Over 40 million people have now seen China's highest ever grossing movie, the box office smash Lost in Thailand, which made more that 200 million USD in its native country, beating global giants Avatar and Titanic 3D to reach the top of China's all time movie charts.
The film cost just 2 million USD to make, yet for the company behind the production â€” Enlight Media â€” thanks to a high percent share of ticket sales, one single movie has generated more revenue than all their other projects combined for 2012.
The plot follows a Chinese businessman who visits Thailand looking for his boss but ends up involved in a series of comedic accidents that involve everything from snakes and gangsters to Muay Thai boxing. Despite a recognisable connection in terms of basic themes, unlike its Hollywood counterpart Hangover 2, the Chinese film avoids a focus on the seedy side of Thai life, opting instead for a chaotic, action packed adventure that takes place with a backdrop of luxurious hotels, striking temples, the famous water throwing exploits during Thai New Year and lanterns being launched into the night sky.
In this way, despite the non-stop calamities and mayhem that surrounds the lead character â€” played by actor, writer producer and director Xu Zheng â€” the scenes in the movie cleverly draw on the broad appeal that Thailand holds for Chinese visitors. In fact, it already seems that said appeal has been given a major boost thanks to the movie, with tourism officials predicting a record number of visitors from China in 2013.
Even in China, the success of the film came as a suprise to many film pundits, with analists attributing the massive response to a combination of marketing and good timing. Enlight Media also produce a number of TV programmes and they used this advantage to promote the film, as well as undertaking a massive publicity campaign that saw posters on buses, trains, buses and planes before the film's release, even in hospitals and schools.
The film was also released for Chinese New Year, traditionally a boom period for cinemas, and some commentators say that this, combined with increasing levels of economic doubt now creeping into Chinese society meant people welcomed the opportunity relax and laugh a little rather than immerse themselves in one of the country's famed epic film dramas or tragedies.
The same level of success is unlikely to be enjoyed by the film on a global scale, however. Lost in Thailand has only been selectively released in the West (opening in only around 30 of the USA's 5,000 plus cinemas), which highlights the cultural divide that separates movie goers from different corners of the globe in terms of what they enjoy watching the most.
Apart from some well known hits like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Chinese films rarely strike a chord with audiences beyond Asia, and the slapstick comedy of Lost in Thailand is widely considered too naive for Western and even Thai audiences.
On the other hand, the location chosen for most of the scenes in the movie, Chiang Mai, as well as its people and its economy, are likely to become big fans of China's new cinematic miracle. According to the the Tourism Authority of Thailand, this year's Songkran festival in April is expected to draw a record number of Chinese tourists to the province, generating between 400 and 500 million THB in tourism revenue.