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!

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