Chicken And Duck Talk is justly famous in the history of Hong Kong films. It’s well-made, it was a fresh look at ordinary urban Hong Kongers, and it’s funny. Still. Despite some of the background looking a tad dated, the message and the comedy still shine.
Michael Hui, the creative talent behind this and other films, gives us a lot to think about. There’s the struggle of ordinary people against the chain stores that are pushing neighbourhood stores out of existence across the world. There’s domestic conflict, in this example that of the central character and his mother-in-law. There’s food hygiene and labour laws and marketing. And of course there’s the little man trying to keep his own space in a world that tends to crush anything in its path.
And with all this, Hui makes us laugh uncontrollably at times. His character is irascible, grouchy, unconcerned with any thoughts of cleanliness or customer relations, but still, somehow, ultimately likeable. It’s a tough trick to pull off, and it works. His attempts at marketing on the cheap are almost cringe-worthy, but magically avoid being pathetic or demeaning. His ‘bird chase’ of brother Ricky, two men costumed as a duck and a chicken respectively, is good for a laugh, even though it might seem an obvious joke. It probably helps that Hui’s costume is put together out of buckets, plates, and assorted household leftovers, done on the cheap like all his efforts. The fact that Hui maintains a deadpan serious face dressed as a low-budget duck is irresistable, and his pursuit of Ricky onto the first-storey ledge of a building, with Ricky in professional chicken-wear, plays perfectly.
I have to say that I was initially determined not to like this film for some reason, but it got past my defences. Perhaps it’s because there is a real heart to all the characters, instead of having some who exist solely to be ridiculed. Perhaps it’s because Hui’s character treads a very fine line and manages to be likeable in spite of all his deficiencies. Or perhaps it’s because, after all, it is a damn funny and damn well-made film, and deserves its place in the Hong Kong hall of fame.