Excuse me, you say, Oh sagacious and inerrant Mr. Cobb–however do they market our movies overseas?
One word: Badly.
–So it’s just a direct translation, then?
Two words: You wish.
Or, as they would translate that sentiment in Malaysia: Of Terrible Consequence to Original Things Super-Duper High-Five.
“They called this movie ‘Little Jew I Want to Kick’ in Mongolia…*ghik* Why do they want to kick me in Mongolia?*ghik* What’d I do to them? I’m one percent Mongolian cuz Ghengis dropped by and ‘invited himself to dinner’ if you catch my drift…*ghik* people call me a self-hating Mongolian, they should read my reviews in UlaanBaatar. I mean, I lived in a yurt till I was 34 with a little asian girl *ghik* what more do they want?”
It is true, human languages are not 1:1 clean images of each other, but sometimes it’s like they’re not even trying, and I think, in a weird way, it explains a lot about these countries:
It’s a great Un-Christmas movie, like Gremlins, but apparently the conjunction of both the verb ‘Die’ and the modifier ‘Hard’ is a difficult sell. I would respect Die Horribly or Die with Pain, or just Difficult to Kill as reasonable translations. I even like Poland’s renaming of Die Hard…The Glass Trap…it’s artful and intriguing, so big props to Poland, but Norway phoned it in one Sunday, dubbing it:
…Not helping your nation’s reputation as a pseudo-communist land of dreary, pre-suicidal people much, are ya’? Does having complete darkness at 11 AM drain the need for, you know, ‘art’ from your lutefisk-scented soul, because this is either lazy or a subtle plea for help. What is it like in a Norwegian supermarket? just row after row of identical gray boxes labeled “Fud, Mylk, Ayggs, Mylk fur babee” then a rare end-aisle display of American products that make shoppers raise their hand to their eyes, blinded by color?
“What do you call a Hamburger?”
“And French Fries?”
“What’s a rainbow?”
[blank stare, then a tendril of smoke rises from his collar, head vibrates violently, explodes. Then a little troll climbs out of his neck, waving his fist, grumbling as he jumps up, opens the door, drops and and walks out squeaking Norwegian profanity at you, then everyone’s, like, “We knew it!”]
Anything with Jim Carry in it and, as a result, all comedies:
The story of how China transmuted a character’s name to represent all western screwballs:
John-Erik Jordan (first person I’ve ever seen with a hyphenated first name) informs us in Babbel, that, for some ungodly reason, the Chinese took Jim Carrey’s character, Ace Ventura, and applied the word ‘Ace’, which translates as ‘King Card’ in Mandarin, to all other western comedies, sorta like a prefix, as in:
…King Card Big Liar
…King Card God
…then other comedies get the ‘Ace’ treatment:
…King Card Announcer
…King Card Cheap Spy
Whoa! he was ‘cheap’? beings how the Chinese make it a point of ethnic pride to squeeze a nickel out of a statue’s marble tit, this smacks as just plain hypocrisy.
…and while we’re in China: The ‘story’ of how the word ‘story’ is a story of brutal military dictatorship:
The Chinese word for story is [Who the fuck cares? That Chinkanese shit ain’t going in here. Love, WordPress] pronounced (and I’m being phonetic about this) zhong-dong-wan, which means, Chinese-character wise, ‘mass’ or ‘general’ ‘mobilization’. This is a term that should, and does, scare the Chinese. It must be a real head-scratcher to a teen in Beijing as to why the Americans always have to throw in vague threats of war in their movie titles. This doesn’t stop the whomever-I’m-talking-about from using it, and naked, and without opting for some cheerier euphemism:
Toy General Mobilization… Toy Story
Super People General Mobilization … The Incredibles
Seabed General Mobilization … Finding Nemo
….and my favorite,
Machine Implement People General Mobilization….that would be ‘WALL-E’.
“There’s this great anthology show from the 80s I saw, from Spielberg: ‘Amazing General Mobilizations’.” “[snort] Americans. Why is their mass-grave, teacher-killing death-orgies called ‘amazing’ while ours are just called ‘murder on a scale heretofore unseen by man’…it’s ‘cuz they’re white, isn’t it? “
Granted Wes Andersen accomplished the untranslatable when he put an actual heart-shaped symbol in the title (I don’t have that on my keyboard so you’ll just have to imagine it EDITOR’S NOTE: Try Microsoft Key + the period and you will get a menu that includes this ❤), but Hungary…Jeezus Christ!…they totally misunderstood the theme of this movie, they sold it as “Multinationals go home!”
Yikes. Hungarian tension over illegal immigration reaching peak old-man-scolds-tree levels. Still, it’s better than their original translation “Multinationals Smell, Don’t Touch Me for to Give Me Disease, I Pee On Your Luggage!” which, I think we can all agree, is too long and fails to tell scabrous immigrants that they should leave…but does everything have to be practical? there’s poetry to consider, is all I’m saying.
The Shawshank Redemption:
I sympathize with them, you know, The Whomever-Does-These-Things-For-a-Living in foreign climes, some things can’t be translated, but even then there are contextual things that would make absolute sense. TSR (as hip people like me call it…as hip people…like…I mean I’ve heard people call it that…You’ve heard that, right? No?…..[shoulders slump] Okay. You saw right through me. I don’t know why I did that. I guess I wanted to be a big shot. I just made it up….WHY DO YOU ALWAYS DO THIS, BART?! JEEZ! It’s ‘I was once a competitive cup-stacker’ all over again! She knew you were lying, as soon as she looked at your stubby, spaetzle-eating’ fingers, she knew. …I’ll come clean: hip people don’t call it that. I’m not hip…I thought, once I got a Roomba, then, maybe……but no. That’s not me. No number of automatic carpet cleaning robots with optional wet-vac attachment and deluxe battery charging stations can turn Old Bart Cobb into anything but Old. Bart. Cobb. I have to know that. [deep sigh]
…but, as hip people should call it, TSR has plenty of naming opportunities that don’t make America look at a country like it’s that kid in the lunchroom who tries to trade his Tupperware of brussel sprouts for her cupcake.
Italy, Israel and Mexico called it “Wings of Freedom”, “Walls of Hope”, and “Dreams of Escape”…all decent, if froofie, treatments of a film that includes forced sodomy. But the absolute, most humiliating, title goes to Taiwan. Let me tell you how embarrassed anybody with Chinese blood should be right now: Go home. Tell your parents you’ve decided to major in 18th Century French poetry, then snort the ashes of your grandparents before “Japanese kissing” a homeless black dude…the look on their face, that level of cringe, should be how you react when I tell you the Taiwanese name for Shawshank, it is:
[cymbals crash, trumpet burps, audience blinks in perfect silence]
..let it sink in, if you haven’t. Despite the fact that it was released in ’95 not set in ’95, every Chinese person should buy a ticket and strangle a panda to restore the honor of his ancestors.
It’s only slightly better than their first renaming of Shawshank: “OK G.I. [thumbs up] Sister Very Pretty, You Come My House, You See!”
There’s gonna be a lot of strangled pandas.
Finally! An excuse to abstain from high-carb racism and savor the high-fat feast that is the French!
The French are…how do you say?…Les Poo-sie. Can these guys fuck up the most simple things or what? Then make them sound like a Belgian hooker’s bed-patter as she spoons a one-eyed Nazi. Jaws?! You can’t fuck up Jaws! It’s impossible, the friggin’ Taiwanese didn’t fuck up Jaws (there must have been a shift change between it and Shawshank). And don’t tell me it’s the incompatibility of language, France has a word for the lower mandible, yet, they insist on fruiting-up the most manly movie since The Great Escape…and worse, when you really break it down, makes less sense than losing Haiti to a bunch of slaves armed with a rake, mumbling voodoo over a straw doll wrapped in a fancy little waistcoat…they called it:
The Teeth of the Sea
NO! NONONONONO! This was a simple assignment, how do you go from a title powerful in it’s blunt-force minimalism and create…I don’t know about you, but for me…an image of a Great white shark with giant, gapey horse-grin filled with a gapless set of square teeth like in your fifth grade class photo (the one where your cowlick his eighteen inches tall for some reason…and you still don’t get it, you had a comb, your mom gave you a comb! You remember being in the boys bathroom…combing it…just you and the shark, I guess, but he talked like Sylvester back then because of his retainer…
They say don’t ascribe to malice to what you can first explain by stupidity…Fine!
Then the French better get their Head of the Hat out of their Hole of the Ass before I take a plumber’s wrench and torque off their Beanbag of the Baguette , because, obviously, it’s not informing them of what it should, namely, the Poetry of the Un-Gay…one of it’s many useful attributes (it also makes Jim Carrey funny and controlled-demolitions watchable, just sayin’).
Time for an algorithm check. Challenge: Take Movie titles and run them through the French ‘Zis seems good to me!’ Plinko-board of logic, shall we? Yes, we shall.
King Kong. Ze Monkey of ze Building.
Fatal Attraction: Ze Chef of ze Bunny Rabbit
It’s a Wonderful Life: Ze Naive Optimism of ze Petty Bourgeois American Capitalist Who Tsink Zay Saved us from ze Nazis when Really We Did it Ourselves in Tsree Weeks Wiss only a Caviar Spoon and a Ball of Twine…
…and fuck ze Haitis.
It’s popular everywhere, the Indians bop and sway in their theater seats, memorizing every tune (dance routines not accompanied by singing that resembles a cat thrown in the dryer must be a revelation) but it’s the Mexicans who accidentally…with a non-introspective blindness that staggers me, that or they’re just perverts…sold this movie in a way that can only…ONLY!…mean one thing.: John Travolta ass-pounding Olivia Newton-John in the back of his hastily-constructed junkyard racer. Yes. Mexico didn’t know (or did know, who can tell with those guys) that their ad campaign had only one possible story to tell through its poster and its new title which didn’t quite evoke the meaning of the original. I won’t keep you in suspense, but let me say, Olivia, honey, this guy’s got plans, your Dad knows these kinda guys, run Olivia, run sweetheart, I saw it in his glove box, right next to a half-empty box of Trojans and some kind of horse paralyzer, it was…it was!…
“He calls it ‘Grease Lightning’?…Pervert!…Where is she?! Why’d you let her go to the dance?! No, Olivia! Please! Oh GOD! OH-SWEET-HEAVEN-ON-HIGH!”