Hong Kong cartoon character McDull packs mainland cinemas

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 August, 2012, 3:52am

An iconic local cartoon figure proved to be an unexpected hit on the mainland, while drawing mixed reviews from critics at home, the producers of a new movie said.

Husband-and-wife team Brian Tse Lap-man and Alice Mak Ka-bik, creators of the piglet McDull, were surprised that the Putonghua version of their latest movie, The Pork of Music, had a far greater impact on mainland audiences than they had expected. Since last month it has pulled in more than 50 million yuan (HK$61.2 million) at the box office and hit an emotional chord with moviegoers.

"I didn't expect so many would leave the cinema in tears," Tse said. "Perhaps our story of how McDull and his folks struggled to survive in a twisted society has touched an even more twisted society, to the point they shed tears over it. That goes beyond my script."

The latest film, which opens today in Hong Kong and features Cantonese voiceovers by celebrities like Anthony Wong and Sandra Ng, sees the piglet's former kindergarten fighting for survival. The headmaster is going to lose the rooftop day care to a big property project, and the only thing the children have left are the songs he taught them as a choir.

"Even when they are ground down to nothing, they still have music and no one can take that away from them," Tse said.

"The headmaster's persistence in imparting music to the young reflects a good number of Hongkongers in their pursuit of their goals. Even if they fail in the end, something precious will stay on, and that's the spirit we champion."

"Our stories are never written for a particular age group, and we hope everyone will get something of their own out of them," Mak said.

A flautist by training, Tse set his lyrics to the music of many classical composers. Schubert's Impromptu in B Flat Major, for example, becomes Breeze in Spring Kisses Me Like an Egg Tart.

But one song was banned in Hong Kong, despite it having no trouble on the mainland. "RTHK rejected The Car Song, which came from Khatchaturian's Sabre Dance, without giving any reason. I see no problem with the words: 'There's a car, car, car, car heading your way pa'. It's been circulated on the mainland problem-free," Tse said.

To cultural critic Perry Lam, McDull's appeal is based on his low intelligence.

"We Hongkongers have been exploited so much by the developers that we feel safe with the piglet's dumb image, which may even garner for some a feeling of superiority," he said.