Well Go USA // 2012 // 105 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // March 3rd, 2014
The highest-grossing film in China's history.
Though you might not know it from looking at the most popular Hollywood film, we're living in the time of one of the greatest upheavals in the history of cinema. With increasing box office from spectacular, blockbuster films, studios are looking to manage risk. Making a flop for $20 million is bad, but making a $200 million flop is devastating. To manage risk, studios are increasingly trying to penetrate foreign markets, while also doing as much as possible to convince foreign investors to co-finance pictures. In both cases, we're seeing films that have to deemphasize their American-ness to better sell in growing markets, the largest of which is China. However, unlike many instances of cross-pollinization in the history of Hollywood, we haven't seen as many Chinese films make it to American shores as we've had American hits in China. There are a number of reasons for this, most of them having to do with cultural differences and the state of censorship in China. Lost in Thailand does a pretty good job of showcasing the problems inherent in trying to sell Chinese culture in America.
Lost in Thailand focuses on two engineers who both have the secret to create a new fuel additive that will revolutionize the automotive industry. The only problem is they need the head of their firm to sign off on the project, but he's on honeymoon in Thailand. So, whoever finds him first stands to get rich and famous, but a whole host of problems await the pair once they're Lost in Thailand.
It should be said at the outset that at the time of its home video release here in the States, Lost in Thailand is the highest-grossing Chinese film ever. In many ways it's not hard to see why. It's a broad comedy that takes great pains to be inoffensive. Though the title and poster art (and even, to a certain extent, the plot) sound like the Chinese version of The Hangover, it's a big stretch to get to there from what's actually on screen. If anything, it's a PG remake of The Hangover.
That pretty much sums up what's not right about Lost in Thailand. Though the box-office returns are evidence of the appeal of the film in China, those very same qualities work against the film in an American context. The overall plot relies a bit too much on happenstance and coincidence, and it's almost like the film was made in response to eighties action-adventure movies more than contemporary American film -- and yet it doesn't really feel like an intentional throwback, giving winks to the audience. Rather, Lost in Thailand doesn't acknowledge that the last thirty years of American comedy has existed. The characters, too, are so stereotypical that most viewers in America will be able to see plot contrivances coming a mile away.
American viewers are going to be left watching a film that isn't terrible -- the performances are fine, the direction assure -- but it's like watching a film through a filter. I can see that the jokes are supposed to be funny, but between them being predictable and broad enough to get past Chinese censors, the jokes don't land like they would in an American comedy. The fact that viewers have to read subtitles only adds another layer between viewer and joke, making them that much harder to appreciate.
I don't want to be too down on Lost in Thailand. It's not a terrible film, but one that just won't translate to most American viewers. In the same way that I wouldn't expect a comedy like Eastbound & Down to translate to a Chinese viewership that doesn't have the references that American viewers do, I don't blame Lost in Thailand. However, I can say that only the most adventurous viewers who have a low bar for comedy would really appreciate this release.
Viewers, at least, get a pretty strong Lost in Thailand (Blu-ray) release. The 2.35:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is excellent overall. I was really impressed with the way that colors popped off the screen, and detail is generally strong. Black levels and contrast can fluctuate a bit, but overall the film looks really good on home video. The film's Mandarin audio track gets the DTS-HD 5.1 treatment. Dialogue is always clean and clear in the front, and the surrounds are used to some good comic effect as well as establishing a sense of space.
Extras start with a making-of featurette that follows the standard EPK-style for 16 minutes. It's not the most informative extra, but for a film that's not well-known in America, it's a substantive extra. We also get the film's trailer.
Lost in Thailand is unlikely to work as a comedy for most American viewers, but it is an interesting snapshot of what's popular in contemporary China. Though Lost in Thailand (Blu-ray) is strong, the film is probably only worth a rental for most viewers, if that.
Guilty of getting lost in translation.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Well Go USA
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Mandarin)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Mandarin)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated