Lost in Thailand (Ren zai jiongtu zhi tai jiong): Berlin Review

Lost in Thailand Film Still – H 2013

Lost in Thailand Film Still – H 2013

A non-stop script keeps the laughs flowing in a wacky comedy about three Chinese men abroad.

The highest-grossing film in China's history — Xu Zheng's slapstick comedy that pushes sexual-innuendo censorship boundaries — has been called China's answer to "The Hangover."

Its claim to fame is in the numbers: Two months after its release, Lost in Thailand has broken every box-office record in China, with over 40 million admissions and domestic grosses exceeding $215 million. Not bad for a wacky $2-million comedy about a Chinese businessman-inventor (played straight by the film's director-writer-producer-actor Xu Zheng, one of the leads in the witty Hong Kong rom-com Love in the Buff) who rushes to Thailand on a not very well-defined mission in the company of his arch-enemy and a humble pancake-maker.

While the exact secret to the film’s high-grossing recipe remains a bit of a mystery, it probably has to do with the good-humored chemistry between the unlikely partners, pushing the limits of censorship in the sexual-innuendo department, and a well-written off-the-wall script that makes audiences laugh out loud. Though it doesn’t seem much of a Western taste, beyond its curiosity value, the Golden Network Asia title should have no problem catching on in related territories.

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The film is a sequel to the very successful, though not stellar, 2010 comedy Lost on Journey, which featured Zheng and Wang Baoqiang in very similar roles. Here Xu Lang (Xu) is introduced as a big Beijing energy-company exec who is developing a miracle Super-Gas, plugged as a renewable energy source of vast commercial potential. It just has to be developed a bit. In a fast and furious opening office scene that suggests the cutthroat competition at Chinese businesses, he quarrels with his snide colleague and rival Gao Bo (Huang Bo) and sneaks off to the airport, while dodging his wife’s divorce request. The competing demands of work and private life will be one of the film’s underlying themes.

On a plane to Thailand, while frantically trying to download a map of where he’s supposed to be going, he sits next to the innocent young pancake-maker Baobao (Wang in a blond Beatles wig, wearing a infectious, idiotic smile). Baobao is hand-carrying a small cactus to plant in Thailand for “health and good luck," and it occasions many slapstick scenes before turning into an emotional plot point.

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Reaching Bangkok airport, Xu loses his passport and is forced to shack up with Baobao, who has lost his wallet and has to rely on Xu for money. Together they try to shake Gao off their trail, who like Xu is searching for the principal shareholder of Super-Gas, apparently meditating in some temple. Gao’s use of radio-tracking devices, the search for SIM cards, an exchange of mobile phones, a short-circuited laptop and posting on China’s micro-blogging website Weibo situate this comedy in today’s world.

In the good-humored road movie that ensues, the main conflict is between straight man Xu and the good-hearted but clumsy Baobao, who inadvertently thwarts his plans at every turn. The youth’s misunderstanding that Xu has slept with Gao’s wife keeps the gags rolling. In a temple full of sinister gangsters, Xu, Gao and Baobao fight their personal war, oblivious of the danger around them.

In the film’s second half, Xu and Baobao fly off a mountainside in a rented jeep, land on a thatched hut, cross a river on an elephant, are swept away by the current, get bitten on the backside by a cobra and finally, incredibly, reach the temple they are seeking, only to find Gao waiting for them in a wacky final showdown with a professional Thai kick-boxer. As might be expected, the outcome is unimportant, because in a touching scene just after a big fight, Xu reads Baobao’s heartfelt diary and learns the lesson (the same one as in Lost on Journey) that what matters in life is friendship and trust, not money.   

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Though quaint by Western or Thai standards, the sexual gags are rife, particularly in the first part of the film when Xu and Baobao are sneaking around hotel rooms. At one point, Xu finds himself hiding perilously under a bed creaking under the weight of a Western man and two hookers, while Baobao is forced to give a massage -- no more -- to an Asian businessman who is surprised at his strength. The joke is that bumbling Wang is a kung fu expert, and in other scenes he gets in some well-placed kicks at his attackers. There is also much mention of Thai “ladyboys,” but none actually turns up in the film.

All is shot in a style of garish chaos that befits the tale and edited for non-stop action. The backdrops seem aimed to appeal to Chinese tourists – fancy hotels, exotic temples, water-throwing festivals, hot-air lanterns flying through the air. The modest chase scenes are multiplied on old-style split screens.

Venue: Berlin (European Film Market)
A Beijing Enlight Pictures Co, YYT Media, Luck Road Culture Communication Co., Huang Bo Studio presentation of a Beijing Enlight Pictures Co., YYT Media production.   
Cast: Xu Zheng, Wang Baoqiang, Huang Bo, Tao Hong

Director:  Xu Zheng
Screenwriters: Xu Zheng, Shu Huan, Ding Ding
Producers: Xu Zheng, Abe Kwong Man-wai, Chan Chi-leung
Executive producers: Wang Changtian, Li Xiaoping
Director of photography: Song Xiaofei
Production designer: Hao Yi
Music: Zhao Yingjun, Deng Ouge, Howie B.
Costume designer:  Hao Yi
Editor: Tu Yiran
Action choreographers: Chen Shuo, Lee Chi-kit
Sales: Golden Network Asia
No rating, 105 minutes