"How Comfortable!"

In Lost In Transcription, I wrote about the poor quality of subtitles in an Indian film. Those, along with bad dubbing are also mainstays of Hong Kong cinema (and parodied in Wayne's World, amongst others). In Once Upon A Time In China, Jeff Yang's concise history of cinema from Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China, there's this:

Of course, any Anglophone who's watched a subtitled Hong Kong movie knows that the process is far from perfect. Often hastily produced based on half completed (or nonexistent) scripts - and sometimes without even basic knowledge of the storyline - translations have ranged from amateurish to comical. Some problems are due to inherent linguistic differences: Spoken Chinese uses few gender-specific terms, so subtitlers often must make arbitrary pronoun choices based on context. Sometimes errors are due to poorly translated idioms, with curses and expressions of affection or lust the most frequent victims. For the most part, however, enthusiasts say that learning "subtitle English" is like picking up a specialized dialect. Experienced Hong Kong movie fans know that "How comfortable" is an expression of sexual pleasure, while "How come?" is what people say when faced with something shocking and inexplicable.

The book is fascinating - I've always wondered how cinema from that part of the world has been able to shine so well on the global stage while offerings from India continue to be consistently mediocore, with occasional exceptions. I hope to share some of my thoughts later.

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- July 8, 2006 8:26 AM // Film