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Lost in Thailand: Travel metaphors in contemporary Chinese comedy

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Chinese cinema at the turn of the twenty-first century is replete with metaphors of travel – migration, roaming, exile, diaspora, and more recently, adventure and tourism. This article explores the allegorical uses of mobility and journey in recent New Year’s comedies, as exemplified by Xu Zheng’s 2012 blockbuster release Ren zai jiongtu zhi taijiong/Lost in Thailand, a film that is widely considered to have shaken up China’s domestic film industry. The notion of Thailand in the film as simultaneously a commercial and spiritual destination is crucial to the matter at hand. I argue that the spatial consumption typical of travel films acquires an alternative form here, one that does not fortify but rather undermines the imagination of Chinese power in a foreign land. This form of spatiality is best understood within the generic framework of New Year’s comedy, as well as the larger context of consumer culture and mass entertainment. Inquiring into the mixed tropes of comedy and melodrama, I seek to illustrate how the newly emergent tourist discourse builds upon the organizational principles of holiday-themed films, and how this particular genre and style, at times, can enable apolitical encounters with the society’s collective consciousness, while critiquing the limits and conditions of China’s post-socialist reality from within.
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Keywords: New Year’s comedy; blockbusters; film space; post-socialist cinema; travel

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of San Francisco

Publication date: September 1, 2015

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  • The East Asian Journal of Popular Culture is the first academic peer-reviewed journal for scholars, teachers, and students from around the world who have an active and passionate interest in the Popular Culture of East Asia. The journal is devoted to all aspects of popular culture in East Asia and the interplay between East Asia and the wider world. With the growth in popularity of Asian visual products in the Western world and the increasing strength of the Asian markets, this publication fulfills the need for an international journal that allows Western and Asian film, media, literary, music, fashion, digital media, television, art and cultural scholars alike to engage in discussion. In the last few decades there has been a huge rise in the interest in East Asian popular culture. The East Asian Journal of Popular Culture will be engaging directly with that trend. From film to music; art to translation and fashion to tourism, this journal will offer a forum where multidisciplinary work can come together in new and exciting ways.
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