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My Life as McDull
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Mom and McDull on holiday
Chinese: 麥兜故事
Year: 2001
Director: Toe Yuen Kin-To
Producer: Brian Tse
Writer: Brian Tse, Alice Mak
Voices: Jan Lam Hoi-Fung, Sandra Ng Kwun-Yu, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang
The Skinny: While obviously a children's film, this Hong Kong animated feature has enough stuff to enlighten and charm adults. It's a bit esoteric though, and you have to wonder how much the kids really got.
by Kozo:

A sizable hit last Christmas, this Hong Kong animated feature is obviously targeted at children. Aside from the cute character designs, My Life as McDull comes complete with merchandising and an extensive ancillary franchise. The animation is aided by obvious computer generated backgrounds, but it retains a charming hand-drawn look that's pleasing to the tykes. McDull is an animated pig. And he's cute.

With all that, it's a wonder that My Life as McDull turns out to have a rather existential theme and a narrative style that would do Hideaki Anno (of Neon Genesis Evangelion) proud. Massive voice-over from an adult McDull (voiced by Jan Lam) narrates this episodic tale of young McDull's experiences with hope and disappointment as he and his mother (voiced by Sandra Ng) struggle through their low-income lives.

McDull was born dimwitted despite his mother's prayers for a handsome, smart son. There's no Dad around, so Mom has to make do alone. Mom continually prays for McDull's luck and life to change. However, his desires are simple. He wants to go to the Maldives. He wants a turkey dinner for Christmas. He wants things that are beyond their means.

They really can't afford these things, but his mother tries to please him anyway. She gets him the turkey, but the leftovers drive him crazy. Instead of the Maldives, she takes McDull to The Peak and pretends it's the Maldives. In exchange, McDull can only give into his mother's wishes and attempt to make something of himself. He decides to train to become an Olympic level athlete like Hong Kong Olympian Li San-San. However, the trade he learns is Cheng Chau Bun Catching, which involves training heavily to snatch meat buns from large towers. Huh?

It's actually esoteric details like these that make the movie special. My Life as McDull is steeped in a realistic, actual representation of Hong Kong, from the Peak Tram to the Wellcome grocery stores. McDull and his mother may be animated pigs, but their lives are those of working class Hong Kong residents. They visit the market and the temple regularly. Getting to Central requires a trip on the bus, and getting to Cheng Chau means taking the ferry. Landmarks (like Times Square in Causeway Bay) and streets are made to be actual. The Bun Catching thing is based on an actual festival activity that once took place in Hong Kong. It's a charming, involving effect, especially for those who either live or have visited the region.

Furthermore, McDull's life has large metaphorical implications that are quite obvious when you stop to take a look. Despite being dim-witted and below average, McDull struggles gamely to make something of himself. He wants to be true to his mother's love and remains positive in his goals. And even if he never seems to make it, there's something inspiring in his effort. That he's an animated pig practicing bun-snatching kung-fu makes everything seem silly, but the sentiments behind it are not.

The stumbling block here is the self-referential storytelling that could leave most kids in the dust. Do any children out there really enjoy watching barely animated still frames with existential voiceover laid on top? The film's sentiments can prove quite charming and affecting, but when it comes out in existential voiceover, you would think that the kids would never catch it. The sounds and images speak to them, but the film's voice ultimately might not.

However, adults may find all of that affecting, which is great because they're the ones who have to take kids to the movies. With the pleasing look, generous humor, and amiable tone, most adults might not even notice that they're getting storytelling that isn't much different from the pubicly-reviled Wong Kar-Wai. As it is, My Life as McDull provides it's share of hackneyed messages, but the form in which they're delivered is exceptionally pleasant. For kids' stuff, McDull is more than all right. (Kozo 2002)


21st Hong Kong Film Awards
• Winner - Best Original Score (Ho Sun-Chi)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Panorama Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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image courtesy of Universe Laser & Video Co., Ltd.

 Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen