The Martian in China: Two Observations

I saw The Martian (火星救援) in Shanghai over the weekend. I had read the book, and I was looking forward to seeing the movie on the big screen. Overall, I found that it was a decent adaptation of the novel, and I enjoyed it. China seems to be enjoying it too! There were two things that caught my attention, watching with a Chinese audience, however:

“I’m going to have to science the shit out of this”

I was looking forward to seeing how this line (seen in the trailer above at about 01:30) was rendered in Mandarin:

> “So, in the face of overwhelming odds, I’m left with only one option: I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.”

(The part I was most interested in was the later half, where the word “science” is used as a verb, and in a crudely amusing way.)

Here’s the Chinese translation:

> “我得他妈的想办法活下去。

"Science the shit out of this" doesn't translate

I would translate that back into English as:

> “I gotta fucking find a way to survive.”

The movie’s translation is not horrible; it captures the meaning and the tone of the original, but it seems more grim and determined than humorous, because it sacrifices the science! Oh well.

Accidental China Pandering Still Counts

The other thing that amused me was the Chinese audience’s reaction to the way China fit into the plot. [SPOILER ALERT!] Chinese audiences aren’t dumb, and they know when they’re being pandered to by Hollywood. In this case, the Chinese Space Agency’s involvement in the rescue of Mark Watney was actually a part of the plot in the original book; it wasn’t inserted by Hollywood in a bid to ensure box office success in China.

But the way the scene was done, cutting to China out of nowhere, just felt so similar to the infamous Iron Man 3 scene (with the Chinese doctor and the Fan Bingbing nurse cameo), that as soon as the audience realized that China was about to save the day, they all laughed. They laughed! They weren’t proud or appreciative, it was just an, “oh puh-leeeze, here we go again…” reaction.

I’m pretty sure that’s not the Chinese reaction the producers were going for; hopefully Hollywood gets better at this!

Still, entertaining movie.


John Pasden

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


  1. Rose and I enjoyed it too.
    If the movie had the Filipino Space Agency, then we would have laughed (because it doesn’t exist).
    But we liked the ‘coming together’ feel and the mutual respect feel of the movie.

  2. I saw it on the weekend in Beijing. The audience laughed when one of the Chinese characters said that NASA didn’t know China had the capability to send a rocket up because it was a “state secret”. Overall, I thought the China elements of the book and the movie weren’t on the nose at all.

  3. Fun article. I too liked the humor so much in the book, but haven’t yet made it to the theater. Hopefully I’ll see the theatrical version soon.
    I often noticed how Chinese will laugh in very different parts of a movie as I would have expected. In this particular case, what do you feel could have been done to build to that moment better? Or do you feel that even after being improved the Chinese audience still would laugh because they just don’t see themselves in the same way that western media portrays them?

  4. John – Here’s the translation from a streaming video w/subtitles “of a dubious source”:


    It gets the gist a little more, but the science part is still sacrificed.

    Curious – how would you translate it?

    • Unfortunately I don’t have any brilliant translation… I was hoping to be impressed by the translation (as I sometimes am in cases like this), but it was not meant to be this time!

      • I don’t really know how to do this one either, since part of the humor of the original also comes from him using “science” as a verb. Something with “科学爆了” (“Scientific AF”), maybe?

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