McDull · The Pork of Music
McDull’s quintessential grassroots experience is given an apt facelift by oddball illustrator Yeung Hok-tak. He joins franchise creator Alice Mak in a chat with Edmund Lee.
Nobody is about to regard the masterminds behind the McDull franchise as cinematic auteurs, although, just like every previous effort of their five-movie career thus far, McDull•The Pork of Music is a sugar-coated pill about the transience of dreams and the bitter disappointments in life. Again set around the run-down Spring Field Kindergarten in the working-class neighbourhood of Tai Kok Tsui, the latest film by the husband-and-wife team of Brian Tse and Alice Mak follows McDull and classmates around as they crash shopping malls and private banquets with their cutesy choir performances – a seemingly ingenuous trick by their headmaster to raise funds for the debt-ridden school.
As is the norm for everything McDull, the movie concludes with the characters’ graceful acceptance of failure: a mixed feeling that combines youth’s blissful ignorance and grown ups’ knowing resignation. Despite this, Mak, the creator of the beloved cartoon piglet, refuses to see the several films as all variations of the same story. “I think every McDull movie is very different,” she tells us, sitting in her adorably decorated studio in North Point, “because he is unwilling to repeat himself,” referring to Tse, her husband and long-term collaborator, and The Pork of Music’s scriptwriter and director.
“For this movie, the major departure is that we’ve invited Yeung Hok-tak to work with us,” Mak says of the popular illustrator and comics artist – well-known for his offbeat and ‘ugly’ drawings – who’s sitting next to her. “The majority of the images were done by Tak, as were a lot of the characters,” Mak continues. “We have quite a strong sense of style for the imagery this time, pushing the colour [contrast] to the extreme while adding a lot of quirky elements to the music – some are folk or pop songs, while most of the rest are classical.”
As a tribute ‘to all the music teachers in the world’, The Pork of Music is a musical farce which sees McDull and friends end up, at one point, on the same stage as pop star ‘Andy’ during his Hong Kong Coliseum concert and subsequent China tour. The power of music to touch the listeners and bring happiness to the performers is also expressed in humorously grotesque fashion, even if such an artistic pursuit fails once again to better the professional lives of the kindergartens’ alumni, many of which settle for a mundane existence, and some lead distinctly colourful lives as prisoners, paint-splashing debt collectors, or those annoying household products salesmen who can presumably go on blabbering forever.
“As soon as Tse gave me the script I began to understand why they invited me [to join the film],” says Yeung, a self-professed McDull fan. “Because this story has a lot to do with [people from] grassroots backgrounds. They need these flawed characters [of mine] as part of their [narrative] experiment; I actually had to simplify or include more curves in my drawings to accommodate the curvy characters of McDull. The film touches on the discrepancies between dreams and reality; being musicians in Hong Kong is a sure-fire way to be broke. The [Spring Field Kindergarten] alumni in the film were trained really well in music by their headmaster, but as soon as they entered society, they couldn’t find a job in the music business.”
After the relatively mainland China-oriented McDull Kung Fu Ding Ding Dong (2009), in which McDull heads north and learns Tai Chi in Hubei province’s Wudang Mountains, The Pork of Music may be regarded as a welcome return to the local cultural insights that have garnered so much critical acclaim for the series in Hong Kong. Perhaps mindful of her potential audiences in overseas markets, Mak insists that she’s ‘never been particularly concerned about such cultural specificity’, claiming 2001’s My Life as McDull ‘should be comprehensible even to an audience on the South Pole’.
“It’s simply about the childhood of a little pig who’s studying in a kindergarten, after all,” the animator reasons. “Following the small success of the first movie, we simply messed around with McDull, Prince de la Bun (2004) to test the bottom line of the market. Could they accept a story [as unconventional] as that? The answer was ‘yes’ again!” Since then, Mak and Tse have looked to be enjoying free rein to explore the nonsensical sides of the world with their cartoon franchise. Mak reveals that the next McDull movie, according to her inconclusive chatters with Tse, will likely be ‘gentler’ when compared to The Pork of Music.
Whatever extremes the duo go to with their animal-populated universe, however, don’t expect a 3D McDull movie anytime soon. “We’ve tried that already,” says Mak of the stereoscopic treatment. “There’s a [3D-animated] scene in one of our previous films in which McDull swings his ass about as he walks. [When I watched that] I wanted to puke.” Yeung then chips in: “As illustrators, there’s probably also an affinity to hand-drawn cartoons among us. That’s what McDull is about.”
McDull · The Pork of Music 麥兜 · 噹噹伴我心 opens on Aug 16.