Mo Lei Tau Style: Stephen Chow and His Martial Arts Embodiment in Hong Kong Cinema

This paper aims to introduce a style of martial arts that is not known nor written by many – the mo lei tau style; it is arguably invented, embodied, and popularized by Hong Kong comedian actor Stephen Chow through his films. Being a fan of Bruce Lee, Chow has always been interested in martial arts. However, instead of participating in serious fighting and training, he has developed his own style and ethos, by integrating Qi and the basic moves of martial arts into film narrative, in order to create a unique sense of humor. I call such aesthetic as the mo lei tau (it means “being silly and pointless” in Cantonese) style. Since the early stage in his acting career, Chow has always been very active in adding his creativity in scripts. Importing the mo lei tau style of martial arts is one of the main contributions from him into popular Hong Kong filmmaking. Gradually, such style has become one of Chow’s auteur signatures, which appear in almost every film that features him as a lead character. By introducing what mo lei tau style is through looking at different examples of Chow’s creativity, this paper aims to argue that Chow’s invention of a such new style demonstrates the mobility and circulation of a hybrid and global fantasy of martial arts. It will argue further that Chow has created and popularized a new connotation of martial arts, which it is very different from its original meaning and tradition. It questions, whether the phenomenon of martial arts has long lost its original meaning that it now only lives in a virtual state of cultural fantasy.


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