Before it closed for renovations, the Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui was an open-air tribute to the great figures of Hong Kong cinema. There was a giant version of the Hong Kong Film Awards statue, hand prints of film industry figures such as entertainment mogul Run Run Shaw and actor Jackie Chan and, the biggest draw of all, a life-sized statue of Bruce Lee.
There was also a statue of McDull. Who? McDull is a young pig. He comes from a single parent family – though in real life he’s the progeny of illustrator Alice Mak and her husband Brian Tse. And if you’re looking for a Hong Kong mascot, a character who embodies the spirit of the place and its people, McDull is for you.
Yet McDull didn’t even begin as the hero of his own story. In the late 1980s, Tse and Mak co-created a comic strip about the adventures of a pig named McMug and his friends in kindergarten for local Chinese newspaper Ming Pao. It may have looked like a children’s comic, but McMug tackled serious social issues such as poverty and the ideal-crushing realities of adult life. Its dry Cantonese humour was, and is, impossible to translate. Hong Kongers might consume imported Japanese and American comics by the container-load, but here at last was a character they could truly identify with. Hong Kong kids loved it.
Soon, adults did, too. The comic strip (and the character of McMug) moved to the main pages of magazine Ming Pao Weekly. Mak and Tse decided McMug needed a friend: enter McDull, his clumsy cousin. ‘McDull has a unique personality,’ says Mak. ‘He’s dumb, he’s earnest and he’s foolishly strong-willed. Readers have their own favourite characters, but I’ve been moved by this foolish character from the start.’ And why pigs? ‘It was one of the animals I knew how to draw!’
McDull officially became the head of the family in 2001 as the star of My Life as McDull, his first feature film. Over the course of the series, McDull has been turned into a martial artist, the lead singer of a children’s chorus and a detective. In his latest film, McDull, Rise of the Rice Cooker, he invents a rice cooker robot that defeats a monster from outer space – not a plotline you’re likely to encounter in Hollywood.
Over the years, McDull has become a de facto ambassador of the Hong Kong animation industry – and the city as a whole, as the face of the city’s public service announcements. ‘He provides encouragement for Hong Kongers,’ says Mak. ‘We are surrounded by the same problems as McDull. He shows that you don’t have to be super intelligent or come from a good background to succeed. Even if you’re flawed, you can still lead a happy life, come up with great ideas and have a mother who loves you.’