Xu Zheng tries his hand at directing in the samey, but very funny Lost in Thailand.
“Well… what should we name our team?”
“The Legends of Thailand!”
“Uhm… anything better?”
“How about Potato and Mushroom?”
“Let’s stick with the Legends of Thailand.”
Back in 2010, Xu Zheng starred in the Raymond Yip comedy film Lost on Journey, about an arrogant businessman played by Xu, who tries to fly home for Chinese new year but ends up getting lost with fellow traveller played by Wang Baoqiang. The success of this film led to Xu deciding that maybe he could make his own lost-buddies movie, and so taking Wang and a director’s chair, that’s exactly what he did. How was it? Well, it became – if only briefly – the highest grossing Chinese film of all time, and warranted a completely unrelated sequel, Lost in Hong Kong. So let’s take a look at this.
Xu Zheng plays a scientist inventively called Xu, who has developed a solution called Supergas (or Oil Master, if you’re not using subs) which can rapidly increase the volume of any liquid that it is mixed with. He needs approval from the biggest shareholder, a Mr Zhou, who is currently in Thailand, in order to get more funding to develop it further. Gao Bo (Huang Bo), a rival scientist, wishes to sell it to a French company instead. And so begins a race to Thailand, with the two scientists competing to reach Zhou before the other. Unbeknownst to Xu, though, Gao has placed a tracking device on him.
On board the plane, Xu meets the bright-eyed and simple-minded Wang (Wang Baoqiang), a tourist going to Thailand with a list of things to do, very little money, a cactus, and a bizarre fascination with superstar Fan Bingbing. Naturally, things start to get crazy when Xu loses his passport and has to rely on Wang to get around. As circumstances get increasingly comical, two begin to form a bond, but Gao is always nearby, ready to stir up whatever trouble to stop Xu from reaching Zhou first.
First thing I’ll mention is that Lost in Thailand’s best feature is the chemistry between its three leads. Xu Zheng and Wang Baoqiang had worked together previously in a similar movie, Raymond Yip’s Lost on Journey, and they settle straight into their roles, bouncing jokes off each other effortless throughout. Huang Bo’s Gao spends most of the film by himself, but his interactions with Xu are pretty funny. His performance, precise and almost mechanical in his movements, contrast nicely with Xu and Wang’s more manic style of acting. I’ve seen Wang Baoqiang before, but only in dumb Donnie Yen action films, so it’s refreshing to see him play someone goofy and likeable. Like John Candy, Wang manages to find the best in his character and plays up to it. In fact, this goes for all the leads, and it helps keep Lost in Thailand fun to watch
The performances are likely the saving grace of the entire picture, if I’m being honest. While the story is perfectly serviceable, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before in countless other comedies. Where does it rank, among the Skiptraces, Due Dates and Planes Trains of the world? Probably right in the middle. It really doesn’t do anything new, except maybe throw two or three times as many dramatic “break-up” moments in there. Whereas a movie like this will have one or two, usually near the third act, Lost in Thailand had like three before the halfway point. It makes the movie feel a bit longer than it is, but at least it doesn’t drag. Still, there are only so many times Xu can yell at Wang and then apologise before it starts to get old.
Oh well. It’s a good job, then, that Lost in Thailand is, if nothing else, really funny. This website’s track record of mainland China comedies hasn’t been great, with some real duds like Meet the In-Laws springing to mind, and I was expecting something similar. Not here. Xu Zheng, and co-writers Shu Huan and the fantastically-named Ding Ding keep the laughs coming. Not every joke lands (your mileage may vary here) but I found that when over half of them do, and when even a few of those provide big, laugh-out-loud moments, it’s hard not to recommend it. The pacing is kept quick, the jokes nonstop, and the characters just likeable enough that when, say, Wang does something extremely dumb, it’s still funny enough to not be annoying.
If you’re coming into this film with expectations of seeing something totally fresh and genre-defying, you’ll probably be disappointed. It’s a film that’s purely held up by its laughs (and its genuinely nice landscape shots) and its nonstop pace. Director Xu should also be praised for his deft skill behind the camera. This is his first feature, but it doesn’t feel like one at all. He has a great comic timing, and his use of angles and edits to keep jokes running longer are not unlike the works by older, more experienced directors. In the end, he manages to make Lost in Thailand a really enjoyable 100 minutes, and sometimes that’s all you want in a picture.
Verdict: Lost in Thailand avoids being boring by being funny, exciting and occasionally moving.
Overall entertainment: 7/10
Violence: All slapstick
Ladyboys: Surprisingly none (maybe)
Transports: Trains, planes, taxis, tuk tuks, motorcycles, elephant, river
Wang: Thai Kikku!
Lost in Thailand (2012)
Also known as: 人再囧途之泰囧
Director: Xu Zheng
Writers: Xu Zheng, Shu Huan, Ding Ding
Xu Zheng – Xu Lang
Wang Baoqiang – Wang Bao
Huang Bo – Gao Bo
Tao Hong – Xu Lang’s Wife