• Maya Kirby

How Mike Tyson became a Chinese Meme

Updated: Apr 11

What's your favourite martial arts film? The Karate Kid is widely considered to be a classic. How about the Ip Man films? Starring Donnie Yen as the master of the martial art Wing Chun, there are currently five in the saga.

Mike Tyson is the antagonist in the Ip Man 3 film, and while he made a convincing film villain, he also accidentally made himself into a meme.

In one part of the film, Tyson's character squares up close to Ip Man and proclaims: "Wai Faai Bat Po" - Only speed is unbreakable!

Well, that's what he was supposed to say. The trouble was, Mike Tyson wasn't used to speaking Cantonese; he bungled up the tones and ended up saying:-

"WiFi Bat Po" - which translates to "WIFI is unbreakable"!

And, with the digital world being more connected than ever, it quickly became a popular meme: many Asian netizens proclaimed that their WIFI, too, was unbreakable.

So how easy is it for a non-native Chinese speaker to confuse the tones in a sentence? The most spoken variant of the Chinese language is Mandarin, in which there are four different tones with one neutral tone.

Let's explore the sound 'Ma', and how the way you say it makes all the difference:-

1: High tone

- mā 媽 - Mother

2: Rising tone

- má 麻 - Hemp

3: Low, bouncing tone

- 馬 mǎ - Horse

4: Dropping tone

- mà 罵 - Scold

Neutral, short.

-ma 嗎 - Turns a sentence into a question.

Congratulations, with a bit of practice you can now say:-


Nǐ gǎn mà wǒ mā de mǎ ma?


Do you dare scold my Mother's horse?

It's an essential phrase in any traveller's toolkit... But now, let's look at Cantonese, spoken in Hong Kong, Macau and South-Eastern China.