By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Unless audiences are from Hong Kong or is familiar with Chinese pop culture, the anthropomorphic pig named McDull (麥兜) may not be as well-known internationally. He’s very popular in parts of China, with plenty of merchandise to collect, and the appeal for this character is because of his perseverance to succeed. Love for this piglet is probably just as big as Japan’s Hello Kitty. Both are cute in their own way but the needs of a piglet do not outweigh the irresistible power of a cat.
At least in the latest film, McDull: Me & My Mum, a look back at this swine’s origins is in order. He is older and perhaps a bit wiser. He’s now a respected detective and is recognized by the name of Bobby Mak instead of his baby name. When he is called in to solve a death, his quick powers of observation save the day. If his deduction is true, no homicide took place. Everyone at the mansion is required to wait, and when the kids arrive, somebody has to entertain them. Mak recounts his life to them and he particularly emphasizes the closeness he had with his mother. From his days as a kid to his formative young adult years, she’s protected, given her sage advice and raised him like any mother would. She even tried to be a superhero, but an astronaut she is not. The metaphors are obvious, because the hospital she goes for that “space training” means she is ill. To a very young mind, to process certain situations can be tough.
The universal messages are understood. The Mak family were never rich. To see the two struggle through young Dull’s eyes is enduring and Chinese youths born outside of this country can get an understanding where their parents came from. Mrs. Mak is the atypical mom from Hong Kong. Unlike the tougher life in Mainland China, she wants her child to succeed, go to university and get a respectable job. Not knowing this pig in previous works by creators Alice Mak and Brian Tse does not impair this latest product by much. His irrepressible dimwittedness is spotlighted more in earlier comics and products that feature him as a piglet. No matter how hard life gets, he rolls with it. But just how he grew hair and became accepted in the human world begs the question if the world is fashioned ala Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.
In the flashbacks recounting Duff’s life, the varying styles of animation are noticeable. The visual tries to be Ghibli-esque and gets nowhere close. It does a better job paying tribute to Lupin III when McDull is finally in training to be a cop but sadly this moment is too short. Some knowledge of who this character is can help make enjoying his adventures more fulfilling. Most of the stories takes a satirical look at life around Hong Kong through the perspective of this youth.
Cartoonist Alice Mak and Brian Tse created this character in 1988, and he started out as a supporting character in the comic strip McMug in the magazine Ming Pao Weekly. Animated movies did not start until 2001, starting with My Life as McDull (which is too focused on his relationship with his mother). Not every movie was exported either. When considering this latest entry is one of the few to help this piglet get international attention, he will have to work hard to get the eyes around the world to notice him. That includes having an editorial board to translate the finer points of the Chinese language into understandable colloquial English. Not every line works, or it sounds too harsh.
As adored as this franchise is in China, the likelihood of him succeeding in a wider market is hard to tell. At least in the animated world, he has his day job to pay the bills.
3 Stars out of 5