So long to Hong Kong's Ding Dong

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Hong Kong lost a cultural treasure when the Cantonese voice of loveable robotic cat Doraemon, Francis Lam Pou-chuen, died. Ahead of his swansong in Doraemon: Stand by Me, Jessica Li looks back at the most beloved films in the series
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Even if you didn’t grow up in Hong Kong during the 1980s, chances are that you’ve seen, nay adored, Doraemon. This blue-and-white futuristic feline character – aka Ding Dong in Cantonese because of the bell on his collar – was created by Japanese animator Fujiko Fujio and has been the star of countless comics, TV series, films, video games and even a musical. The talking robotic cat from the 22nd century, who travels back in time with a pocket full of improbable miracle gadgets and the sole purpose of helping hapless lad Nobita find happiness in life, has entertained kids and adults alike for many years now.

Doraemon’s endlessly inventive arsenal of convenient machines do everything from helping you memorise facts (good for test days at school) to opening portals in the space-time continuum. In essence, Ding Dong is the friend that every child wants. And therein lies his eternal appeal. In Japan, his place in the pantheon of cartoon icons is right up there with the likes of Pikachu and Totoro. Recently, he was even chosen as the official mascot of the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In Hong Kong, his popularity has only risen over the years. When Harbour City presented a Doraemon exhibit of 100 life-sized figurines in 2012, adoring fans arrived in droves.

Since the beginning, Doraemon has been voiced in Cantonese by artist Lam Pou-chuen. So when this Hong Kong treasure passed away on January 2 at just 63 years old, fans in the city felt they’d lost a part of their childhood. Lam’s last work, Doraemon: Stand by Me, which aptly deals with partings and goodbyes, is fitting in a bittersweet way. When Doraemon bids farewell to Nobita in the trailer, it resonates beyond the story – it’s as if Lam Pou-chuen himself is saying goodbye. Though we mourn him, his distinctive, sprightly voice will live on in the hearts of Cantonese-speaking Doraemon fans everywhere. To commemorate his work and to prepare you for the new flick, we bring you a round-up of the most beloved Doraemon films over the years... 

Doraemon: The Record of Nobita’s Parallel Visit to the West (1988)
China’s martial-arts fantasy epic, The Journey to the West, is cheekily parodied in this film, which sees Nobita and the gang re-enacting the legend of the monkey king, Son Goku, and his companions. Their journey begins inside a story simulator courtesy of Doraemon, but what starts out as a game soon becomes a matter of national security when the magical characters escape out of the simulator and begin wreaking demonic havoc on the real world. Can Doraemon save the day?  

Doraemon: Nobita and the Kingdom of Clouds (1992)
Naive and gullible Nobita is teased for believing that there are people who live in the sky. Not willing to bow down to reality, Nobita and Doraemon embark on a project to build their own kingdom in the clouds – only to find they’re really not alone up there in the troposphere. This one is packed with all our favourite Doraemon elements: nifty gadgets, time travel paradoxes, alternate realities and a utilitarian dilemma that leaves the audience misty-eyed.

Doraemon: The Record of Nobita’s Spaceblazer (2009)

A remake of the 1981 classic, this film features aliens, planets and alternate universes colliding in space. Such scale demands equally massive problems, so instead of school bullies, Nobita and the team have to face exploitative space miners and planet-destroying overlords. But Doraemon can solve any prob, big or small, and with his dimension-warping gadgets, there may be hope for Nobita yet.

Doraemon: Nobita and the New Steel Troops (2011)
Another remake, this time of a fan-favourite from 1982. This film depicts the ultimate sci-fi nightmare: self-thinking machines that rise up to destroy humanity. But throw Doraemon into the equation and things get a lot more interesting. The fate of the world hangs in the balance as Nobita and a mysterious girl, Lilulu, try to stop the robot invasion by exploiting the laws of time and space.

Doraemon: New Nobita’s Great Demon – Peko and the Exploration Party of Five (2014)
The title may be a mouthful but this remake of a popular Doraemon film from 1982 features smoother animation, lusher backgrounds and minute tweaks in the dialogue. To celebrate the virtues of curiosity and exploration, the adventure takes us deep inside the jungles of Africa. When Doraemon and Nobita discover a kingdom where dogs have evolved into walking, talking beings, they become embroiled in a plot to reclaim the throne for a usurped prince. But first, they must find a way to fulfill an age-old canine prophecy.

Doraemon Stand by Me Opens Thu Feb 19.

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