After achieving record-breaking box-office success back home, the producers of Lost in Thailand will soon find out whether their Chinese road-comedy can travel. AMC has announced the film will open at 29 locations in North America on Friday.
The directorial debut of Chinese actor Xu Zheng, Lost in Thailand was reputedly produced for just $4.8 million and topped James Cameron’s Titanic to become the highest-grossing 2012 release in China, and the second highest-grossing film of all time.
The film follows an odd couple – one a savvy urban businessman and the other a clueless country bumpkin – on a riotous road-trip across Thailand.
Many have attributed its appeal among Chinese audiences to the way it captures the sensibility and concerns of ordinary Chinese middle-class people. "Very, very few Chinese films today show the real conditions of Chinese life," Zhou Tiedong, president of China Film Promotion International, told The Hollywood Reporter in January. "This film talks about the struggles of the middle class and the grassroots, their happiness or sorrow."
How exactly the concerns of middle-class Chinese will cross over to the U.S. market remains to be seen, although the exhibitor likely has its eye on ethnic Chinese-American moviegoers for this limited release.
As Nikkole Denson-Randolph, vice president of alternative and special content at AMC, said in a statement: "We are committed to tailoring content to serve AMC's local communities, ranging from blockbuster action franchises and animated family movies to sophisticated art films and Mandarin-language love stories."
"We are thrilled to present Lost in Thailand now, in time for Chinese New Year celebrations, as many of our guests have requested," she added.
AMC also seemed to go out of its way to make clear that the release of a popular Chinese film is nothing new for the company – explicitly noting in a statement that Mandarin-language films have screened in select AMC theaters since 2010 – perhaps in an effort to preemptively allay any Sino-paranoia over whether the buyout last year of AMC by Beijing-based property conglomerate Wanda Group is already leading to a shift in programming priorities towards more Chinese fare.
Wanda purchased AMC, America’s second-largest cinema chain, for $2.6 billion last May. At the time of the acquisition, Wanda CEO Wang Jianlin told THR that he was working to reassure industry observers that he would leave senior AMC management in place and intended to have a hands-off approach to running the American cinema chain.
“Whether AMC cinemas will show more Chinese films will be totally up to AMC’s current management, which we intend to leave intact, responding to market demand.”