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.



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