'Lost in Thailand' Is China's Biggest Movie - and It's Not Even in 3D

Lost in Thailand Film Still – H 2013

Lost in Thailand Film Still – H 2013

The comedy, often compared to "The Hangover Part II," has earned $184.5 million in its native country -- second only to "Avatar."

This story first appeared in the Jan. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

James Cameron, make way for Xu Zheng.

The Chinese actor's directorial debut, Lost in Thailand, has grossed an incredible $184.5 million in his home country as of Jan. 6, beating Titanic and becoming the highest-grossing 2012 release in China. The scrappy lowbrow comedy -- made on a reported budget of just $4.8 million -- is set to best Cameron again by surpassing Avatar (which took in $221.4 million in the country) to become the most successful movie of all time in China.

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Not bad for a simple 2D release whose ticket price of about $6.40 is less than half of what locals pay for 3D Hollywood tentpoles. The film has drawn comparisons to The Hangover Part II thanks to a plot that revolves around two men -- one a self-assured businessman, the other a hapless bumpkin (played by the director) -- who form an unlikely bond as they journey across Thailand. The similarities end there, however, since China's film censors would never allow the kind of over-the-top raunch of the Hangover sequel. Indeed, where that 2011 film employed Thai transvestites to comic effect, the closest Lost comes is the occasional reference to the region's infamous cross-dressers (who never appear onscreen). 

In place of vulgarity, the film's realistic portrayal of ordinary men and heart-warming message of friendship has struck a chord. "Very, very few Chinese films today show the real conditions of Chinese life," says Zhou Tiedong, president of China Film Promotion International. "This film talks about the struggles of the middle class and the grassroots, their happiness or sorrow."