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The pig that dares to dream

Updated: 2012-07-13 09:36
By Liu Wei (China Daily)

The pig that dares to dream

The best-loved pig in Hong Kong is called McDull. His mom makes a wish that he will look like Chow Yun-fat or Tony Leung, two movie heartthrobs, but he is distinguished only by a birthmark around his right eye.

The cartoon piglet is not smart, either. Everything he tries, he fails. He wants to be an Olympic champion of qingbaoshan, but the sport of grabbing the most steamed buns from a pile doesn't really exist, of course. He dreams of going to the Maldives, but ends up on a one-day tour of a Hong Kong landmark instead.

However, the slow, dumb pig has won over Hong Kong people, often stereotyped as eager to quick success. Since he first appeared in a magazine in 1988, McDull has been honored with a bronze statue and wax figure. On July 10, the fourth McDull movie will premiere in both the mainland and Hong Kong.

The popularity of McDull occasionally confounds his creator Alice Mak, a slim illustrator with a tender voice, few words, and frequent smile.

"Maybe people see themselves and their friends in McDull," she says.

Mak had never seen a real pig before she drew McDull. She was born and spent most of her life in Tai Kok Tsui, an ordinary Hong Kong community where she can still buy cheap food. It is also where McDull grows up.

Like McDull, Mak moves and speaks slowly. She describes herself as a simple person, who does not try to draw too much meaning from the McDull stories. As a Christian, she has some simple beliefs, such as God creates humans because he loves them and wants them to be happy.

In the late 1980s Mak worked at a press company as a summer intern. The company boss, Brian Tse, later became her husband and scriptwriter of all McDull movies and books.

McDull was at first a supporting character in a story about his cousin McMug, a smart piglet and "what parents expect of their children". But it turned out that the woodenheaded McDull was more appealing.

When McMug promises his classmates that if he becomes the class president he will treat everyone with strawberry cakes, McDull struggles to utter one sentence in his speech: "If you choose me, you will be ... painful."

He gives up his favorite chicken thigh to his mom and practices sports he dislikes to make her happy. He has many dreams, most of which end up in disappointment. He is still happy, however. When he gets an "H", he thinks it looks "only a bit different" from an "A". According to his headmaster, he isn't that stupid, he is just too kind.

"McDull reminds people they used to be as simple and happy as him," Mak says. "If there is a theme in all the McDull movies, it is about how a simple person keeps his or her simplicity in a complicated world."

Compared to US and Japanese comics, the McDull series has a strong local flavor. McDull and his mother Mrs Mak live in a small apartment in the most ordinary community in Hong Kong. Although the portraits of McDull and the other characters are simple, their environment is depicted in details, such as crowded grassroots communities and skyscrapers. The conversations play on Cantonese slang. Nonsense songs tell jokes Cantonese-speaking audiences relate to immediately.

As for Tse, McMug can be found anywhere, but McDull belongs only to Hong Kong.

The pig that dares to dream

"Hong Kong people may not admit it, but they want to be good people," he was quoted as saying. "Even if in work they have to be tough and shrewd, they want to be good children before parents, good boyfriends or girlfriends before their lovers."

Careful audiences will also see traces of the changes Hong Kong people have experienced from the four McDull movies. For example, McDull's mother goes to the mainland to find a job in the third installment, made in 2009. In that year Mak and Tse co-produced the McDull movie with mainland companies for the first time. Co-productions are treated as domestic ones in the mainland, which boasts a huge market.

The pair's efforts to make the piglet's story more approachable for mainland audiences are written in the storyline: In the 2009 movie McDull's mother sends him to Mount Wudang in Hubei province to learn martial arts.

In the latest McDull movie The Pork of Music, also a mainland-Hong Kong co-production, McDull and his friends form a chorus and sing in shopping malls in Shenzhen, a city in Guangdong, to raise money for their kindergarten.

But one thing about McDull does not change, whether the story is set in the mainland or Hong Kong. Although many children love McDull, the story is far more than its surface funniness. It is delightful and acidic at the same time.

In one of the McDull movies, he talks to the audience: "I suddenly realized that there is something you just cannot have. No noodles, no Maldives, no golden medal, no treasure ... it turns out that being stupid is not funny, it could mean failure. Disappointment is not funny, fat is not funny, fat does not even mean you have more strength When I grow up, when I face the stern world that is not funny, what should I do?"

"What he has been doing in the movies is to find new dreams. Most of them keep failing him, but he always starts again with a new one," Mak says. "Maybe that's why both children and adults find him adorable."