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Lost in Hong Kong
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by Jay Seaver

"You can often find something good in Hong Kong."
4 stars

Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour made seven "Road to..." movies between 1940 and 1962, though this series was not sequels so much as a chance to make selling the audience similar plots on a regular basis a virtue beyond the proven chemistry. Xu Zheng is doing something similar with his "Lost in..." movies, although without the returning co-stars. So far, so good - "Lost in Hong Kong" is at least as funny as "Lost in Thailand", a pretty decent madcap farce.

Though it takes a little while to get around to it, the situation is pretty clear: Xu Lai (Xu Zheng), an art student twenty years ago but now designing brassieres for his in-laws' company in Shanghai, is with those in-laws on a family vacation to Hong Kong, with wife "Spinach" Cai Bo (Vicki Zhao Wei) disturbingly focused on becoming pregnant with their first child and her younger brother Lala (Bao Bei-er) trying to shoot a documentary about the family, Xu Lai in particular. This is even more annoying than expected, because Xu Lai aims to sneak off for a rendez-vous with Yang Yi ("Jennifer" Du Juan), his first love who transferred schools during college and has since become a famous artist. And unbeknownst to any of them, Lala's camera caught a man falling out the window of the building across the street from the hotel, and the police would like to talk to them about it.

This is the sort of comedy - and Xu Lai the sort of character - where clearing certain things up early on could spare him and the audience a whole lot of aggravation. It's never really clear, for instance, whether Yang Yi is hoping to meet up with an old friend or whether she's got the same thoughts toward their unconsummated affair of twenty years ago that Xu Lai does. That's still the case when she actually enters the picture, leading to a few really weird scenes as Xu Zheng (who directs as well as stars) and writer Shu Huan try to straighten things out for the homestretch. This sort of ambiguity isn't in and of itself a terrible idea, but it's something that Xu doesn't quite seem ready for as a director who is making a movie about people getting bonked on the head.

That, on the other hand, is something he's pretty good at. The template here is indeed very similar to that of Lost in Thailand - a frantic/put-upon guy trying to get somewhere despite the idiot he can't seem to be rid of - and it's both a good one in general and one where Xu excels. He's got a leading man's ability to command a scene even when he's playing a comedic loser, and a facility for slapstick that he deploys well. He's good enough at this sort of thing that Bao Bei-er doesn't really have to steal the scenes he's in, though he could - Bao is tasked with making Lala a just-annoying-and-dunderheaded-enough thorn in Xu Lai's side that the frustration grows to ridiculous levels without the audience starting to hope he is seriously injured in one of the more dangerous action bits. Bao has the comic commitment to this funny dolt that the audience should still laugh even when their first reaction is that the movie has already played this particular misconception out.

Those two anchor enough of the movie that the ladies are underused, especially considering how many laughs Zhao Wei and Du Juan supply at either end of the movie. Xu and Shu have an eye for the wacky and occasionally crude sight gag, able to milk a couple well past the point where other teams would get them to work (including what is actually a darn good final sting). The film is stretched a bit, but there aren't any long periods or characters that aren't funny. The action staged by Chin Ka-lok is fairly well done, including a finale that is fairly sly about playing to Xu Lai's job.

One thing that I am kind of curious about is how well this captures Hong Kong. Though Lost in Thailand didn't feel particularly Thai, the filmmakers tip their hands early about their fondness for Hong Kong cinema - among other things, you don't have a couple meet in hotel room 2046 by accident - but while there are occasional cameos by character actors like Lam Suet or other distinctive items, there isn't a distinctive sense of place or personality. It's a slick mainland production that seldom captures the anything-goes intensity and atmosphere that Hong Kong has often brought to the screen, even if the characters do cross paths with Wong Jing making one of his nutty action movies.

But, then, what do I know? I've never been there, and what I've seen on-screen isn't necessarily a fair sample of even its cinema. Even without necessarily getting specific in that way, "Lost in Hong Kong" has a lot of good bits, more than a lot of comedies. Given the sort of crowds these movies have pulled in, I look forward to Xu Zheng getting lost in Tokyo, New York, or whatever spot catches his fancy next.

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originally posted: 09/29/15 12:40:01
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  25-Sep-2015 (NR)
  DVD: 01-Mar-2016

  25-Sep-2015 (15)

  25-Sep-2015 (M)

Directed by
  Zheng Xu

Written by
  Huan Shu

  Zheng Xu
  Wei Zhao
  Bai-er Bao
  Juan Du
  Sam Lee

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