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Lost in Thailand
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by Jay Seaver

"...but not quite lost in translation."
3 stars

Comedies are tough imports; wordplay gets lost in translation and different cultures find different things odd enough to be considered funny. So, it's the big, unmistakable gags that cross borders best, but they're not usually in the best movies. Thus, something like "Lost in Thailand" occasionally pokes into multiplexes; it's not a particularly great Chinese comedy, but it's broad enough that Americans will at least be able to recognize the jokes.

These often come at the expense of Xu Lang (Xu Zheng), an R&D leader in a Beijing corporation whose team has developed a way to stretch petroleum much further. He needs the authority to push the program forward, which resides with company officer Zhou Yang, currently in a Thailand monastery. His rival Gao Bo (Huang Bo) also seeks this power of attorney and follows Xu to Thailand to track Zhou down. Meanwhile, Xu's wife An An (Tao Hong) is insisting he sign divorce papers within the next two days, and circumstances stick him with Wang Bao (Wang Baoqiang), an annoying, uncouth, stupid, and possibly insane tourist.

In addition to starring, Xu Zheng also produces and directs. Last seen on these shores in Pang Ho-Cheung's Love in the Buff, he's probably best known for Hao Ning's Crazy Stone and Crazy Racer, and it's the latter's style tends toward, supplying broad characters who more often than not cause their own problems and finding new ways to crank up the insanity and slapstick as the movie goes on. And while he's rather rough at times - his attempts to cut between two set-ups and make them reinforce each other don't work that well - he and co-writers Ding Ding and Shu Huan do manage to come up with some good situations, either getting a laugh from the very idea of the set-up or capping it off with a decent gag. There are a couple bantering moments toward the beginning that the subtitles capture well enough that I'm willing to bet some of the more verbal bits work fairly well if one understands Mandarin or can combine vocal delivery with written information easily.

The thing that might work against this, though, is that it's one of those comedies where every character potentially pushes the viewer away. Xu Lang, while the main character of the movie, spends a lot of time as a lying, self-centered jerk, not always giving a whole lot of reason why we should expect him to be the guy we root for aside from being in that space. Gao Bo is trying to cheat his way into what the movie would have us feel is rightfully Xu's, but Gao's pathetic enough that it's hard to wholeheartedly enjoy watching him take abuse like Wile E. Coyote. And while Wang Bao seems built to be the guy who innocently causes chaos despite his best intentions, he's often pushy and annoying in his stupidity.

It's a challenge for the cast, but they mostly prove up to it. Xu Zheng does okay with the moving from kind of jerky to paying the price and back again, and digging out the decent parts of Xu when needed. Wang Baoqiang is actually quite good at the physical comedy; he executes some fairly tricky slapstick and is amiably goofy at other times. Huang Bo mugs it up big-time, making Gao Bo a cartoon-sinister villain but seeming a bit off when the shoe is on the other foot.

Things move at a quick pace, with scene transitions whipping the audience from one situation to another, although sometimes the movie isn't quite as crazy as it might like to think it is: The script will look for a quick joke by mentioning ladyboys as a thing that exists, for instance, but isn't going to put its characters into an uncomfortable situation involving them. Like a lot of comedies, it will pull things out of a hat near the end to give the characters something approaching a happy ending, even if it doesn't really follow from what comes before.

Of course, that sort of thing happens in all sorts of comedies all over the world; it's certainly not just a Chinese thing. Maybe other parts of "Lost in Thailand" play better in Beijing than they do in Boston, but there's certainly enough about it that's universal to make it an enjoyable-enough change of pace.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24784&reviewer=371
originally posted: 02/17/13 10:15:18
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USA
  08-Feb-2013
  DVD: 25-Feb-2014

UK
  N/A

Australia
  08-Feb-2013


Directed by
  Zheng Xu

Written by
  Ding Ding
  Huan Shu
  Zheng Xu

Cast
  Zheng Xu
  Bo Huang
  Baoqiang Wang



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