Chinese comedy 'Lost in Thailand' breaks records
A wacky, domestically produced comedy has unexpectedly emerged as the most commercially successful Chinese movie to date, setting several new records. Since its opening on Dec. 12, Lost in Thailand has grossed well over one billion yuan ($160 million), unceremoniously unseating the previous record-holder, Painted Skin 2, which had earned a total of 726 million yuan ($117 million) at the box office.
As Chinese film fans kept flocking to the theatres in droves, Lost in Thailand gathered a slew of additional records: the biggest December opening-day takings at roughly 39 million yuan ($6.25 mil.); the highest number of daily screenings for any Mainland Chinese film (33,000 on Dec. 15); the highest single-day combined box-office revenue of all time of $14.9 million on Jan. 14, representing 2.78 million tickets; and the highest gross of any local motion picture in its first week of release, more than 300 million yuan (over $48 mil.).
Lost in Thailand, described as a “road-movie comedy” by its director, Xu Zheng, also gave a hard time to a number of recent Hollywood blockbusters, challenging the notion that no Chinese flick could ever manage to break into the powerful phalanx of imported multi-million-dollar productions. Its takings of over $160 million even surpassed those of last year’s most popular foreign film, James Cameron’s Titanic 3D, which across its entire screening period had earned “only” $149 million. Viewing numbers on Jan. 14 also surpassed the previous record set by Transformers 3, last year’s second most successful foreign movie. Yet Lost in Thailand, produced with a budget of just 30 million yuan ($4.8 mil.), was unable to dethrone Avatar, which upon its domestic release in 2010 grossed 1.4 billion yuan ($220 mil.), making it the most profitable movie ever to appear on Chinese screens.
Meanwhile, Lost in Thailand has apparently also triggered a rush of Chinese tourists to northern Thailand’s province of Chiang Mai, where more than 80 percent of the film was shot. The Tourism Authority of Thailand’s office in the provincial capital of the same name estimated that the movie has helped to increase the numbers of Chinese visitors to the province by at least 20 percent year-on-year. Lost in Thailand tells the story of two friends who come to Thailand to search for their missing boss. In the process they encounter numerous obstacles and countless quirky slapstick situations.
China’s Skyfall Censorship Criticized
Rather uncharacteristic for a country basically still in the grips of an authoritarian Communist regime, the recent release in China of a censored version of the latest James Bond flick Skyfall has prompted criticism from both academics and film industry insiders.
All foreign movies are subject to review and censorship by the country’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) before they can hit theatres. In the case of Skyfall, changes included the removal of a scene in which a Chinese security guard is shot by a French hit man, as well as cutting some of Bond’s lines referring to females being forced into prostitution.
“Movie regulators should respect the producers’ original ideas, rather than chopping scenes arbitrarily,” the semi-official news website china.org.cn quoted Sin Chuan, a professor from Shanghai University’s School of Film & TV Arts and Technology. Yet he also opined that the censorship system is still necessary for China’s homegrown movie industry. The scissor-happy hands of China’s censors on occasion also have been criticized in the past by moviegoers themselves. For example, film fans openly complained that a full 30 minutes of Ang Lee’s 2007 picture Lust, Caution were slashed in order to meet SARFT’s stringent requirements.
Laos Film Fests Offer Charming Alternatives
While film festivals are mushrooming all across Southeast Asia (including Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines), the land-locked nation of Laos is arguably much better known for its comparatively miniscule population (some five million scattered across a country roughly the same size as France), largely unspoiled landscapes and its magnificently well-preserved former royal capital of Luang Prabang, a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Yet enthusiastic private (rather than governmental) initiatives have in the past few years given birth to a couple of film festivals that impart their very own charms. Last December saw the third installment of the Luang Prabang Film Festival, whose main screen was set up in an outdoor night market in the heart of the World Heritage city, its ancient temples, palaces and French-colonial mansions providing a very romantic backdrop. Billing itself as a “sincere and unpretentious regional event for both local and foreign movie fans,” the festival once again primarily thrived on independent productions from around the region.
Meanwhile in the capital, the Vientianale International Film Festival is also gearing up for its third installment, scheduled to take place Feb. 26 through March 2. Again, the emphasis will be mostly on homegrown Laotian pictures, as well as co-productions with neighboring countries, although international producers are certainly encouraged to enter their movies as well.
Indian Films See Nostalgic Revival in Bangkok
In the golden days—meaning until around 15 to 20 years ago—colorful, cheesy, music- and dance-laden movies from the Indian subcontinent constituted the indispensable and much-beloved staple diet of Thailand’s audiences. Practically every neighborhood in the capital Bangkok featured at least one cavernous theatre that was exclusively dedicated to screening Bollywood productions. Gigantic—and often entirely hand-painted—billboards and posters advertising sari-clad beauties and their mustachioed love interests were the eye-catching landmarks of many city streets. Then Western, Japanese and Korean pop culture emerged out of the blue, and in their wake Indian movies quickly fell out of favor and practically disappeared.
However, thanks to growing demand from the sizeable Thai-Indian community and increasing numbers of expats, Bollywood flicks have recently experienced a renaissance. For example, local distributor MVP Entertainment is now frequently furnishing even Bangkok’s most modern cineplexes with Indian blockbusters, saying that audience numbers have exceeded initial expectations and continue to grow, although all movies are shown with their original soundtracks with Thai and English subtitles. The company is currently releasing two to three new Bollywood movies per month, each usually playing for two or three weeks with up to four screenings a day.
FJI welcomes Thomas Schmid as our new Asia correspondent. For inquiries and feedback, contact Thomas directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.