Translating Eastern Cinema into Western Success

Translating Eastern Cinema into Western Success

If you have more than a passing interest in cinema, you may well have heard the rumblings surrounding a new film scheduled for release at the end of 2016. The film in question is called ‘The Great Wall’, a record breaking 135 million dollar epic set entirely in China, with a huge all-star Chinese cast, directed by Zhang Yimou (who you may recognise as the director of Hero & House of Flying Daggers), but perhaps surprisingly, it stars American actor, Matt Damon, in one of the leading roles.

Damon’s appointment has drawn some criticism in the media with accusations of whitewashing (the casting practice in which white actors are cast in historically non-white character roles). Yimou denies this and it’s interesting to hear the director’s motivations behind the decision. “For the first time, a film deeply rooted in Chinese culture, with one of the largest Chinese casts ever assembled, is being made at tentpole scale for a world audience. I believe that is a trend that should be embraced by our industry… Matt Damon is not playing a role that was originally conceived for a Chinese actor. The arrival of his character in our story is an important plot point. There are five major heroes in our story and he is one of them – the other four are all Chinese.” Read more

The Languages of Moana 

If you’ve got kids of a certain age, you’ve probably seen Disney’s Moana more than once.  In fact, you can probably sing the soundtrack from memory, or at least the parts of it that are in English.

But what about the parts that aren’t? Have you ever wondered about the other languages used in the film? Have you ever been curious about the meaning of the song that you’ve had stuck in your head since the last time you saw the movie?  Here’s some background on the languages of Moana, along with some helpful translations.

The Languages in Moana

The English-language version of the film is primarily in English (obviously.) However,  the character names are Polynesian:

  • Moana means “ocean” in Maori, Hawaiian, and most other Polynesian languages.
  • Hei Hei means “chicken.”
  • Moana’s father Tui is named after a New Zealand bird.
  • Her grandmother’s name,  Tala, means “story” in Samoan.
  • Moana’s pet pig is named Pua, which means “flower.”

The soundtrack showcases Polynesian languages more fully.  For example, “We Know the Way” includes lyrics in both Samoan and Tokelauan. Read more

Alien Language in "Prometheus"

Have you seen Prometheus yet? If not, please consider this your spoiler alert and stop reading now if you don’t want this post to spoil your fun.

The latest Ridley Scott flick follows a team of humans and an android as they travel through space in search of the alien race who created humanity. Some are motivated by a desire for knowledge, though the elderly businessman who financed the expedition is more interested in immortality. Of course, everything goes to hell in a handbasket once they find representatives of the alien race, known as the Engineers.

But how can they expect to communicate with the extraterrestrials to begin with? What language would these aliens speak? In the film, the answer is apparently something close to Proto-Indo-European, otherwise known as PIE.

Proto-Indo-European is the common ancestor of all the languages in the Indo-European family. There is no written record of PIE, but linguists have reconstructed what they think it might sound like based on comparing all of the languages in the family.

In the film, the android David is shown studying PIE on the ship while the humans sleep in suspended animation, with the help of a holographic projection of a linguistics professor, a real-life language consultant named Dr. Anil Biltoo. Later, David briefly speaks with one of the Engineers. Here’s how Dr. Biltoo translated his speech for the Bioscopist:

“The line that David speaks to the Engineer (which is from a longer sequence that didn’t make the final edit) is as follows: /ida hmanəm aɪ kja namṛtuh zdɛ:taha/…/ghʷɪvah-pjorn-ɪttham sas da:tṛ kredah/
A serviceable translation into English is: ‘This man is here because he does not want to die. He believes you can give him more life’.”

Why Proto-Indo-European? After all, it’s not the common language of all humanity, just of the Indo-European language family. Commenters at Language Log suggest (I think accurately) that PIE was chosen because it’s the oldest reconstructed language that would still sound slightly familiar to the film’s target audience. Even so, the version of PIE spoken in the film was apparently simplified to make it easier for the actors to pronounce.

Perhaps the best commentary on the use of PIE in the movie came from this blogger. I can’t top this:

“That they [the Engineers] would go to the mythic lengths of murdering fathers with the skulls of sons, impregnating women with monsters, and driving companions into a cannibalistic frenzy for the inferred sin of using the debased newspeak of Proto-Indo-European, arguably makes them the ultimate linguistic prescriptivists.

Wow. Those aliens must really not like PIE!

Cinelistics: 30 Words & Phrases Popularised By Film

Cinelistics: 30 Words, Phrases and Neologisms Popularised by Film

Popular culture has always helped contribute to language development and been responsible for many little additions over the years. Cinema is one of the key delivery methods that has ensured new words and phrases have been given the chance of becoming adopted by a worldwide mainstream audience. While some may only have a fleeting period in the limelight, others become indoctrinated into everyday language long term. Here’s a list of a few of the all-time classics in no particular order, I can imagine a few of these have caused major headaches for translators and subtitlers along the way! Read more

28 Hilarious Movie Title Translations

Sometimes, the hardest part of a movie to translate is the title, and the results can be unintentionally hilarious. To prove it, here are 28 movie title translations, translated back into English. Can you guess the original titles? The answers are below the fold.

  1. He’s A Ghost!
  2. Vaseline
  3. The Hole of Malkovich
  4. Captain Supermarket
  5. Is The Spy Capable Or Not? 
  6. 17-Year-Old Girl’s Medical Chart
  7. The Teeth from the Sea
  8. Satan Female Soldier
  9. I’m Drunk, and You’re a Prostitute
  10. Run! Run! Cloudzilla!
  11. I Will Marry a Prostitute to Save Money 
  12. The Explosive Woman 
  13. The Desire to Win
  14. Sex Crimes
  15. Gangsters, Sex, and Karaoke 
  16. The Boy Who Drowned in Chocolate 
  17.  Young People Who Traverse Dimensions While Wearing Sunglasses 
  18. Multinationals Go Home! 
  19. Action Skyscraper 
  20. Die Hard: Mega Hard 
  21. Electronic Murderer 
  22. Mr. Cat Poop
  23. His Great Device Makes Him Famous
  24. The Night Of The Cold Noses
  25. Super Power Dare Die Team
  26. Dimwit Surges Forth
  27. The Lady in Yellow
  28. Interplanetary Unusual Attacking Team

Read more

Movie Title Translations, Israeli Edition

Need something fun to kick off your weekend? Here’s a list of Israeli translations of American movie titles. Can you guess what the original movies were? Scroll down below the fold for the answers!

  1. “The Date That Screwed Me”
  2. “The Gun Died Laughing”
  3. “Crazy About the Moon” and the sequel, “Crazy About the Minions”
  4. “Breaking the Ice”
  5. “It’s Raining Falafel”
  6. “Agitated Women”
  7. “American Dream”
  8. “Woman of Valor”
  9. “Dancing with Pilots” and its sequel, “Dancing with Fighters”
  10. “Lost in Tokyo”
  11. “The 8th Passenger, 3”
  12. “Before the Wedding We Stop in Vegas”
  13. “Some Kind of Police Woman”

Read more

5 Famous Movie Quotes in Other Languages

A good catchphrase can be the most memorable part of a movie.  These little sound bites get quoted and thrown around so much, even people who’ve never seen the movie are often able to recognize them. They can even become a permanent part of the language. 

But translating them, whether for dubbing or subtitles,  can be quite tricky for a number of reasons. Catchphrases can use slang or idioms that are difficult to translate, they can depend on cultural references that may not make sense to foreign audiences, and the translations have to work within the limitations imposed by dubbing or subtitling.

So sometimes, that catchy quote that we hear in English doesn’t come out quite the same in foreign-language versions of the movie. Here are 5 examples of famous movie quotes in other languages. See how they’ve changed in translation:

“Hasta la vista, baby!”

This quote comes from the 1991 film Terminator 2, Judgement Day (as if you didn’t know.)  In the movie,  teenage John Connor instructs Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s humorless cyborg character to talk more like a human. In this case, a foul-mouthed early 90s teen:

John Connor: No, no, no, no. You gotta listen to the way people talk. You don’t say “affirmative” or some sh* like that. You say “no problemo”. And if someone comes on to you with an attitude, you say “eat me”. And if you want to shine them on, it’s “hasta la vista, baby”.
The Terminator: Hasta la vista, baby.

The Terminator then uses it when he offs the T-1000.

But that’s not what Spanish-language audiences heard. “Hasta la vista” is a common Spanish-language farewell that roughly translates to “Until I see you.” To keep the same edgy vibe, translators used “Sayonara, baby” for the Spanish translation:

And in Japanese? Apparently, he terminated the T-1000 with a deadpan “Cheerio then, love”

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

It seems tame now, but this line from the 1939 movie Gone with the Wind contained controversially strong language for the time. And Rhett Butler’s blunt, almost vulgar goodbye to Scarlett O’Hara didn’t carry the same edge in some of the translated versions of the movie.

Here are a few foreign-language variations:

German: Translated back into English, the German version of this line becomes, “To be honest, I’m completely indifferent.”
Russian: Meanwhile, in Russia, Rhett says, “Straightforwardly, my dear, I would not give you a damn.”
French:  French audiences heard“Franchement, ma chère, c’est le cadet de mes soucis, which translates to “Frankly, my dear, it’s the least of my worries.” Read more

“Guardians of the Galaxy” Chinese Translation Fail 

You’d think that if you were distributing one of this year’s biggest blockbuster movies in a market the size of China, you’d be willing to spend the money to get a good Chinese translation.

Or not. Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” was released in China last week, and apparently the subtitles got lost in translation. China Daily called reception of the film “lukewarm,” citing poor translation as one reason:

Weibo user “Gudabaihua,” who has become popular for uploading and subtitling video clips on social media, said he hasidentified at least 80 translation mistakes in the Chinesesubtitles. “Aside from a lot of mistranslations, the subtitles failedto show the original feel of the movie, such as jokes, puns andhomophones. We cannot help but doubt the professionalism of the translator.”

A few of the highlights, via The Mary Sue:

  • When other characters insult Rocket by calling him “weasel” or “rodent,” the Chinese subtitles merely say “small raccoon.”
  • “We’re the Guardians of the Galaxy, b***!” was translated “We’re the Guardians of the Galaxy, slut!”
  • “Turd blossom” became “big face.”
  • “Pelvic sorcery” became “rhetoric sorcery.”
  • Instead of teaching people how to dance, Kevin Bacon teaches them how to “twist a**.”

Humor, jokes and puns are all notoriously difficult to translate into another language and another culture. However, it’s certainly not impossible. And when your product is entertainment, you can’t afford to have your translators miss the punchline.  Despite the errors, Wikipedia notes that China is the third-highest international market for the film — but how much better would it have done if Chinese viewers felt properly catered to?

Marketing messages, product packaging and other business communications can suffer from the same sorts of problems. That’s why it’s so important to get the job done right the first time. At K International, our experienced, professional translators translate your company’s voice into your customer’s language, so they can laugh with you (when applicable), not at you!

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