Starring: Xu Zheng, Wang Baoqiang, Huang Bo, Tao Hong
Director: Xu Zheng
Category: IIA (Putonghua, Thai and English)
On the face of it, Lost in Thailand is a modest comic road movie by first-time director Xu Zheng, who also stars in, wrote and produced the film. (To make it even more of a family affair, Xu's wife in the film is played by his real-life spouse, Tao Hong.)
But it's hard to ignore the hype surrounding this unabashed crowd-pleaser in view of the more than 38 million people who have seen it since its release in China last month, making it the most viewed film ever on the mainland.
Perhaps the chase comedy being predominantly set in the Land of Smiles, a favourite holiday destination for mainlanders, who made up some 2.7 million of the record-breaking 22 million visitors to Thailand last year, helped draw in some viewers. In truth though, there are few scenes in this entertaining film in which exotic locales are used or shot to good effect - with the exceptions including a funny conversation about traffic jams in Bangkok vis a vis Beijing, and a photogenic festive scene featuring sky lanterns.
Instead, it's the winning performances of its trio of lead actors that really power Lost in Thailand and keep it fun throughout.
Xu plays Xu Lang, a workaholic scientist-businessman who improbably develops a fuel additive that he names Supergas Petroleum Enhancer.
Although he believes it has great potential, he feels more research is needed before his liquid creation can be put on the market. His impatient colleague, Gao Bo (Huang Bo), however, thinks it's ready to be sold commercially - and for lots of money. At odds with each other professionally as well as personally, the two type-A personalities separately head to Thailand to argue their case and get the all-important power of attorney from their company's major shareholder who's away attending a spiritual meditation course in Chiangmai.
On his flight out of Beijing, Xu is befriended by Wang Bao (Wang Baoqiang, above right with Xu), a sweet-smiling, simple-minded, bleached-blond haired pancake-maker whose lengthy holiday wish list includes catching sight of "ladyboys", getting a massage and fighting with a kick-boxer. A series of accidental circumstances and mishaps lead Xu and Wang to end up travelling together, and also causes them to end up lost for a time - all the while with Gao in dogged pursuit.
Xu and Wang have previously played a similar "odd-couple" pair of strangers whose paths cross when journeying within their own country in Lost on Journey (2010) - and they work well together, and off each other.
While their roles in the movie are primarily comedic, their ability to touch hearts and also get people to think about how best to approach a (life) journey should not be underestimated.
Character actor Huang puts in a fun turn as the irrepressible villain of the piece. And although his role is smaller than Xu and Wang's, Huang's character's presence helps provide some dramatic tension along with further comic relief in a well-crafted, fast-paced film that is often hilariously ridiculous but also undoubtedly feel good.
Lost in Thailand opens today