Saturday, September 29, 2007
The Art of "Mo Lei Tau"
In the last two days, I saw two comedies that strive to exercise the so-called Hong Kong comedic art of "Mo Lei Tau." It literally means "doesn't make any sense," which would pretty much describe both Wong Jing's latest producing effort Beauty and the 7 Beasts and the Japanese comedy Maiko Haaaan!!!
Directed by the anonymous Chong Qing (though sources said it was directed by Chung "Feel 100% 2003" Shu-Kai) and written by the similarly anonymous "Not a Woman," Beauty and the 7 Beasts takes place in the 70s, when a down-on-his-luck star (played by Eric Tsang) meets his daughter for the first time (Super Fans' Meng Yao, which puts her two-for-two with shitty movies) and takes on five eccentric pupils with hilarity ensuing. He also has to defeat his nemesis Rocky (played by longtime friend Nat Chan) with his loyal secretary Siu Wan (an amusing Jo Koo).
Produced by Wong Jing AND Eric Tsang, which I guess is supposed to be some kind of comedy event, the film is filled with random gags that go on and on - including recycled scenes with supposed hallucinogens, ugly men scoring with relatively cute girls, and even a parody of both Jaws AND Alien crammed into one scene. As hard as they try to keep the audience amused, the film often drags with its short 98-minute running time, causing me at one point to really want to start playing my PSP. No, really, I really wanted to play it.
Written by Kankuro Kudo (Yaji and Kita - Midnight Pilgrims, Go, Ping Pong), Maiko Haaaan!!! uses a similar style to show male competitiveness and obsession with the geisha culture of Japan. Almost defying description, Maiko Haaaan!!! can be simply described as a chronicle of the lengths a man will go to immerse himself in the geisha culture that he loved so much for years. There's also enough movie parodies, politics, baseball, and instant noodles to pack into a 2-hour running time. It's overlong, the character goes too far with their obsessions, and it definitely wraps up too conveniently to be convincing; but it's also hilariously dumb and has an undeniable comic energy that's more fit for Hong Kong than Japan. Maybe that's why it was a commercial success in its native land.
So why is Maiko Haaaan!!! so much better than Beauty and the Seven Beasts then? They are both quite idiotic after further thought (actually, in the case of "Beasts," that thought came up about 15 minutes in), and both films have somewhat shoddy scattershot filmmaking that felt like the teams were throwing random things at the wall and waiting to see what sticks. However, Maiko Haaaan!!! is willing to discard reality and elevate things to unbelievable proportion ("latent potential" is probably the most contrived excuse for a film's plot points since the "eye in the sky" excuse in the ending for Eye in the Sky), with the audience willing to follow along because while it's obviously no longer taking itself seriously, it's still trying its damnedest to find new ways to make people laugh.
It's not like Wong Jing and co. were taking anything seriously, either, but they just simply kept recycling things that might have made people laugh in the 70s (the movie's excuse for that is probably that it takes place in the 70s). In other words, it undermines the audience by giving them things they have seen before and expect them to welcome it back like an old friend. Instead, it's like finding that expired carton of milk in the refrigerator that you should've thrown away weeks ago. They even dare to have a musical number in the end that proclaims "a good movie is not easy to make." They're actually quite right - Beauty and the 7 Beasts was announced, produced, and released in the course of just over a month, and it's not very good.
With the originator of "mo lei tau" showing obvious signs of creativity failure, will Japan carry the torch to become the new master of "mo lei tau"? As long as screenwriters like Kankuro Kudo keep working, I wouldn't rule out that possibility.