Closer Subtitle Surrealism

Everyone knows that in China piracy of American movies runs rampant. The USA acts all angry, and every now and then Beijing makes an attempt to do something about it in order to placate the WTO. Nothing new. I really couldn’t care less about Hollywood’s lost revenues. China’s pirated DVDs do affect my life in other less expected ways, however.

New American releases are obtained as early as possible and mass-produced in China quickly and cheaply. The earlier an eagerly awaited Hollywood title hits the streets in DVD form, the quicker it will be snatched up by movie fans. It should come as no surprise, then, that the quality of translation of the Chinese subtitles for these DVDs can be less than reliable. I’d say that the translations for Chinese subtitles on DVDs fit into three categories:

  1. Professional. These are usually obtained from an official source and are quite trustworthy. The Chinese is often natural and idiomatic.
  2. Hit and Miss. Whoever did the translation could understand a lot of the English dialogue and translate it with a degree of accuracy, but there are clearly some mistakes. Sometimes you can even tell what English word or phrase the translator thought he heard, based on the Chinese. This category can cause some confusion for Chinese viewers, but it’s usually good enough overall to tell the story.
  3. WTF?! For some movies (often the earliest, fuzzy camcorder pirated editions) the “translator” clearly did nothing more than guess at what the people are saying based on visual clues. This can be pretty hilarious if you can understand the original dialogue as well as the Chinese, but it must be very frustrating for the average viewer relying on the Chinese subtitles.

OK, so this whole situation is kind of funny… except for the fact that it can ruin my movie experiences. Why? Because if I’m watching an American movie with my girlfriend, she reads the subtitles. Conscientious boyfriend that I am, I can’t help but do periodic translation checks to ensure that my girlfriend is getting a decent idea of what’s going on. The more mistakes I notice, the more I pay attention to the subtitles so that I can clue her in on important dialogue. Often, before long I’m finding myself explaining the movie in Chinese instead of enjoying it. I guess I can live with that, though, since the movies cost $1 each.

But back to the absurdity of the whole thing. Can you imagine it? A Hollywood movie. The original dialogue has been chucked out the window, save for a few sturdy globs here and there. The rest of the dialogue has just been… made up. Fabricated. By some Chinese guy who’s undoubtedly poorly paid and under a lot of pressure to get the subtitles done now. And I don’t think I have to say that he’s unlikely to have a strong education in Western culture. That’s OK, he can still do subtitles for Western movies with themes ranging from terrorism to Catholic traditions to abnormal psychology. No problem.

The scary thing is that if he’s any good, some Chinese viewers might not realize they’ve been swindled. They may have gotten an alternate version of the story — which shared the same visuals as the original — that was convincing enough that they think they understood it as it was meant to be understood. “I thought the reviews said something about brilliant social commentary,” they reflect for just a few moments after finishing the movie. “Those silly Americans….”

Well, I can do more than just make suppositions, in this case. I actually transcribed a scene from a Chinese DVD copy of the Oscar-nominated film Closer. I transcribed the original English dialogue, but I also translated the Chinese subtitles into English for comparison.


Dan’s lines are in a rich blue. Alice’s lines are in a dark pink. Since the Chinese subtitles are only a shadow of their English counterparts, Dan’s lines translated from Chinese are in a lighter blue under the original, and Alice’s lines translated from Chinese are in a lighter pink under the original. I have added a at the beginning of the translated-from-Chinese lines just to keep it as clear as possible. You’ll find that it can be a little difficult keeping the parallel (occasionally intersecting) dialogues in your head at once.

(On the bus.)

A: How did you end up writing obituaries?
A: What kinds of things do you like?

D: Well, I had dreams of being a writer…
D: I like drinking beer.

D: But I had no voice — what am I saying??
D: But I don’t drink often. Also…

D: …I had no talent. So I ended up in obituaries, which is…
D: I love singing. I can sing many songs.

D: …the Siberia of journalism.
D: …including German folk songs.

A: Tell me what you do. I wanna imagine you in Siberia.
A: I hope I’ll have a chance to hear you sing.

D: Really?
D: Really?

A: Mm.
A: Mm.

D: Well… we call it “the obits page.”
D: Well… we don’t often sing.

D: There’s three of us. Me, Graham, and Harry.
D: Because everyone is really busy.

D: When I get to work, without fail — are you sure you wanna know?
D: Especially when I’m working. Extremely busy.

(She nods.)

D: Well, if someone important died, we go to the “deep freeze.”
D: If someone died, we would sing the funeral hymn.

D: Which is, um, a computer file with all the obituaries, and we find that person’s life.
D: Although I rarely sing, singing is something I can’t do without in my life.

A: People’s obituaries are written while they’re still alive?
A: Do people like your singing?

D: Some people’s. Then Harry — he’s the editor — he decides who we’re going to lead with…
D: Some people. Sometimes we get invitations [to sing].

D: We make calls, we check facts…
D: Some are favors, some paid…

D: At six we stand around at the computer and look at the next day’s page…
D: We’re all happy to do it; the money doesn’t matter. It’s great.

D: …make final changes, add a few euphemisms for our own amusement…
D: It’s a kind of addiction. But it’s not like alcoholism.

A: Such as?

D: “He was a convivial fellow.” …meaning he was an alcoholic.
D: I have a really strange friend. A homosexual.

D: “He valued his privacy.” …gay. “Enjoyed his privacy” …raging queen.
D: But he’s content with his lot in life.

A: What would my euphemism be?
A: Guess what kind of person I am.

D: “She was disarming.”
D: You’re a cute girl.

A: That’s not a euphemism.
A: I’m not cute at all.

D: Yes it is.
D: Yes, you are.

(Some time passes…)

D: What were you doing in New York?
D: What were you doing in New York?

A: You know.
A: You know.

D: Well, no, I don’t… What, were you… studying?
D: No, I don’t know. Are you… studying?

A: Stripping.
A: Struggling.

A: Look at your little eyes.
A: Your eyes are so pretty.

D: I can’t see my little eyes.
D: Your eyes are even prettier.

Impressive, no? For my own amusement, I have graphed the two dialogues below:

Closer - Graph

I should note that the whole movie was not this bad. This is a particularly WTF scene subtitle-wise. The subtitles of my copy of Closer are probably halfway between the WTF and Hit and Miss categories overall. Love stories are not so hard to figure out, but a relatively inconsequential bus ride with few context clues just unleashes the imagination of the “translator,” it would seem.

This example, I’m afraid, is by no means unrepresentative of the subtitle work provided by the hard-working DVD pirates. What are the ramifications of this? Well, it means every time I talk to a Chinese person about a movie we’ve seen separately, I feel a gap. Sure, we watched the same movie, but we may very well have experienced a somewhat different story. Exaggeration? Perhaps. But then again, maybe every scene of that movie was translated similarly to the scene above. You just don’t know. Furthermore, until this situation changes, the average Chinese citizen’s efforts at foreign film appreciation have been thoroughly sabotaged.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. This is great!! I never really paid attention to the subtitles all that much, really, until I noticed one day that on a DVD I was watching the English subtitles were just lifted from an entirely different movie.

    This became a sort of hobby for me and now I can’t seem to just enjoy the film because I’m always wondering how to better translate stuff into Chinese.

  2. This is quite possibly the best sinosplice entry ever! John, I think you really should translate this article into your chinese blog, even if it is a condensed version just to get the point across.

  3. That was really funny! You never think about how much the translator influences the story, even when you’re watching films subtitled in English by well-paid professionals.

    I watch a lot of Bollywood movies, some of which have the musical numbers subtitled. Then I go to BollyWhat and find that the literal translations are completely different from the subtitles! It makes me wonder if the rest of the movie was translated in this manner.

  4. xia bi ru you shen Says: March 23, 2005 at 5:13 pm

    How many AVERAGE Chinese had heard about the film before it was nominated?
    If the movie becomes popular here, a real fan tends to wait until the clear version comes out and has it collected.
    If a seller recommends that it’s a worth seeing movie and he will tell you honestly which version it is.
    If someone knows what is good then he understands English more or less.
    If some average Chinese happen to buy the movie and they may never come up with the word “appreciation”.

  5. Reminds me of an old Woody Allen movie where he took a Japanese film and dubbed in his own script, totally unrelated to the Japanese film. Kind of silly, but funny.

  6. I think I like this movie, but not that much. anyway, i like the way to learn language. 🙂 so thanks a lot!

  7. JFS,

    I think that was What’s Up Tiger Lily

  8. I once saw one of such translated DVDs. It was Richard Geer’s Unfaithful. Near the end the wife had figured out her husband killed her formal lover and she sat in front of the fireplace buring the stack of spy photo. The husband came and said “I’ll turn myself in tomorrow” and she replied a firm “No!” That was important attitude lines that laid out basis for the rest of the ending, right? The translation became “早点睡吧,明天还得….”, “我睡不着。” Something like that.

    I missed the days when the Chinese Foreign Film Studios spent tons of money, time and effort artfully to translate every line of a foreign films, have Uigur or other actors act out the conversations, and matched lips. But then again I was little then and knew no English, so who knows how well it was done.

  9. 哎哟!I meant formmer lover, and I miss.

  10. Hilarious.

    Maybe there are some positives to my not being able to read Chinese.

  11. you can get the same experience without knowing chinese, just put on the english subtitles. sometimes these can be from a different film or just made up all together. The ones for gangs of newyork was hilarious, there was this whole subplot about a notebook that wasn’t anywhere in the movie.

    I agree with xia bi ru you shen stupid normal people shouldn’t watch Oscar nominated movies like “closer,” they just don’t apprecite them…

  12. i started a thread in the chinadaily bbs talking about john’s post and my own brief experience:

  13. Da Xiangchang Says: March 24, 2005 at 8:36 am

    Since I can’t read Chinese–triple :(–I can’t partake in such hilarity. And personally, I found CLOSER to be entertaining but heavyhanded and the dialogue truly contrived. You can TOTALLY see the screenwriter fiddling around back there. BEFORE SUNSET, IMHO, is an infinitely wiser movie about relationships with dialogue that’s far more natural than CLOSER’S.

    The most hilarious moment in Chinese translation for me is in THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS where Vin Diesel says, “He scared the shit out of me,” and the Chinese subtitler wrote in English, “He shit on me”!

    Subtitles often don’t work. In HERO, Jet Li says, “All under heaven,” which is rather romantic, but the English subtitle was the dull “our land.” And I remember watching “Romeo Must Die” with Romanian subtitles, and a guy is calling out to Jet Li, “Hey, rice noddle!” and the Romanian subtitler simply wrote, “Hey, Chinese!” What was he trying to do, not insult the humongous Chinese-Romanian community?! 😛

  14. xia bi ru you shen,

    It’s true that some of the DVD shop owners will tell you which DVD copies are good, but when they do that they’re talking about clarity, not subtitle quality.

    Tell me: how is the shop owner going to know the subtitle quality??

  15. I’ve noticed that problem too, some translations don’t make any sense at all. But surprisingly most of my Chinese friends have no problem understanding western movies. I think that’s because most Hollywood movies’ plots are rather predicatable. So even if they miss those “funny” jokes between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, they still can comprehend what’s going on in “Bay Boys II” simply by following the explosions and car chases. Maybe that’s pretty much they are looking for in a pirated Hollywood movie anyway. Of course those witty dialogue movies like “Closer” is in a total different boat. Maybe that’s why Chinese rather prefer “Aliens vs. Predators”.

  16. Subtitles always seem to lose 2/3 of the narrative subtleties. Watching German or Dutch movies subtitled in English, it seems that for reasons of space the subtitles always read so much more blandly than the actual dialogue. Imagine what a fun job it must be translating totally unrelated languages like Chinese and English.

  17. This entry is a real gem. I’m saving this for prosterity!

  18. xia bi ru you shen Says: March 25, 2005 at 12:01 am

    They don’t know about the subtitle thing, but the sound quality, the clarity and the subtitle go along with each other. If one of them is good, then the other two are good. It’s version, the whole concept. I’ve consulted it to my mentor, du shu po wan juan, who has watched thousands of DVDs…he said, “John? Ever noticed the English subtitle? If you are not so sensitive to the Chinese one, you can refer to the English one, if the English is right and it is probably a good version with proper Chinese translation.” Wait long enough until the good version comes out, if anyone tries to adopt it as a method toward learning Chinese. Well… if you a supporter of the real official ones, the above words are shit.

  19. xia bi ru you shen,

    The copy of Closer I transcribed this scene from was a screener of practically flawless quality audiovisually. And I know it’s not a freak exception. You’re right about the English subtitles for this movie, though; they’re terrible. But, I know from experience that the two do not always go together. There have been quite a few cases where the Chinese subtitles were awful but we were able to switch to English subtitles (which were good) so that my girlfriend could follow.

    There are no standards, so there’s no certainty. While it’s true that there may be some principles to follow that can increase your chances of getting a good pirated DVD copy, if you don’t already have excellent English listening comprehension, you can’t be sure what you’re going to get. So if you need the Chinese subtitles, even if you’re not getting bad quality every time, you’re getting uncertainty every time.

  20. I recently bought Ran in Pa Pai Pan in Pudong. I have already seen the movie in the Philippines professionally subtitled but when I watched my DVD the entire translation in english was made up. The subtitles was not only in ungrammatical english(with oddly enough a few words in german), but also mentioned automatic rifles and tanks and doctors which I am sure weren’t present during the period the film was made. I paid the extra 12RMB and bought the original copy and that was fine. But it was some of the most hilarious hours I spent watching.

  21. I suspect cinema is a good test for language fluency. In daily conversation, we can actively particpate in the conversation to keep our bearings as to what is being discussed. But in a film the dialogue is already decided upon, we are just passive observers. Although each scene in a film is hopefully related to the plot, the dialogue in one scene may not have any relationship with the dialogue in another scene. Consequently, if we are not quite fluent in the language, it may take us a while to catch our bearings, or we may not be able to do so at all.

    As for as the pirates are concerned, they have no vested interest in getting the subtitles correct since for them it is generally a one shot killing. The movie studios have a vested interest in getting it right, because they want to develop brand recognition and following.

  22. schtickyrice Says: March 25, 2005 at 9:18 am


    I’ve always had a hard time watching Chinese movies with English subtitles. Despite the fact that Mandarin is my first language, English is the dominant language in my daily life and I end up reading the English subtitles instead of listening to the original Chinese dialogue no matter how hard I resist. Interesting that you are having the reverse problem with English language movies with Chinese subtitles. As a primary English speaker also fluent in Chinese as a second language, would you still have this ‘problem’ if you didn’t have to correct the Chinese subtitles for your girlfriend? I find this intriguing from a linguistic point of view.

  23. Yeah, I usually turn off the subtitles for screeners because I find the inaccuracies annoying while I usually read the subtitles for those pirated from previously released DVDs since they’re usually pretty accurate.

    The only mildly interesting anecdote I have is watching a screener from “Snatch,” where everyone is talking in some godawful cockney accent. The translator made a noble effort in the first ten minutes or so but gave up completely after that so that minutes would go by before you’d see something real simple like, “你过来吧!”

  24. I’m glad to know the subtitles are rubbish — as thieves don’t deserve to derive any pleasures from their evil means. I hope you guys remember that if you are actually PAYING for a pirated copy, you are participating in the thievery — as your monetary contributions are what allows these thieves to continue to have a market for selling their stolen wares. If there was no market, they wouldn’t exist — don’t make excuses for the fact that you are morally guilty. If you are just doing research like subtitle comparisons, look for someone who is going to throw their daoban copy in the garbage, please!

    Actually one of the hardest things for me to accept in China was seeing these pirates on the streets every day hawking their wares, and having such a strong desire to at least tell them how disgusted I was by their thievery, but knowing it was pointless as in all the time I had spent in China I never once met a single fellow American moral enough that he hesitated in the slightest to buy massive collections of stolen American-owned intellectual property. At the very least — such persons can admit they are stealing — but everyone I have ever questioned about the practice has instead made some ridiculous equivocation or other lame excuse for his behavior. What ever silly excuse you are making up — remember there is only ONE central principle that one needs to consider: if not for the massive labours and cooperation of so many creative minds, the work in question would not exist. If you enjoy it, you owe your share.

    It all makes me wonder if there are any decent human beings in America. But it really seems the only thing keeping people in check is their fear of being caught, not their concern about morality. If the American police went on strike, I guess it is safe to assume mass looting, murder, rape and the like would commence in a matter of hours. THAT is disturbing.

  25. Justin,

    Upon reflection, I realize that since I buy pirated DVDs in China, I would definitely also partake in mass looting, murder, and rape back in the States if the police went on strike.

    Wow, I’m evil. I never realized how simple it is.

  26. Best comment ever Justin!

    But you have to realize pirates are the new ninjas.

    We all got to be looking after our own booty!


  27. Justin: Your moral outrage is understandable, but unfortunately misplaced. As John has indicated, it is a long leap from buying pirated DVDs to murder, looting, rape, and the like; and I doubt that most are able to jump that far.

    But even your assumption about the thievery of those who buy the DVDs can also be questioned. The power of patent (copyright) is a priviledge granted by the state to a few at the expense of others. The original purpose of patent (copyright) was to allow those who expend money on new creative things to recover those expenses. But it has evolved into a priviledge to a few to gain monopoly prices for very extensive lengths of time. I purchased a legal copy of “Troy”. There are no subtitles, it was dubbed (I am sure they did not want cheap English version running around; which is OK, it is there product). I paid a premium for this item, it was 8.5 RMB. The reason it is cheap in China is because of the competition of the pirates. I am not a believer in monopolies, they are created and sustained by government to give a priviledge to a few at the expense of the many.

    Let me come up with an example, music. The music industry as we know it developed from a technology based on plastic recordings. It worked rather well, and was able to continue even with a new technology, audio tapes. But the latest technology, using computers and IPODs and MP3 are not compatible with that business model. The new technology allows users to do things that escape the ability of the old business model to extract payments. Instead of changing the business model to accommodate the new technology, the old business model users are attempting to make those who use the new technology be defined as crooks. There is no rational reason why the old business model has any moral basis to extend beyond its ability to cope with technology. Technology does not need to adapt to a business model, but rather the business model needs to adapt to the new technology.

    I like compeition, it is good.

  28. FreeJack Says: March 26, 2005 at 7:07 pm

    John, you just completely explained why sometimes, my wife will describe a movie to me and I’ll have no idea what she’s talking about…and it’s a movie I’ve actually seen! It’s limited to “old” movies, predating her fluency in English…because, like most Chinese people I know, she has little interest in re-watching “old” movies (though I do).

    I knew a lot of the subtitling was whack, but I didn’t know HOW far off it got. The scene in Closer requires a FAR more academic and substantial grasp of English than is possessed most non-American Chinese people I know, both in its vocabulary and subtlety. It’d be like me, trying to subtitle most of the Chinese TV shows I watch…I catch the “easy” stuff, but once things get more complicated, I’m left to infer what’s being said through context and behavior. If I were subtitling for a living, I’d have no choice but to start making scenes up, Mystery Science Theater-style!

  29. love the graph! how many people do y’all know who are that analytic? 😉
    knowing nothing of chinese beyond a very few words that i can’t even pronounce completely accurately, i can’t participate in the whole translated subtitles conversation. however, i thought i would point out that non-english speakers are not the only ones who can lose out on subtle remarks and/or double meanings. subtitles for the hearing impaired sometimes leave out a word here or there, or rephrase something slightly. the meaning is still there, and technically it is correct (one would hope, since it is verbal english to written english), but the humor (or some underlying emotion) is often lost. especially since the deaf do not have the advantage of listening for voice inflection.
    i wonder what i miss out on when i watch foreign films with english subtitles?

  30. If Justin means what he says he must be watching closely the US supreme court who began listening to argument over a case of the entertainment industry against a maker of sharing, copying, and downloading music etc. It’s much interesting to me is that both sides invoked the stake of creativity and its relation to copyright laws. The entertainment industry says basically what Justin stated above, infringement on copyrighted materials devalues the creative work of the artists and the studio workers. The software industry counters that the copyright laws took into no consideration of todays digital and Internet technologies and that limiting the use of their product through enforcing the outdated copyright laws would hamper the inventive work of the software developers and Internet industry. Years ago, the movie industry sued SONY over the betamax video recording technology and lost. Today, SONY has taken over a large chunk of the entertainment industry, its recording, dubbing, and other technologies serving the movie/music industry with life supporting relevance. And SONY might be a member of the plaintiff party in this current suit.

  31. An interesting discussion, even for someone like myself who has no understanding of Chinese language, and very little understanding of the culture. As has already been pointed out, bad translations often extend to the English subtitles on foreign pirated DVDs, the classic example being the Two Towers subtitles available elsewhere online.

  32. Very funny, I have similar conversations at home with my wife. I remember one film having subtitles from a completely different movie. Another in which the subtitles had been patched about five minutes ahead of what was being said by the characters.

  33. I’ve also noticed this when viewing a bad/rough translation of a Japanese film into English. The official DVD release translation was easier to follow the film in, but it was plain that a lot of the humour, meaning and swearing in the original dialogue had been lost, just from the difference in translations. Lines that made me laugh out loud in the rough translation due to the apparent ‘tone of voice’ simply stated literal meaning in the official translation.

  34. cybertonka Says: April 3, 2005 at 9:44 pm

    Hi, I have just finished laughing my head off – this is such a funny side to life – I have a very dodgy copy of Blade 2, which has a similarly surreal “sub” plot going on with the subtitles, which whenever I feel depressed, I watch – helpless with laughter…nice one and thanks for the effort!

  35. I nearly died from alughter reading this. to be fair, it goes both ways. I love watching movies made in China and Japan, they’re brilliant. Yet the subtitiles are not always what they should be.

    I believe it was in “The God of Cookery” where the chinese was translated too literally. He was preparing for a battle, and his coach meant (I’m guessing, since I speak no asian languages) for him to eat a big, healthy square breakfast. What the subtitles said was for him to “Go eat a pretty breakfast.”

  36. Nathan Griffiths Says: April 4, 2005 at 1:12 pm

    I’m not a Thai speaker, but I watched a movie called “Ong Bak” in Thailand that was all in Thai with no subtitles whatsoever, and thought it was fantastic. Now I may have missed some of the plot subtleties but this was an action/hero movie and I pretty much got the plot without the benefit of dialogue. So I’m guessing that with most Hollywood movies, the Chinese are not going to be too disadvantaged without good subtitles.. but then again maybe misleading subtitles are worse than none at all?

    My favourite foreign movie moment was in Vietnam, where I saw Predator 2 advertised with the by-line “A homo-erotic masterpiece”.

  37. I was working in Thailand when the film “Shanghai Noon” appeared in the local theater. Every Saturday I usually went to the cinema. The Hollywood foreign films were usually presented using English, but “Shanghai Noon” was not. I really do not know Thai, but I stayed and watched it anyway, an action-hero comedy is usually easy to follow without the script. I did notice all the spots where the Thais laughed. I wondered if there had ever been a study where differenct language and cultural groups were ever compared by what they thought was funny or sad or tragic, etc. from the same cinema film but presented in their own language.

  38. It definitely runs both ways. Chinese films (e.g. Hero) released in America are horribly translated, routinely hacked apart, etc. to tailor to the sensibilities of American moviegoers. The mangled product, sadly, doesn’t resemble its original.

  39. schtickyrice,

    Sorry to take so long to get back to your question.

    If I’m watching an English-language movie with English subtitles on, I too will have a hard time not reading them.

    That’s not necessarily the case with an English-language movie and Chinese subtitles, though. It depends on the complexity of the movie and my mood.

    If the movie has pretty simple dialogue, I’ll often read the Chinese out of curiosity, and it’s really easy to listen to the English and read the Chinese simultaneously. If the dialogue is rather complicated or involved, I often find myself ignoring the Chinese so I can concentrate on the dialogue more in English. Sometimes I’m just plain not in the mood to pay any attention to the Chinese.

    Of course, if I’m watching with my girlfriend, then the factor of “responsibility” comes into play as well.

  40. It goes the same for silly Western attempts at accurately depicting/translating/hiring a competent Chinese actor.

    Sometimes I’m just besides myself with silly during major films where they have just decided to fudge the Chinese-guy part and make him say things that sound like silverware banging together. But my boyfriend doesn’t notice, he just says: “Your mother and you sound just like this when you’re talking about me.”

  41. Piracy kills future innovation by reducing the amount of money available for future development. Same as the pharmaceutical industry where either price controls, or formulation piracy lead to the same end.

    The real question we will need to ask ourselves is whether we can continue to afford new drug development and new blockbuster movies. And don’t blame Pharma marketing budgets because those are the most cost effective way to educate people about a drug. Drugs and movies are very expensive to produce. Maybe the money would be better spent in other places. If that is the case then continuing non-enforcement of IP rights is the way to go. And we may not have a choice either, what is the point of developing new drugs if no one can afford todays?

    Music is another interesting case. Popular music today is pretty bad in my view Britney et al), but that is the only class of people still actually paying for almost all the music they listen to (white middle to upper class early teens supported by their parents pocketbooks).

    As a consumer of highly niche-oriented music, I can see where lack of money has stymied the development of the music I listen to. There are other issues than piracy in that niche, but the niche has been extremely hesistant to expand into distribution networks where its property could be easily duplicated.

    My own prediction is that we will see a decapitalizion of almost all intellectual property rights based industries.

  42. Hilarious! Singing? XD

  43. Sadly, I don’t get paid to do this. My friends and I often rent movies and turn the sound off so we can “play dub” the vocal parts ourself and it ususally turns out hillariously.Our favorite movie of anywhere to do this with is Reptillicus. It lends itself to bad dubbing with zeal. the tail of the monster looks somewhat like a burrito in the beginning and it gets worse as it goes on. “Just look at this burrito someone threw out!” Try it, you’ll like it.

    Here, have some interesting parallels here..

    “So today I got 2 root canals finished.. and yet the pain didnt come from that..
    Now that we finally have a standing agreement, my dentist knows not to stuff me full of anesthesia. Anyway..

    My only REAL pain came from hearing the tv in the background, showing the latest soap opera.

    And all I could think about was KILLING THE FUCKERS THAT WRITE SOAP OPERAS.

    I had no idea the real pain was yet to come.

    ANIME came on next.

    If you think about it, it´s bad enough to hear the untranslatable Chinese/Mandarin/Japanese directly translated to English.

    Now, what happens here.. I suspect.. Is that they translate the already trippy and super shitty English dialogue.. into Spanish.

    After a couple of minutes of this..

    All I could think about was KILLING MYSELF

    It was like experiencing a never ending bad heroin laced lsd trip.
    I never knew such pain.”

  45. actually, WTF subtitles happen even in DVDs where the language and the subtitles are in English!! I like watching CSI on my laptop and sometimes when it’s too noisy I turn the subtitles on, and it’s like they just dreamed up the subtitles. How hard is it to do subtitles without even translating??

  46. Great blog!

    Wrong subtitles drive me nuts too… I was watching “the Doors” the other day with my Chinese girlfriend, who’s English is pretty much non-existent and they took out nearly every reference to drugs. Which was a uh, major part of the movie.

    And I put on “The Omen” the other day, and one of the very first lines “How is the Child?” “The child is dead.” Was translated as “How is the child?” “The child is safe.” and I turned it off. Wrong subtitles drive me flippen nuts especially for a dialogue heavy film.

    But there are lots of DVD 9’s that have Chinese audio, most of the ones I have seen have been pretty accurate. I usually stick to buying them now….

  47. Hi,not every subtitle is so bad,translated into Chinese by TLF are great,those subtitles you’ve showed us are made badly,maybe the translater didn’t translate them by watching English subtitle,but by hearing,anyway,their hearing ability were so awful,mind-blowing to me~_~

  48. Loved the article. Got an example from “Paris, I love you”.In one of the parts a mom is sitting on a bed, repeating to herself what her little kid who died used to say to her. (It’s in french) : mom, mom, cowboys still exist. I saw it in a book. Mom, mom, you said there were no cowboys anymore but it’s not true, I saw it in a book.
    the “Mom, mom” got translated into “Amen, amen”, and then “look at how he smiles”, as a comment on the picture of him she’s looking at.
    Mom becoming Amen is pretty funny to me… =)
    I’m sorry for the chinese people watching this though, I guess it’s a good justification for their disinterest in non-blockbuster foreign films…

  49. Good article! I think this shows that there will always be some sort of missunderstanding between the Chinese and Westerners. We all think we know each other’s culture, but in fact it’s just an illusion, all was lost in translation!

  50. Moshaosen Says: October 15, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    My favourite WTF moment was a point in war of the worlds when Tom Cruise shouts at his family (I think – was a while ago) to get out of their house. The subtitles said 美国人都是这样,Americans are all like this.

  51. […] there is a thing or two about the translation of these lyrics which concerns me. In the spirit of subtitle surrealism, we better do this whole […]

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