Wednesday, 27 November 2013

An open letter to Katy Perry and Johnny Wujek

Dear Katy and Johnny

Hope you don’t mind me addressing you thus – it’s quicker to type! 

Embarrassingly, I caught up with the world and watched the full video of Katy’s performance last night. It’s my friends, you see. The last time I ventured out onto the internet, they sent me some news of Rowan Atkinson’s (Mr Bean’s) passing. I was absolutely gutted until I found out that this was yet another hoax. Since I always take a break after going on a rollercoaster of emotions, or indeed any rollercoaster, I came off the net and watched the telly, which, being British telly, didn’t mention ‘Unconditionally’ in the headlines.

Anyway, I watched Katy’s performance of ‘Unconditionally’ at the AMAs, and I loved it!
The colours were gorgeous and went so well with the aesthetic, and as for Katy’s dress, it was sooo pretty! Given how hot a stage filled with lights can be, I can understand why a furisode - qipao/cheongsam cross came about; for me, the blending of these two iconic styles of dress give Katy’s performance a pan-Asian look that is heavily influenced by both Chinese and Japanese culture.

Katy, I felt that all your dancers were treated with respect by you and your team, and that by adopting the gestures and dance moves you and your dancers used, you didn’t denigrate. You didn’t portray East Asian culture, Asian women, and all women in general, as second-class, ie I saw nothing to suggest that the women were submissive, ‘hos’ and ‘bitches’, and I saw nothing to suggest that East Asian culture is ‘ching chong’, ‘cheesy’ and ‘corny’. 

However, I think the sentiments in ‘Unconditionally’ are applicable to anyone who loves (Christian marriage vows, anyone?) and that perhaps many people felt quite uncomfortable at your choosing such a quintessentially East Asian look when you expressed such powerful emotions through your song. 

They saw what they wanted to see, but here’s what I see (and I am speaking as an overseas Chinese / fake Englishwoman): I see a singer about to release a new single, and who had to tour the world to promote this single, and who found inspiration for presenting this new single.
It just so happened that the inspiration originated in Japan and because of staging practicalities, necessary adaptations were used.

In short, Katy, I feel that though you did use pan-Asian culture to get attention (and in honesty, I think you need to, given the industry you’re in), you didn’t exploit pan-Asian culture for shocks, jests and jeers. 

What you and Johnny did wasn’t racist to me. All I saw was kungfu, hard work, respect for yourselves and others; plus reverence, thoughtfulness and respect for East Asian culture. Please take comfort in that.

By doing what you both did, you’ve introduced many to East Asian culture and opened up dialogues on what racism really is, and for that, I thank you. 

Congratulations on the release of ‘Unconditional’; I hope to hear more soon!


Thursday, 7 November 2013

Lost in Translation and other Film Titles

You've got to give it to those unnamed translators of film and TV titles. Somehow, they've got to come up with a cool phrase in Chinese that indicates what an English-language film or TV programme is about without spoiling it.

Sometimes, films get new titles of their own. Some of these are funnier than others:

Star Wars: 星球大战 'War of the Planets'
(Spoiler Alert) Deep Impact:  彗星撞地球 'A Comet Crashes Into Planet Earth'

There're times when overthinking happens when it shouldn't, leaving a single English-language title with many Chinese-language ones:

The Lord of The Rings: 指环王 'Finger-Ring King' 魔戒之主 'Lord of the (Evil) Magic Rings'
Mortal Kombat: 魔鬼帝国 'Empire of Demons'  格斗之王 'King of Fighting Tournaments' 魔宫帝国 'Empire of Demonic Palaces'
As Good As It Gets: 猫屎先生 'Mr Cat Poop' 尽善尽美 'Doing Good Makes Everything Beautiful'

Having said that, a new Chinese-language title can sometimes be far better than the original English-language one:

Gone With the Wind: 飘 'Floating / Drifting in / with the Wind'
The English Patient: 英国病人 'The Sick Englishman' is a literal translation and car crash of a film title, but 英伦情人  'The English Lover'  and 别问我是谁 'Don't Ask Me Who I Am' save the day
Highlander: 时空英豪 'Heroes in Time'

And when it comes to English-language titles that are steeped with lots of cultural references in English and different ones in Chinese, then the translator's role becomes even tougher. Zombie series 'The Walking Dead' has become, very brilliantly I think, 行尸走肉 ('Walking Corpses and Walking / Running Meat / Flesh'). This isn't an accident, but a clever title which is intriguing, informative, and educational once you realise that in Chinese legends and myths, corpses lie still; zombies can only move by jumping, with their arms stretched parallel to the ground; and a corpse always becomes a zombie because of someone's actions.

As for Lost in Translation it nearly did end up lost in translation with the literal 迷失东京 ('Lost (and Confused) in Tokyo') and the metaphorical 爱情,不用翻译 ('Love, Needs No Translation').

And what about Chinese film titles that get translated into English? I'll leave that for another day!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

It's Bonfire Night tonight! And 'The Fox and It' has another great review!

The lovely Nayu on the book blog Nayu's Reading Corner has given 'The Fox and It' a maximum ten stars out of ten! She says:

"I laughed so much reading this funny tale - the illustrations are spot on with the hilarity - it's the expressions of the characters which makes me feel as if I'm watching a cartoon in slow motion. There are positive messages of not being too nosy, helping others and picking up any rubbish to keep everywhere looking nice. I confess to rereading this straight away for the sheer fun of it!"

Take a look here:

And on other news, it's Bonfire Night today!

When I was younger, I used to see kids walking around with a bunch of rags they'd made up to look like a man-doll every fifth of November. They'd knock on doors and ask for 'a penny for the Guy', and my dad always obliged. 'It's only a penny,' he'd say, tossing some more change into the hat they shoved in front of him.

I haven't seen a Guy for some years now; he's been replaced by imps and ghouls who show up on Halloween demanding sweeties and throwing eggs on your front door when you don't answer. But at least bonfires, bangers and mash are still around.

For me, Bonfire Night was when I first learned that sausages weren't sausages anymore, but 'bangers'; before, I'd always thought that 'bangers' were 'boobs'. Apparently, sausages are called 'bangers' because they get noisy when cooking over an open fire.

I'll be firework-gazing and bangers-and-mashing this weekend because that's just me, but if you're celebrating tonight, have a great evening!