hong Kong audiences, given the political backdrop and pride in their domestic movie heritage, remains to be seen. But with some mainland moviegoers already criticizing the film's tributes to Hong Kong cinema as "vulgar, kitsch endorsements" — as one widely followed online commentator put it — a frosty local reception in the city of its setting shouldn't come as a surprise.

4. Found in Hong Kong: A Chinese Tourism Boom?

In the wake of Lost in Thailand's record-setting performance in 2012, the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, where the film was set, reported a sudden surge of Chinese tourists. While the issue is undoubtedly a chicken-or-egg phenomenon — was Lost in Thailand so popular because it tapped the curiosity and wanderlust of China's emerging middle class, or did middle-class Chinese movie fans swarm to Thailand because they wanted to recreate their own Lost in Thailand adventure? (both, probably) — a similar pattern has already cropped up around Lost in Hong Kong.

Shanghai travel agency CTrip began offering a Lost in Hong Kong-themed travel package featuring an itinerary of Hong Kong sights and destinations portrayed in the film. At time of print, the package reads as "sold out" on the CTrip booking site – just three days into the film's release.

Despite how local Hong Kong residents may feel, a sudden boost in mainland tourists couldn't come at a better time for the Hong Kong economy. The number of mainland visitors plunged 9.8 percent year-over-year in July, the Hong Kong Tourism Board reported earlier this month – bad news for a city economy increasingly dependent on cash-carrying mainland shoppers.

5. Are There More Box-Office Records Ahead?

Chinese box-office records are made to be broken — on a monthly basis. After adding yet another 5,000 movie screens in 2014, the Chinese box office is expected to expand by at least 30 percent this year to hit more than $6 billion. Hence, constant box-office record-setting in the country.

But don't bet on Lost in Hong Kong to topple reigning B.O. champ Monster Hunt anytime too soon. The film will run uncontested for just two more days, before a raft of hotly anticipated local competitors — Saving Mr. Wu, Goodbye Mr. Loser, and Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe — open on Sept. 30, just in time for the October Golden Week holiday, one of China's busiest movie-going slots of the year.

Watch the Lost in Hong Kong trailer below.