A pair of hapless ex-pats discover that Beijing isn’t the hotbed of entrepreneurial opportunity they had anticipated in this hilarious and timely look at the West’s obsession with the East, directed by Róbert I. Douglas (Eleven Men Out).
Contemporary World Cinema
This Is Sanlitun
Róbert I. Douglas
Róbert I. Douglas (Eleven Men Out) returns to the Festival with a comic look at the West's obsession with the East, presented through the lives of ex-pats living and working in China. British sad sack Gary (Carlos Ottery) is a failed entrepreneur who has just arrived in Beijing's stylish Sanlitun district, allegedly to start a business. (He seems to be importing some deeply suspicious hair tonic from North Korea.) Moreover, he's bored with the Occident. "The West is done for me now," he opines.
There are other reasons why he has uprooted himself — he's followed his ex-wife and young son, for one — but he soon finds out that China isn't the easiest place to succeed. Blissfully untouched by self-awareness, and only fitfully in tune with reality, Gary sallies forth to make money, armed with faith in himself and little to no knowledge of Chinese culture. He soon hooks up with Frank (Chris Loton), a trust-fund kid from Australia who offers to mentor Gary in Eastern ways, although Frank's pedagogical method is restricted to yelling at Gary for being a Westerner and not being as "Chinese" as him.
As with all of Douglas's comedies, This
is Sanlitun centres on a protagonist who
seeks and even initiates change, but soon
finds himself slipping back into old habits,
with amusingly catastrophic results. At the
same time, it is also a portrait of unlikely
friendships. As Gary's luck ebbs and flows,
it becomes clear that the only person he
can entirely count on is Frank. This is
Sanlitun is a genuinely hilarious riff, much
of it developed through improv, on George
Orwell's famous remark about expatriates
inevitably creating social circles consisting
of misfits, dropouts, and other ex-pats.
It plays like a Henry Miller novel filtered
through an Ealing comedy — if Miller were
more interested in beer than sex.