For the first time in the history of Chinese cinema, a one billion yuan movie has been born. At 15:00 CST on January 1, 2013, Actor Zheng Xu’s directorial debut Lost in Thailand (2012) became the first Chinese movie to gross over 1 billion yuan (US$161 million) in box office receipts. Just 10 years ago, the entire country’s box office revenue totaled 900 million yuan.

Lost in Thailand is a chase comedy of three stooges. When one man (Zheng Xu) sets out to Thailand to find his company’s largest shareholder, who can sponsor a new phase of his research project, his business rival (Bo Huang) pursues vigorously to stop (then to outrun) him. Their grand business objectives and other personal agendas are at times thwarted and at times catalyzed by a meddling rube (Baoqiang Wang).

Lost in Thailand (2012) / source: desk.zol.com.cn

Besides the star power of two widely loved comic actors Bo Huang and Baoqiang Wang, and a cameo by Bingbing Fan, the unprecedented box office takings by Lost in Thailand tie closely with the fast growing number of screens in China. In 2012, China added an average of seven new screens a day. By the end of 2012, China had 13,000 screens, in contrast to 1,500 in 2002.

The film was picked up for co-distribution by Huaxia Film Distribution Co, Ltd. and Enlight Pictures, the latter of which produced it with a few other companies. Given the trend that top-notch Chinese filmmakers are producing big historical dramas, such as 1942 by Xiaogang Feng in 2012 and The Flowers of War by Yimou Zhang in 2011, this small-budgeted comedy by Zheng Xu was a maverick bet that paid off in spades for Huaxia and Enlight Pictures.

Since China lacks a mature film distribution system that generates sizable income beyond a picture’s theatrical run, Lost in Thailand may have its earnings capped soon. Its theatrical performance in the greater Chinese-language world including Singapore, Taiwan, and other places may be mediocre because humor, which can work wonders, comes with strings attached – in order to laugh like a local, the audience needs to at least understand the local lingo. Today, Chinese neologisms stupefy even the native speakers who fail to check in with popular social media sites regularly. The Chinese name of this movie is a good example.

However, with the story set in Thailand, the movie is aiming for a market above and beyond the middle kingdom. More on Lost in Thailand on January 26, 2013. Click to read.