Mo lei tau (traditional Chinese: 無厘頭; simplified Chinese: 无厘头; pinyin: Wúlítóu; Jyutping: mou4 lei4 tau4; literally: 'nonsensical') is a type of slapstick humour associated with Hong Kong popular culture that developed during the late 20th century. It is a phenomenon which has grown largely from its presentation in modern film media. Its humour arises from the placement of surprising and incongruous elements, and the complex interplay of cultural subtleties. Typical constituents of this humour include nonsensical parodies, juxtaposition of contrasts, sudden surprises in spoken dialogue and action and improbable and deliberate anachronisms.
During an interview with Stephen Chow for his 2006 "Asian Invasion" season, the BBC's film critic Jonathan Ross referred to the genre as "Silly Talk", a label that Chow was happy to accept.
Mo lei tau (Jyutping: mou4 lei4 tau4) is a Cantonese term which may be loosely translated as "with no source", but is generally used to mean "makes no sense". The original phrase was mo lei tau gau (無厘頭尻) which literally means "cannot differentiate between head and tail". However, in Cantonese the word 尻 (Jyutping: haau1/ commonly mispronounced as "gau1") that means end of spine is often mispronounced as a vulgar word 𨳊 for penis. To avoid saying the word gau, the phrase is cut to mou lei tau.
Another phrase in Cantonese that is used similarly is 九唔搭八 (gau mmm daap baat). This literally translates as "nine doesn't follow eight". Gau mmm daap baat is something that is considered completely nonsensical, but in a somewhat comical manner.
Mo lei tau humour is a recent phenomenon in the culture of Hong Kong.
As a film form the earliest proponents of this form of humour can be seen to be the Hui brothers (Michael Hui, Samuel Hui and Ricky Hui) working in the late 1970s and early 1980s, although their comedy was never specifically labelled as mo lei tau. Jackie Chan's Fantasy Mission Force (1982) could conceivably be seen as another early example of the genre.
Immediately following the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and the subsequent tensions, the escapist nature of mo lei tau led to a surge in its popularity and it has since become synonymous with the comedy of Stephen Chow. One of his classic mo lei tau movies being the 1990 hit All for the Winner.
As typified by Chow's 1990s Hong Kong movies, mo lei tau developed into an 'anything goes' form of nonsensical humour that can and does ignore narrative conventions. It is nonsensical in the same way that Edward Lear's poems are, where irrelevant elements are somehow thrown together; as opposed to, say, Lewis Carroll's novels, where the nonsense relies on a play on logic or semantics. Generally, a mo lei tau scene gives one the feeling of incongruity, consisting of rapid comic banter, non-sequiturs, anachronisms, fourth wall references, and Cantonese slang and word play.
Regarded as an integral part of Hong Kong's popular culture, it is considered by some as being unique and untranslatable. Compared to Wacky Comedy film for a Western cousin, mo lei tau movies have a greater attention on puns and other Cantonese word tricks.
A mo lei tau performance can be either verbal or slapstick.
A verbal example is the catchphrase "Chor dai yum daam cha, sik gor bau" (坐低飲啖茶，食個包), meaning "Let's sit down, take a sip of tea, and have a bao (a Chinese bun)", first uttered by Stephen Chow in the TV serial The Final Combat (蓋世豪俠). The phrase becomes mo lei tau because it is repeated in irrelevant and inappropriate situations. It also serves as a comedic device because the actions suggested by "sitting, drinking and eating" are so plain and normal.
For a slapstick example, consider this scene from a mo lei tau film: a man is battered by others but is still able to stand upright. He bravely tells his friend he can take the beating, whereupon his friend replies: "Wow! After being hit so badly, you can still talk? If that was me I'd be puking right now!". The man promptly starts vomiting. The scene is hackneyed, but can be seen even to this day in, for example, the 2005 movie Initial D.
The 1990s in Hong Kong marked a transitional period and the last decade of colonial Hong Kong.Acid Western
Acid Western is a subgenre of the Western film that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s that combines the metaphorical ambitions of critically acclaimed Westerns, such as Shane and The Searchers, with the excesses of the Spaghetti Westerns and the outlook of the counterculture of the 1960s. Acid Westerns subvert many of the conventions of earlier Westerns to "conjure up a crazed version of autodestructive white America at its most solipsistic, hankering after its own lost origins".All's Well, Ends Well
All's Well, Ends Well is a 1992 Hong Kong comedy film directed by Clifton Ko. The film stars Leslie Cheung, Stephen Chow, Raymond Wong, Maggie Cheung, Sandra Ng, and Teresa Mo.
All's Well, Ends Well was a Lunar New Year film, where a film's release was timed to coincide with the larger movie audience at that time of year. The movie is also one of Stephen Chow's trademark 'mo lei tau' films of little sense but lots of good-natured humor, and is still considered to be a cult classic by most Hong Kong audiences.
The film was followed by six sequels:
All's Well, Ends Well Too (1993)
All's Well, Ends Well 1997 (1997)
All's Well, Ends Well 2009 (2009)
All's Well, Ends Well 2010 (2010)
All's Well, Ends Well 2011 (2011)
All's Well, Ends Well 2012 (2012)Chinese Odyssey 2002
Chinese Odyssey is a 2002 Hong Kong mo lei tau musical film written and directed by Jeffrey Lau and produced by Wong Kar-wai. It stars Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Faye Wong, Zhao Wei and Chang Chen. It is a parody of the 1959 Huangmei opera film The Kingdom and the Beauty, with virtually the same characters. It was released during the Chinese New Year, following the practice of the Hong Kong movie industry to boost comedy ticket sales during the holiday season.Culture of Hong Kong
The culture of Hong Kong, or Hongkongers culture, can best be described as a foundation that began with Lingnan's Cantonese culture (which is distinct to begin with) and, to a much lesser extent, non-Cantonese branches of Han Chinese cultures. It later became influenced by British culture due to British colonialism, resulting in a culture characterised by both Cantonese-ness and British-ness (Jyutping: Jyut6 jing1 wui6 zeoi6; Traditional Chinese: 粵英薈萃). Moreover, Hong Kong also has indigenous people, whose cultures have been absorbed into modern day Hong Kong culture. As a result, after the 1997 transfer of sovereignty to the People's Republic of China, Hong Kong has continued to develop an identity of its own.D.I.E.
D.I.E. or Death Investigation Extension (Traditional Chinese: 古靈精探) is a TVB modern comedy-action series broadcast in March 2008. It stars Roger Kwok , Sonija Kwok , Kenneth Ma & Margie Tsang.
TVB began filming D.I.E. Again (古靈精探B), the sequel, in November 2008.Danny Lee (actor)
Danny Lee Sau-yin (Chinese: 李修賢) is a Hong Kong actor, film producer, screenwriter, director, action director and presenter. He is known for frequently portraying Hong Kong police officers in films such as Law With Two Phases, The Killer and The Untold Story.Fantasy Mission Force
Fantasy Mission Force (Chinese: 迷你特攻隊 Pinyin: Min ne te gong-dui) is a 1983 Hong Kong horror action mo lei tau film directed by Kevin Chu and starring Jackie Chan (who got top billing) in a supporting role, Brigitte Lin, Jimmy Wang Yu. Although often marketed as a Jackie Chan film, he only appears in a few scenes.Jeffrey Lau
Jeffrey Lau Chun-Wai (Chinese: 劉鎮偉; born 4 February 1955) is a Hong Kong film director, screenwriter, actor and producer. Lau is famous for writing and directing "mo lei tau" comedies. His comedies include A Chinese Odyssey (with Stephen Chow) and Chinese Odyssey 2002, the latter which was voted Best 2002 Film by the Hong Kong Film Critics Society.King of Comedy (film)
King of Comedy (Chinese: 喜劇之王) is a 1999 Hong Kong comedy film directed by Lee Lik-chi and Stephen Chow. Unlike Chow's typical mo lei tau films, King of Comedy verges on comedy drama, describing the trials and tribulation that an aspiring actor experiences on his way to stardom. Some commentators say the story is based on Chow's early career, as he started off as a temporary actor, before becoming a successful and popular comedy actor over the course of a decade. The film does retain some of the bizarre visual gags Chow is known for, such as Chow's character bleeding from the nose and eyes during a singing number. Jackie Chan plays a cameo role during the film. A sequel, The New King of Comedy, released in 2019.Kuso
Kuso is the term used in East Asia for the internet culture that generally includes all types of camp and parody. In Japanese, kuso (糞,くそ) means "crap" or "shit" and "bullshit", and is often uttered as an interjection. It is also used to describe outrageous matters and objects of poor quality. This definition of kuso was brought into Taiwan around 2000 by young people who frequently visited Japanese websites and quickly became an internet phenomenon, spreading to Taiwan and Hong Kong and subsequently to the rest of China.List of apocalyptic films
This is a list of apocalyptic feature-length films. All films within this list feature either the end of the world, a prelude to such an end (such as a world taken over by a viral infection), and/or a post-apocalyptic setting.Ng Man-tat
Ng Man-tat (born January 2, 1952) is a Hong Kong actor originally from Fujian, China. He is a veteran actor in the Hong Kong film industry, with dozens of awards, including Best Supporting Actor at the 10th Hong Kong Film Awards for his role in A Moment of Romance.Opera film
An opera film is a recording of an opera on film.Portland Street Blues
Portland Street Blues (古惑仔情義篇之洪興十三妹) is a 1998 Hong Kong film, directed by Yip Wai Man. The film is a spin-off of the Young and Dangerous series of films.Romanian New Wave
The Romanian New Wave (Romanian: Noul val românesc) is a genre of realist and often minimalist films made in Romania since the mid-aughts, starting with two award-winning shorts by two Romanian directors, namely Cristi Puiu's Cigarettes and Coffee, which won the Short Film Golden Bear at the 2004 Berlin International Film Festival, and Cătălin Mitulescu's Trafic, which won the Short Film Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival later that same year.Shaolin Soccer
Shaolin Soccer (Cantonese: 少林足球) is a 2001 sports comedy film directed by Stephen Chow, who also stars in the lead role. A former Shaolin monk reunites his five brothers, years after their master's death, to apply their superhuman martial arts skills to play football and bring Shaolin kung fu to the masses.The Eagle Shooting Heroes
The Eagle Shooting Heroes is a 1993 Hong Kong comedy film directed by Jeffrey Lau. It is a parody of Louis Cha's novel The Legend of the Condor Heroes, and a classic example of the mo lei tau comedy.The Eight Hilarious Gods
The Eight Hilarious Gods is a 1993 Hong Kong fantasy mo lei tau film directed by Jeffery Chiang. The main characters are the Eight Immortals in Taoism, although being this is a comedy, most are portrayed as crooks in the film.
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