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February 20, 2014

Lost in Thailand

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Ren zai jiong tu: Tai jiong
Xu Zheng - 2012
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

I was never lost in Thailand. I did temporarily lose my bearings walking through a couple of the many winding sois, the smaller streets, of Chiang Mai. Eventually, I figured out where I was. Part of Lost in Thailand takes place in Chiang Mai, although what is seen of the city itself is just a few quick shots. The old city wall is unmistakable, even when glanced for a few seconds. The film takes place during Songkran, the festival in which people douse each other with water, in late April. I did feel some nostalgia during a scene that takes place during a lantern festival, watching my own lit lantern fly away to parts unknown.

Lost in Thailand has been compared to The Hangover, but I think comparisons to John Hughes' Planes, Trains and Automobiles are more appropriated. For one thing, there is none of the raunchiness of the Hangover films. The most sexually charged scene, with Xu caught underneath the bed of a threesome, a western tourist with two beauties, could well have been from a Hollywood film from the late Fifties, when it was daring to show women frolic in bra and panties. The nudity is all below the knees. A later scene, when Xu reads the diary of his traveling companion, Bao, and discovers the reason for Bao's "heath tree", a small cactus, is reminiscent of Steve Martin finally warming up to John Candy in the Hughes film, as is the setup of two mismatched men forced to travel together, using any conveyance at their disposal. Xu's film could well have been titled, Planes, Trains, Automobiles and Elephants.

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Xu Zheng portrays Xu Lang, a businessman who has developed a special additive that increases the volume of gasoline with just a couple of drops. In competition with Gao Bo (Huang Bo), the two are in a race to Thailand to get the approval from their boss who is staying at a temple somewhere in the vicinity of Chiang Mai. One the plane, Xu meets up with Bao (Wang Baodiang), a member of a tour group, both overly friendly and perpetually clueless. Losing his tour group in the Bangkok airport, Bao seeks Xu's assistance in helping him make his goals in visiting Thailand. Xu, who has lost his passport in a cab, reluctantly finds that he needs Bao's help, initially in getting a hotel room.

Most of the comedy comes from Wang Baodaing, first with his appearance with his blond mop of hair. Some of the humor involves Bao's ignorance about "ladyboys", his martial arts ability limited to a single high kick, and his insistence that he is the boyfriend of Chinese actress Fan Bingbing. Among the misadventures are the pair stumbling upon an artifact smuggling operation and getting chased by gangsters. There is also a running gag involving Xu attempting to get the location of his boss, and continually getting stymied unintentionally by Bao.

Xu Zheng wrote and directed the film in addition to acting. Call it beginner's luck as the film holds the record as China's top box office success. Even though the film mostly takes place in Thailand, a caveat is in order that it needs to be understood that this is still a Chinese movie that was made for a Chinese audience. Don't expect the same kind of humor found in a Hollywood film, or better, a Thai film where being politically incorrect is virtually a requirement. The laughs here are more mild than wild.

Posted by peter at February 20, 2014 08:21 AM