Unflattering DVD Covers

I’ve talked about funny examples of pirated DVDs’ English subtitles and funny examples of pirated DVDs’ Chinese subtitles. These are both pretty commonplace in China. Another source of pirated DVD amusement is the actual DVD jacket the pirates create to sell the movies on the streets.

In many cases the pirates do an extremely professional job, creating either an almost exact replica of the official release, or an original design which is hardly inferior to the official DVD release’s case design. However, it is also not unusual to find DVD jackets with English text thrown on for appearance only (why would Chinese customers care if the English synopsis is totally wrong?). This happens most often when the DVD jacket is created way before the DVD’s official release. This can have hilarious results. I once saw an English synopsis on the back of a pirated DVD jacket that looked something like this: “Sfhtmcp hirncoae nsf doijwp sd dgv pmayq icbs ht yfksbn gxksmzbnc hfjr oisjgf tcwtq nsiv cpsj Fxhstr utn vgbgj doivpb mndlc jvnbh dyr.” You get the idea. The more “professional” pirates often turn to movie reviews on the IMDb. Sometimes they choose less than favorable reviews to display prominently on the DVD jackets, however.

Below is just one example of this phenomenon. Note the quotes on the front at the bottom, and at top right (in red) on the back.

Pirated Dungeons and Dragons DVD

The movie’s full title is Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God. In case there is any doubt, it is indeed a horrible movie. I got through about 20 minutes of it before I turned it off. (Someone gave it to me!)

More: There’s a Flickr group called Crappy Bootleg DVD Covers with more of the same (although not all necessarily funny).

Related: If you liked the crazy English subtitles, a blog called Middle Kingdom Stories has made it a regular feature. Check it out: Crazy subtitles. I still think the original Backstroke of the West was the funniest, though.


John Pasden

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


  1. John, took me straight back to HZ China and our weekly DVD runs – love it, man. And the back synopsis: “Oh God, hell no…GOD AWFUL” — LOL Laughing Out Loud, for real! You got my morning started on the right foot.

  2. “…and his eccentric geologist buddy.”

    As far as I can tell, the gibberish you sometimes find is what happens when they take the Chinese description and convert it into pinyin initials with random word-breaks thrown in for good measure. So you’d get “Bpshz ybchgdd ydjchsh gbd,” I’ve seen full pinyin, too.

  3. Whenever I popped in a foreign DVD with English subtitles and found that the subtitles didn’t match the movie but rather, were from the movie The Piano, I’d wonder how/why DVD bootleggers loaded this movie’s subtitles onto so many movies. Sometimes the movie also had Korean subtitles for The Piano!

  4. hey John, I got a copy of ‘Shaolin Soccer’ (I’m sure you know it) with an English synopsis of ‘Pay it Forward’ on the back. the front says: A Young Boy Who’s Life Is Far… Shaolin Soccer

  5. Some of the smarter (although lazy) guys in the DVD copying business seems to copy some text from e.g. imdb.com instead of making something up in Chinglish. Here’s a good example from the cover of a 8 kuai movie with the title “EVENTUALLY VIETNAM WAR”:

    “This B action movie is shot with a bit more competence than other films in the genre. It also looks like it had a generous budget, or at least a lot of cooperation from the Philippine army, judging by the amount of gunfights, soldiers, Armoured Personnel Carriers and explosions that feature throughout the film. The plot is the old “rescue my ‘Nam buddy from the rank jungle prison he’s being held in by the psychotic Communist general with thousands of troops under his command premise. The good guys are invincible, the bad guys thoroughly expendable. You know what to expect. Sit back and let our boys win one for the Gipper. I must add in closing that Tomas Griffith really is a good actor. I hope he gets cast in more mainstream films in the future.”

    I doubt that the studio has approved this text …

  6. The quotes on the front of the DVD are from an exchange between two characters in Joss Whedon’s (callously cancelled) SciFi series “Firefly”. That’s even more surreal than the usual bad review…

  7. I once found a DVD for which the ‘English’ jacket text was actually in my native language Dutch. Really considerate if you ask me, even if it also described the movie as real stinker.

  8. Hilarious, the line on the back is even without quotation marks.

  9. Da Xiangchang Says: October 18, 2005 at 12:54 am

    The bad English doesn’t bother me so much as when they put PHOTOS from various other movies onto the jacket so that you’re not sure exactly what movie the DVD actually is! I remember once there was a jacket for The Exorcist where the original photo was of the exorcist just standing under a streetlight looking at the house, which, if you’ve seen the movie, is a truly scary image. The bootlegger, however, didn’t feel it was scary enough so he inserted Pinhead from Hell Raiser into one of the windows of the house!!! Worse: if a movie doesn’t have a recognizable star, the bootleggers would put in famous people, as if Anthony Hopkins would be in Meatballs VII or whatever!

  10. This movie was on the Sci-Fi Channel about a week ago here in the States. I actually sat through the whole thing, and, yes, is was awful. The original D & D movie, which also sucked, was much, much better. But as for the topic, when I was in Beijing in August, I saw a bootleg DVD for Kingdom of Heaven, which evidently (according to the package) starred Orlando Bloom and Kevin Costner. I had seen Kingdom of Heaven previously, so I was wracking my brain trying to remember what role Kevin Costner played in the movie. Flipping the DVD over revealed scenes from the movie, which I soon realized, on closer examination, were actually scenes from Waterworld. I was so tempted to buy the DVD to see if they had actually combined parts of Kingdom of Heaven with Waterworld. That would have been sweet. But, alas, I did not. Now I sort of regret it.

  11. I love that they do that! They’ve inadvertently created a better system than we have back home. Now I can actually get some info about how the movie is, right on the cover. More than once I’ve picked up a film and thought “hmm, this looks interesting, maybe I’ll get it. [read the negative quote] maybe not [put movie back down]”. Thanks pirate movie guys!

  12. Very funny. Not trying to plug my site here, but I just did a post on a DVD back cover myself by coincidence. I’ll give a link back to this post on my site.


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