J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lost in Thailand: They’re Off and Bickering

It out-grossed Titanic in China, but Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio still make a way funnier couple. Sort of, but not really a sequel to Lost on Journey, China’s hit answer to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, it blew the doors off the Chinese box office, but it probably will not travel so well for American audiences. Co-star Xu Zheng’s directorial debut, Lost in Thailand (trailer here) is here nonetheless, available on DVD, BluRay, and digital platforms from Well Go USA.

Xu Lang has been so busy developing his revolutionary “Supergas” formula, his exasperated wife has finally decided to file for divorce and claim sole custody of their daughter. This is a real bummer for him, but he has bigger fish to fry. To administer the Supergas project as he sees fit, Xu needs Zhou, the firm’s majority shareholder, to sign-off on a power-of-attorney. However, weasely Gao Bo has his own underhanded plans. We know he must be the villain, because he wants to do business with the French, which also requires that power-of-attorney up for grabs. It turns out Zhou is ensconced in a temple in Thailand, so Xu heads out to find him, with Gao in pursuit.

To accommodate his last minute travel needs, Xu’s assistant books him into a tour group that also includes the extraordinarily annoying Wang Bao. One thing inexorably leads to another, separating both travelers from the tour. It is not that they are lost per se—they just do not know where to go.

Yes, Lost rang up over a billion yuan during its theatrical release, but it is baffling for outsiders to understand why. For the most part, it is a goofy, harmless film, even though the “Thai ladyboy” references are embarrassingly cringey. Even so, it has a decent heart overall, clearly embracing family values over go-go materialism. Perhaps that slow-down-and-reconnect-with-loved-ones message just hit a nerve with local audiences. There is also a notable cameo from a major superstar (yep, that's her) that is more substantial than her weird drop-in shot for the Chinese cut of Iron Man 3.

It is hard to believe the same Wang Baoqiang who plays the rubber-faced Wang Bao was also so chilling as the motorcycle-riding sociopath in Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin, but such is the case. Needless to say, the latter film is a better showcase for his skills. Still, you cannot say anyone in the ensemble lacks commitment to the material. In fact, the broad slapshticky humor is not any sillier than what you might find in Dom DeLuise or Don Knotts films from the early 1980’s.  It is not appreciably smarter or wittier either. A local phenomenon that will only interest those who closely follow Chinese popular culture, Lost in Thailand is now available for home viewing from Well Go USA.

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