Wandering China

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China’s Newest Export: Laughter #WSJ #China #Cinema


Comic cinema: Into China’s soft power toolbox.

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China’s Newest Export: Laughter
Dean Napolitano, Originally posted on Speakeasy
Source – Wall Street Journal China Realtime Report, published February 11, 2013

Source - Enlight Pictures, in WSJ China Realtime Report

Source – Enlight Pictures, in WSJ China Realtime Report

What does a contemporary Chinese comedy look like?

American audiences have an opportunity to answer that question as China’s biggest box-office hit ever for a domestically made movie opened in major cities on Friday.

“Lost in Thailand,” a low-budget comedy that hit theaters Dec. 12 in China and is still in release there, steamrolled its competition during the important end-of-year period when many Chinese blockbusters are released. The battle for box-office supremacy included Jackie Chan’s action-adventure “CZ12,” which scored big with audiences but was no match for “Lost in Thailand,” and Chow Yun-fat’s World War II-era drama “The Last Tycoon.”

The man behind the Mandarin-language comedy is its 40-year-old star, Xu Zheng, who also directed, produced and co-wrote the film on a modest budget of $6 million.

Please click here to read the article at its source.

As of last Tuesday, “Lost in Thailand” pulled in 1.26 billion yuan ($202.1 million), according to media-research firm EntGroup. That’s second only to “Avatar,” the all-time box-office champ in China, which earned 1.39 billion yuan ($223.0 million) during its run three years ago.

The story centers on a man named Xu (played by Mr. Xu) working for a Beijing company who helps develop a fuel additive that boosts the potential of petroleum, and his struggle against a scheming colleague for control of the company. The two separately fly off to Thailand in search of their boss, who’s at a Buddhist retreat in a remote part of the country.

From there it’s a classic road comedy, as the two co-workers try to out-maneuver each other across Thailand’s lush landscape. Complicating matters, Xu reluctantly picks up an unwanted side-kick — a clumsy but eager-to-please mainland Chinese tourist with an itinerary of adventures that he wants to cross off his bucket list.

Mr. Xu has spun a very funny caper using techniques familiar to American audiences: eccentric characters, quick editing, vivid colors, a vibrant soundtrack, and split- and multi-screen images. The film also stars two of the country’s most-popular actors: Huang Bo as the conniving co-worker and Wang Baoqiang as the annoying tag-along.

Chinese comedies are rarely intended for export. But this past weekend’s release in the U.S. gives movie-goers — at least those willing to take the plunge — a glimpse at China’s modern movie world.

Lavish dramas of big-name directors such as Zhang Yimou (“Raise the Red Lantern”) and Chen Kaige (“Farewell My Concubine”) more than two decades ago introduced a generation of American audiences to Chinese cinema. More recently, auteurs like Jia Zhangke (“Still Life”) and Zhang Yuan (“East Palace, West Palace”) — favorites of major international film festivals — have explored sensitive or taboo social topics with gritty realism, and sometimes at the disapproval of the country’s censors.

While those directors and their contemporaries continue to thrive as China’s film industry expands, younger filmmakers like Mr. Xu are tapping into the country’s modern mindset and their evolving tastes.

Mr. Xu wasn’t available to comment this week, but he told the Beijing News in a recent interview that he has “a fairly good grip on what movie audiences are thinking.” But, he said, “I never imagined audiences could be so hungry for a movie like this.”

– Dean Napolitano. Follow him on Twitter @NapolitanoWSJ
Originally posted on Speakeasy

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Filed under: Art, Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Culture, Domestic Growth, Government & Policy, Influence, Mapping Feelings, Media, Peaceful Development, Public Diplomacy, Social, Soft Power, Strategy, Tao Guang Yang Hui (韬光养晦), The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, Wall Street Journal

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