Dir: Toe Yuen. Hong Kong.2004. 73mins
Move over Babe, there's anew pig in town. If the Oscar-winning Chris Noonan film was still current, thatmight have been one way to market McDull, Prince De La Bun, a sequel tothe 2001 Hong Kong animation hit My Life As McDull, which sold all overAsia.
The new film, which in HongKong has taken just under $0.65m after a 30-screen opening in late June,continues the story of a pig-faced boy and his talkative mother. While it mayshare some of the idiosyncrasies of a Spirited Away or a BellevilleRendez-Vous, it is also unlike any other animation currently on the market.
Sales company Golden Networkis looking to secure the cartoon pig a following in the European market withhis new adventures. The offbeat characters, pretty pastel shades and milky,watercolour look of the film could appeal to youngsters and some of the spikierhumour will certainly be appreciated by adult viewers.
But the sheer eccentricityof the storytelling makes it something of an acquired taste. Originality may beits strongest asset, but it also renders it a difficult proposition beyondfestivals (it plays Pusan and Tokyo after a competition slot at Locarno) andthe healthy children's ancillary market.
Pre-production has alreadybegun on a third episode, the martial arts extravaganza, McDull: Wudang,which relocates the piglet's escapades to China. Delivery is expected in 2006.
Set against a backdrop ofurban renewal and ever changing cityscapes, the second episode follows McDullas a pupil at Spring Field Kindergarten where the curriculum includes suchunlikely combinations as interpersonal relationships and Thai boxing. He isalso forced to attend a mock job interview as his mother Mrs McBing tries toprepare him for the future. She is deeply concerned by his inability to controla permanently shaking leg.
One night, when he demands abedtime story and begs her to read Harry Potter, she is eventuallypersuaded to relate the life of his father instead. A useless Prince, Prince DeLa Bun, also known as McBing, lost his way in life and grew up to believe thathe had become an ordinary but happy man. When he decided to go back to thepast, he disappeared leaving Mrs McBing and McDull behind.
Difficult to summarise orcategorise, McDull is a flight of fantasythat has its roots in a 1991 comic strip by Brian Tse and Alice Mak. It createsa world in which anything is possible, from a Prince being befriended by apizza to McDull's shaking limb being employed as an accompaniment to a concertcellist.
It is as inventive as aTerry Gilliam Monty Python cartoon, as surreal as the works of LewisCarroll, as anarchic as South Park and occasionally carries echoes ofthat other little prince by Antoine Saint Exupery.
The randomness of thenarrative and the absence of logic or an entirely linear structure make it ahard film to embrace at a first sitting and there are undoubtedly culturalreferences and resonances that will be lost on an international audience.
However, they might stillfind that there is some fun to be hand in trying to work them out or in justsavouring the pretty pictures and breathless narrative.
Artworkand animation are quite attractive, in a way that may remind some of the Barbarcartoons, with a bright and airy feel similar to parts of Spirited Away.Certainly the standard is more advanced than might be suggested by the film'smarketing materials, as McDull and other characters glide around the changingbuildings and different perspectives on the city.
Prod cos: Lunchtime Prod,Bliss Pictures
HK dist: Edko Films
Int'l sales: Golden Network AsiaLimited
Exec prod: Samuel Choy
Prod: Brian Tse
Scr: Brian Tse from an originalstory by Tse and Alice Mak
Eds: Toe Yuen, Brian Tse
Mus: Steve Ho
Voices: Andy Lau, Anthony Wong,Sandra Ng, Jan Lamb, Chet Lam