The distributors of the action movie Colombiana, which stars Zoe Saldana as a female assassin, ran into a bit of a hurdle when they tried to get the movie approved for distribution in Hong Kong.
The problem? An unintentional double entendre in the movie’s original Mandarin title, “Hei-lan-jiao,” which means “Black Orchid Beauty.” Unfortunately, in the local Taiwanese dialect Hoklo, “Hei-lan-jiao” sounds an awful lot like “penis.” Whoops!
Taiwanese government censors were not pleased with the translation. According to the Taipei Times, the Government Information Office called the title a “violation of public morals.” In a comment to Reuters, the department further elaborated that “While film promotion and marketing needs to be creative and eye-catching, one must also consider public perceptions, and in this recent case, the title went too far.”
The film’s distributor, CatchPlay Inc, defended itself to the Taipei Times, saying “The translation came from the story itself, in which the killer draws a black orchid on her victims each time she takes revenge. We are sorry and will respect the decision of the GIO.”
The title of the movie in Mandarin has since been changed to “Heilansha,” which translates to “Black Beauty Evil.” That’s probably for the best, anyway…if they’d left it “Hei-lan-jiao,” who knows how many customers would have gone in expecting something far more risqué and demanded a refund afterwards for false advertising!
This incident illustrates why it’s so important for businesses to use qualified translators for translation projects. Translation is not just a matter of changing words from one language to another. As CatchPlay learned, you also have to be aware of local dialects and slang to avoid any unintentional negative connotations.