Film subtitle translation over-entertainment and localization in China

When foreign films screen in China, subtitle could be regarded as the bridge which links the audience and the movie. As one of the carriers of culture, the projection could also be seen as a communication from two culture. In this process, subtitle plays a significant role which might also have the effect on commercial aspect.


The concept of ‘translation as rewrite’ shows the importance of subtitle. Lefevere (2016) indicates that translation is a kind of rewriting and every type of rewriting reflects ideology and poetics which lead to some effect in the certain area. To apply it in this case, the people who have the ability to translate foreign films officially have the certain education background and might be restrained by other powerful groups (such as investor, sponsor and relevant government departments). Therefore, the subtitle translation is not processing literally in a vacuum. It is rewriting in the cultural aspect which services both ideology, art and literature. Moreover, some changes in subtitle ‘rewriting’ are unconsciously due to its ‘nature of service’.


The commonest subtitle translation problem in China is over-entertainment and localization. In the past, subtitle translation usually follows the original lines which means that the translators try their best to mention the same element and make lit sounds like the same meaning. If it is hard to mention exactly the same thing, the thing in the same category and Chinese four-character idiom might be used. However, Chinese four-character idiom sometimes sounds outdated or far away from the audience live due to its classical structure. Therefore, the translators now are tending to use buzzword which might be closer to the original meaning and sounds humorous but ignores the literature logic. It can be understood when traditional translation cannot satisfy the current demand. But when the translators start to chasing humor and sense translation, they add new Chinese gag, Chinese reference, and buzzword to replace the original reference and gag in the film. It is easy enough to guess that the translators are trying to shorten the distance between the audience and the movie in their ways. Localization probably means higher ticket revenues in their opinion. Such as ‘We can do that funk and groove dance thing’ in ‘Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted’ has been translated into ‘let’s act as a couple. Just like Xiao Shenyang and participate in the ‘Avenue of Stars’!’ (Xiao Shenyang is a Chinese gag man and ‘Avenue of Stars’ is similar to Chinese version Got Talent). Another typical example exists in ‘Man in Black III’. ‘Lonelier too, since you’re the last Bogladyte standing’ has been translated into classic Chinese poem form: ‘heaven and earth have an end but this hate hasn’t’. The reference they add could be not only from China but also Asian range. The protagonist of Japanese cartoon ‘Saint Seiya’ has a unique skill called ‘Pegasus RyuSeiKen’ which also existed in the translation of ‘Pacific Rim’ to replace ‘ElbowRocket’ (they both use the arm to hit). Although the translator’s intention is to explain the meaning, sometimes they make it more complicated and lose the point.


Reference list:


Lefevere, A 2016, Translation, rewriting, and the manipulation of literary fame.


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