Mo lei tau

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.

Semantics

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 (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.[1]

Related catchphrases

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.

History

Mo lei tau humour is a recent phenomenon in the culture of Hong Kong.

1970s and 1980s

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.

1990s and contributions by Stephen Chow

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.

Characteristics

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.

See also

References

  1. ^ Pang, Chi Ming (2007). Xiao gou lan ca xie (小狗懶擦鞋): a Study of Hong Kong Profanity Culture (in Chinese). Hong Kong Subculture Publishing. p. 29. ISBN 978-962-992-161-3.

External links

1990s in Hong Kong

The 1990s in Hong Kong marked a transitional period and the last decade of colonial Hong Kong.

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All's Well, Ends Well

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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)

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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.

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Ng Man-tat

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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.

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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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