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McDull, The Alumni

(left) Anthony Wong and Sandra Ng, and (right) Wilson Chen and Ronald Cheng.
NOTE: The scene on the left doesn't actually appear in the film.
Chinese: 春田花花同學會
Year: 2006  
Director: Samson Chiu Leung-Chun  
Producer: Peter Chan Ho-Sun  
Cast: Ronald Cheng Chung-Kei, Kelly Chen, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Gigi Leung Wing-Kei, Josie Ho Chiu-Yi, Ji Jin-Hee, Sandra Ng Kwun-Yu, Eric Tsang Chi-Wai, Alex Fong Lik-Sun, Miki Yeung Oi-Gan, Nicholas Tse Ting-Fung, Shawn Yue, Wilson Chen, Isabella Leong, Jim Chim Sui-Man, Zhou Bichang, Jaycee Chan, Daniel Wu, Terence Yin, Conroy Chan Chi-Chung, Andrew Lin Hoi, Jan Lam Hoi-Fung, Lam Yat-Fung, Theresa Fu Wing, Cheung Tat-Ming, Eddie Cheung Siu-Fai, Tats Lau Yi-Tat, Hui Siu-Hung, Lai Yiu-Cheung, Miu Kiu-Wai, Christopher Doyle, Tsui Tin-Yau, Wong Yau-Nam Steven Cheung Chi-Hung, John Sham Kin-Fun, Tiffany Lee Lung-Yi, Kary Ng Yiu-Fei, Francis Ng Chun-Yu, Li Ting-Fung, Viann Leung Wai-Ka
The Skinny: Like the other McDull movies, this live action/animated combo doesn't make much sense, and mines urban Hong Kong culture for its satirical gags and culture-specific in-jokes. The result is still effective, though much less so than the animated films, and the surprising poignancy of the earlier McDull movies is largely absent. Sometimes talking animals are better.
by Kozo:

If you've looked forward to a new McDull movie (and I know I have), then you're about to get half - or maybe less - of your wish. The animated, low-IQ pig partially returns for the 2006 Lunar New Year release McDull, The Alumni. Produced by Peter Chan's Applause Pictures, McDull, The Alumni features all-new animation of McDull and his Springfield Kindergarten brethren (including cousin McMug, turtle Fai, cat Darby, cow May, etc.), but they're only featured in interspersed vignettes that amount to possibly 25% of the entire picture. The rest of the film is live-action, and made up of over 40 Hong Kong (and some non-Hong Kong) entertainment "names", including such heavy hitters as Ronald Cheng, Kelly Chen, Sandra Ng, Eric Tsang, Anthony Wong, and even cinematographer Christopher Doyle.

A sort of "what will I be when I grow up" satire, McDull, The Alumni hits its stride early as we witness the animated barnyard tykes talking about their future goals. Each aspires to be a "pillar" of society, but these pillars include such hallowed jobs as candy salesperson, BBQ butcher, chicken feet de-boner, plus more staples of urban Hong Kong living. Chief among these occupations is the office lady (OL), which McDull desires to become because it doesn't require wearing any pants. Flash-forward to adulthood, and three office ladies (played by Kelly Chen, Josie Ho, and Zhou Bichang, runner-up of China's blockbuster "Super Girl" singing contest) muddle through their uninspiring daily lives. Filled with boring meetings, distressingly similar lunch choices, and general office shenanigans, these vignettes of daily life are silly but metaphorical. On one hand, they exist as minor gags, but each also attempts to reveal something about contemporary urban Hong Kong life.

That sort of satire is easily the heart of the entire McDull film franchise. Though the cute character designs seem kid-oriented, the animated precursors to Alumni found rich material in their metaphorical journey through changing Hong Kong, and succeeded at conveying Hong Kong's unique and sometimes absurd characteristics better than any films in recent memory. The combo of 2-D and 3-D animation allowed for flights of lyrical fancy, plus universal observations on the depressing and wondrously pathetic realities of modern life - or, to be specific, modern Hong Kong life. My Life as McDull and McDull, Prince de la Bun didn't make much sense, but they were imaginative films that succeeded on multiple levels, revealing facets of Hong Kong-specific culture while confusing, charming, and ultimately touching the audience. One wishes live-action Hong Kong movies could be as good.

Actually, some live-action Hong Kong movies are as good as the animated McDull films. Unfortunately, McDull, The Alumni isn't one of them. The film does accomplish some of the same stuff as its predecessors, finding moments of amusing weirdness in mundane and lowbrow stuff like eating meals or a person's bowel movements. Plenty of screentime is devoted to Hong Kong's local restaurant culture, where BBQ pork and combinations of [insert ingredient here] over rice are the daily staple. A freshly-minted BBQ butcher (Isabella Leong) joins her new boss (Christopher Doyle) in a musical number about the existence of soy-based meat substitute (called VBQ in the subtitles), while an orchestra musician (Ronald Cheng, in one of three roles) finds time during a rehearsal to chow down on Chinese takeout. Cheng also plays a harried office worker who suffers from brain damage and wanders aimlessly into sometimes the wrong workplaces. Some of the material finds a kind of tragic, pathetic poignancy (the monotonous plight of Cheng's office worker will not be lost on anyone who works a 9 to 5 job), but other stuff just exists as minor, disconnected gags.

The big connector is supposed to be Springfield Kindergarten. The framing story of McDull, The Alumni is a hostage crisis at an office building, where everyone - including the criminals - are graduates of Springfield Kindergarten. The connection has its uses (its implied that some characters may be grown-up variations of the McDull menagerie), but the device never becomes anything more than an amusing contrivance. Like the other McDull films, Alumni starts and stops, sometimes connecting with the audience and sometimes not. However, unlike the previous films, Alumni can't find a defining metaphor behind its disconnected vignettes. It's definitely about Hong Kong and its ever-resilient people, but its connection to the audience isn't so strong. Director Samson Chiu also directed the Golden Chicken movies, which found poignancy through its actors and an affectionate look at recent Hong Kong history. Alumni manages similar emotions, but without a central character to lean on, the film's uneven nature eventually becomes too much.

There's still stuff to enjoy in McDull, The Alumni, especially if one is familiar with Hong Kong. Alumni's Hong Kong-specific satire is amusing, if not exceptionally sharp, plus there are plenty of stars to gawk at. There's literally a star a second here, and when there isn't, you get the long-missed sight of the animated McDull and pals, talking about eating, crapping, and their still-gestating dreams of adulthood. Too bad there's not enough of them. It's hard to define what doesn't work about Alumni, but more animated sequences would have been a big plus. Somehow, it's easier to take attempted universal metaphor when watching a bunch of animated barnyard critters; live-action actors are simply not as cuddly or innately identifiable as an innocent and slowwitted little pig. McDull, The Alumni does amuse, but when the credits roll, no strong emotions seem to be present. The film is simply not as good as its predecessors, though given their barely coherent nature, it's hard to argue that the earlier McDull films really accomplished that much more. But they sure seemed to. (Kozo 2006)


DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mega Star Video Distribution
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese/Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Various Extras

images courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen