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A movie that moves

Updated: 2013-01-13 15:50
By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)

A movie that moves

A movie that moves

Xu Zheng, actor-director-writer of Lost in Thailand. Photos Provided to China Daily

A movie that moves

In the movie Lost in Thailand, Xu Zheng's character represents an urban lifestyle, while Wang Baoqiang's role embodies the grassroots, and Huang Bo plays the villain. Photos Provided to China Daily

China's biggest homemade blockbuster reaps 1.2 billion yuan and is closing in on the box-office champion Avatar. Raymond Zhou believes its off-screen trajectory is almost a rags-to-riches story worthy of Cinderella.

'Tai" in the movie title "Tai Jiong" not only refers to Thailand, where much of the story takes place, but also to "peace of mind", a dictionary-listed definition of the word, explains the actor-director-writer of Lost in Thailand Xu Zheng. What has attracted 32 million people to the movie theater could be the "jiong" part of the title - a new Chinese word that graphically captures an expression of awkwardness and foolishness, tinged with self-mockery. "It is the opposite of "tai", of which I found plenty while on a trip to Thailand," says Xu. "This is a country where the pace of life is slower than China, and people seem to be more secure and happier." Xu portrays a business executive who has to beat his rival to find the largest shareholder of their company and get his seal of authorization. That means billions of yuan in future income.

On his journey, he bumps into an idiot savant, who keeps wrecking his plans.

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"A stranger you meet on the road who has a completely different perspective on life may change you forever," Xu believes. "While my character represents an urban lifestyle and the pursuit of wealth, Wang Baoqiang's character embodies the grassroots, optimism and values that are not materialistic at all."

They are the polar opposites in almost everything, which is the departure point for many of the gags in the road comedy. But it was Manfred Wong, a Hong Kong writer-producer, who first paired the two in the 2010 comedy Lost on Journey.

That film, about the trials and tribulations of Chinese people returning home for Chinese New Year, was inspired by an American flick, the 1987 comedy Planes, Trains and Automobiles, starring Steve Martin and John Candy.

The former is a high-strung executive and the latter a well-meaning but clumsy salesman. That formula fits the Chinese story like a glove, now packed with China-specific jokes and situations.

In terms of copyright, Lost in Thailand is not a sequel to Lost on Journey. Neither Xu nor Enlight Pictures, which funded and distributed it, holds the rights, so Wang Changtian, CEO of Enlight Media, twisted the brand by changing one Chinese word in the original title to its homonym (roughly translated, "Lost Again on Journey"), followed by the colloquial title "Tai Jiong".

After Xu conceived the project, he started pitching it around town. According to inside sources, he went to Galloping Horse, one of the half dozen major production firms in China, which asked Xu to cut his proposed budget of 25 million yuan ($4 million) by half. Xu backed off.

The pitch was repeated at other studios until he had a 20-minute meeting with Wang of Enlight, during which he acted out detailed scenes - with no script or outline.

"I did not get around to reading the full script, but I instantly sensed he was serious. He has the temperament, communication skills and maturity to see through in production what he demonstrated to me in that meeting," Wang recalls.

Xu responds that he was lucky Enlight trusted him with the project. "They not only saw the commercial possibility of the movie, but also the texture of the story. That was valuable to me."

Xu enlisted his wife, Tao Hong, an actress who has a cameo in the movie. "After I wrote each draft, she would be my first reader and give me feedback," Xu says.

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