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Subtitle Comparisons - Far more important than any other "new disc" consideration...

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Subtitle Comparisons - Far more important than any other "new disc" consideration...

Old 12-05-05, 03:04 PM
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Subtitle Comparisons - Far more important than any other "new disc" consideration...

I'm posting this because I think it's a neglected area of disc comparison.

There are plenty of sites online that compare the visual quality and extras of a disc, and they are invaluable.

But I haven't found anybody that compares the different subtitle translations of a film on the various discs, which I think is even more important than a better transfer.

Subtitles are NOT dialogue, but that's how they are "read" and "felt" by the viewer, and the same film having entirely different dialogue makes for a much different viewing experience - really a much different film. Imagine if you replaced all the dialogue in Pulp Fiction with something else, for instance. And I don't mean dubbing it, I mean changing all the words the people say - it makes for a whole different film.

I think some of the "new and improved" subtitle translations are hurting otherwise classic films in a big way that is going largely unrecognized.

Some of the new translations are improvements, of course, but others are not - we should be aware and give each other comparisons, not only because we can then be better equiped to know what to buy, but also because we can then put some heat on these companies to make better subs, or put two different versions of the subtitles on their discs(the original subs, and the "new and improved" version), and let the filmgoer have a choice.

Please post in this thread if you have seen a disc that made you yearn for the older subtitles, or to the contrary have seen a disc that you think is a big improvement over what else is out there.
Old 12-05-05, 03:07 PM
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John Woo's The Killer - the Criterion version is far superior to the HKL version

Posted from another forum - thought it belonged here, in International film..

I have both versions of this disc, and am shocked when I hear people say the HKL version is the best. It most certainly is not - the subtitles on it are far below the ones on the Criterion, and it makes it feel like a different film.

In a movie built on a film noir atmosphere, the atmosphere-blowing subs on the HKL disc are very damaging to the film.

Just some random lines pulled out of the film - including the actual quote on the "last bullet" thing - I checked the disc and the HKL was even worse than I remembered...

-----------------------------------------------

CRITERION:

"I always save the last bullet. Either for myself, or for my enemy."

HKL:

"Don't you remember I always save the last bullet. I either use it to kill someone or kill myself."

-------

Okay - if this one quote doesn't make one want to burn their HKL disc of this film then they have no ear whatsoever for dialogue.

Which one is the punchier dialogue? Succinct, elegant and memorable? Which one is just needlessly wordy, clunky and inelegant? You wouldn't remember that line if you wanted to. On a disc where you are trying to "improve" the subtitles, why on earth would you replace the first translation with the second?

This is pretty clear cut - the Criterion comes off like a cool line of dialogue in the film, the HKL comes off like a wordy, clunky mess that completely ruins the moment. It's like the Epstein brothers were replaced by a third grader in the dialogue department.

-----------------------------------------------------

Sydney comes into the Church, and asks the Killer if he believes in God(or "all this" depending on which version you have). The Killer's response:

CRITERION:

"No. But I enjoy the tranquility here."

HKL:

"I like it because it's quiet in here. I feel comfortable sitting here."

---------

Good Lord. The third grade dialogue writer strikes back. But it's even worse - this time, he's making the ultra-cool main character sound like a third grader himself with this clunky, tepid response! Is he going to start reciting Green Eggs and Ham next?

"I like this. I feel that. I love to do both, as a matter of fact."

And this is the Killer's first line of dialogue in the film!

Not only is the new translation a needless mouthful, it's just bad dialogue. Would you write this into one of your scripts as the first lines out of a ultra-cool hitman's mouth?

Pathetic.

--------------------------------------------------

CRITERION:

"Watch your ass."

HKL:

"Staying alive is important."

-----------

Notice how the HKL just flows right off the tongue - sounds like something two grown police officers would say to each other right before entering a tense undercover situation...

Oh wait, no, that's the Criterion version I'm talking about. The HKL translation is patently ridiculous.

------------------------------------------------

CRITERION:

"Life's cheap. It only takes one bullet."

HKL:

"Every shot take a life."

-------

Again, the Criterion version is perfect, hard-boiled film noir dialogue, whereas the HKL version sounds nothing like anything ANYBODY who speaks English would actually ever say.

Way to go HKL!

And once again - which one would you rather put in your hard-boiled film noir script?

---------------------------------------------------

Danny Lee is talking to his partner - he has just mentioned his "one bullet" line, says a few more lines, and then says that he doesn't think the Killer is an ordinary assassin... his partner responds:

CRITERION:

"It takes only one bullet, ordinary or not."

HKL:

"Every shot takes a life and he's not cold-blooded?"

------------

Wow, again, the HKL version just rolls right off the tongue - a perfect call-back to the "one-bullet" line before...

NOT!!!

Not to mention that the Criterion version, oh, MAKES SENSE, whereas the HKL version makes no sense whatsoever. The partner is being ironic - giving him a warning - "hey, he may be different, but remember it still only takes one bullet, okay?" The HKL version just repeats what he says and then asks an out of nowhere question "he's not cold-blooded"?

And there are seriously people out there that say this is the best version of this film available?

-------------------------------------------------

CRITERION:

"No money, no action, Mr. Weng. Not even if I see his finger on the trigger, ready to blow your head off."

HKL:

"If I don't see a bank receipt from you, even if someone were to hold a gun to your head now, I won't move a finger."

----------

Criterion gets a pass on the "would I put this in my film noir script?" test. HKL not only fails, but gets de-pants and kicked square in the balls by the angry teacher.

Again - which version is supporting the film noir atmosphere of the film, and seems natural, and which version sounds like somebody from an English as a Fifth Language class wrote it?

--------------------------------------------------

And finally, when Jenny hangs up the phone after asking the Killer to come get her at the airport, there's a neat little cut-exchange on the dialogue - at least in the Criterion version...

CRITERION:

Danny Lee's partner: "Will he come?"

Cut to:

The Killer's friend: "Will you go?"

----------

Nice. Nice transition and nice device to build a little tension going into this scene with these dueling questions.

This also mirrors the theme Woo has running through out the film, of, well, the mirror - the two cops and the two Killers are very alike - two sides of the same coin. Both partners are very loyal, and both are killed in the film by the REAL bad guys, and die in the arms of their comrades.

And yes, this also harkens to the scene where cop and Killer share a cigarette and a talk - Woo "crosses the line" here, giving each character an unconventional, shared line of sight, which is usually a no-no in a dialogue scene, where one character is supposed to look one way and the other a different way in terms of screen direction between each cut, so the audience isn't confused. Woo breaks this film rule on purpose here, so they're both looking in the same direction, and it looks as if they're looking in a mirror.

That "will you, will you" construction of the scene above supports this theme.

So nice, then, that the moment is COMPLETELY FRIGGIN' WRECKED in the HKL version:

HKL:

Danny Lee's partner: "Do you think he's going to come?"

Cut to:

The Killer's friend: "Are you going to go?"

---------

The HKL version unnecessarily clutters this exchange by adding words that dilute its punch and effect. The "will you vs. will you" construction is gone here in favor of adding unnecessary words to make the subs "different" from the Criterion version... and miss the point of the whole exchange.

Again - which version would you put in YOUR script?

--------------------------------------------------

And the entire film is this bad, in the HKL subs. I didn't cherry pick, I just picked some random examples of memorable lines and compared them. I could go on and on for pages.

And these changes surely add up big time when watching the film as a whole. The Criterion version successfully supports the film noir tone and thick atmosphere of the film. The Hong Kong Legends version not only does not support this atmosphere at all, but it actually tears it down with cartoonishly clumsy and wordy translations like the above.

Again - if you were reading this as dialogue in a script, which one would you think was better? The Criterion gives us many memorable lines, while the HKL just gives us a bunch of wordy crap.

Just embarassing... and the clunky translations like this on the HKL disc are a body blow to the film noir mood this movie is going for.

Yes, the better subtitle translation BEATS picture quality, as at least I'm watching the film in the best possible light with memorable dialogue that is brief(the soul of wit, remember) and memorable, regardless of if it is notanamorphic and has a few scratches.

This is far preferable to the clear-looking but cartoonishly wordy and clunky alternative that is the HKL disc.
Old 12-05-05, 03:36 PM
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Nate, I agree with you in something you said near the end, and that was that the Criterion subtiles are more in the spirit (you used the word 'soul') of the film. they are killers they are not politicians, not a lot needs to be said. with this i agree.

When you (meaning I) watch a film with subtitles (meaning, not knowing the original language) you are already missing a lot. Is part of being open to other cultures and other languages but is part of the sacrifice. I don't only mean the translation of the words but also the translitaration. I don't want my subtitles to be overly literal, I also don't want a transcript. Something that gives an coherent idea of what was said and is as loyal as possible in spirit and not necesarily a literal translation. Sometimes I watch a lot of Spanish films and I would hate to have to translate many of those, there are so many slangs, cultural ideosincresys (sp), double or triple meanings to words, and a lot of certain regionalisms, it would be very hard. Also you have to take into consideration that with English subitles they are supposed to be somewhat generic because they go to many different markets even some where english is a main language but not number one. These are things that i take into consideration into what i look for in subtitles. I don't know if any of this makes sense to anyone though.

Last edited by BuddhaWake; 12-05-05 at 03:39 PM.
Old 12-05-05, 03:54 PM
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You are completely correct.

Many things have to be taken into account when creating subtitles for a film. Some do it well, and others do not. I'm hoping this thread will allow us to point each other in the best direction when there are multiple translations available. I would sacrifice some picture quality for better subs any day, and I'm a stickler on the picture quality front - but whether or not there is slight aliasing or the image is a tad too dark, etc. is NOT the end-all-be-all of criticsm of a foreign film disc.

How about the subtitles? Do they help or hurt the film. Sadly, the quality of subtitle translations has been largely ignored, yet it shouldn't be - it's so important to conveying the spirit of the movie.

Take the Killer, for instance...

The "Staying alive is important" from the HKL is actually a pretty close literal translation. Another version of the film subtitles this line in its most literal way "life is important".

Criterion subtitles this line as "Watch your ass."

The Criterion is the least "literal" subtitle here, but it's clearly the best for English audiences, and the one that conveys the tone most correctly of the original Cantonese dialogue.

"Life is important" is a saying similar to "watch your ass", and it means the same thing. "Life is important" in English sounds strange and kind of silly - as a saying that one cop would say to another. But "watch your ass" sounds just right - natural. It's expressing the same sentiment in the SAME WAY that it is taken in the Cantonese context, where the literal "life is important" would be a common saying that wouldn't sound funny or out of place at all in their context.

The "watch your ass" translation captures what's being said there and what the movie gets across to audiences in its native language far better than the clumsy literal translation does on the HKL disc. That's, no doubt, why John Woo approved the Criterion subtitles for his film over the ones on the Fox Lorber edition that was also out at that time(I think it was the only other American version out there then).

Another example "Runt" and "Shrimp-head". That's the "nicknames" given to us by HKL - and they are LITERAL. But that doesn't make them correct for subtitles. The Criterion is "numb-nuts" and "butthead" - much closer to the meaning and intent of what "runt" and "shrimp head" is in Cantonese. These are common, juvenile taunts in Cantonese, and sound as normal to them as "numb-nuts" and "butthead" sound to us - which is how it's SUPPOSED to come across to the viewer - as a normal, juvenile-sounding insult. Not as something distracting...

The literal translations of "runt" and "shrimp-head" are distracting, because they are NOT common, everyday juvenile insults in the vein of "butthead". The nicknames are not supposed to be "odd" and distracting - yet that's how they come off in the Hong Kong Legends version. They are supposed to be childlike and familiar - which is how they come off to a Cantonese person, and how the Criterion subtitles come off to an English speaker - exactly the same INTENT, if not the literal translation.

Again, not surprising Woo approved the Criterion subtitles for his film.
Old 12-05-05, 06:30 PM
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The only solution here is to learn every language on Earth and turn off the subtitles on every movie. Let us know how that goes.
Old 12-05-05, 06:41 PM
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Originally Posted by Josh Z
The only solution here is to learn every language on Earth and turn off the subtitles on every movie. Let us know how that goes.
?

We're not advocating no subtitles - we are just trying to find discs with the best subtitles on them, and using this page to hopefully let others know what discs have good subs and which ones don't.

I love the subs on Criterion's version of The Killer, and that's why I think it's a far better disc than the HKL disc, which has better picture quality but a terrible subtitle translation.

Why is it okay to care about picture quality or extras on a disc, but not the subtitle translation? A better translation will be a better movie, picture quality or not.

In fact, I think subtitle translations are MORE important than picture quality(though I'd rather have both, of course). Picture quality only affects the PRESENTATION of a film. But a subtitle translation affects the very CONTENT of the film itself.

In a choice between content and presentation, I think content(better subs, in this case), is a more important determinant every time.
Old 12-05-05, 07:02 PM
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I know what you are saying Nate, and to an extent I agree, but in the case above, with the runt and shrip-head. What i'm saying is, that it might read a little funny but the idea that they have that friendly juvenile insult as you put them still comes through, I know that they are insults and that is how the need to get across. for instance take the word "Cabron" in spanish, you will here this in spanish movies (especially mexican) ones and the depending on the context is a curse word in a negative way or as a friendly way or even an adjetive. for instance. Cabron, te voy a matar! ('Bitch, i'm going to kill you') or, ?Oye, Cabron que pasa? (hey 'bitch/buddy' what's up?; in a friendly way) or even yet Ese juego estaba cabron (that game was the shit) All of these contents have many word options for a subtitle translation but non of if show the fire behind the word as if "friend or buddy or bitch" was to be used, but depending on the word selected it might lay across the spirit or soul of the original even if it might not be the best option or if it might sound akward. So in essence i'm not as selective as long as I get an good idea of what is behind what is being said. That's why i like to have my volume to be loud when watching movies cause the way things are said matter just as much as the words, even though i've noticed more and more that the local artsy theater, when it comes to foreign language films doesn't play the films as loud as the english ones, and this to me makes little sense.
Josh Z you are absolutely correct, that would be a dream come true but is not an achievable reality. Sometimes i get jealouse of those in certain countries that know three or four major languages, perfectly may I add. And here i am with only two. and as you can see, English not being my forte. In some parts of the US i might have 2 more than the rest and one more than the majority.

Last edited by BuddhaWake; 12-05-05 at 07:05 PM.
Old 12-05-05, 09:57 PM
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I too find it interesting that the topic of "subtitle translation" isn't the subject of more discussion among cinephiles. I suppose though the subject is somewhat inaccessible in that language-challenged individuals like me (and likely the vast majority) can't really analyze things first-hand and alternate study of the subject can be rather time consuming and impractical (access to differing translations (by having more than one release of a particular film) and maybe even dual viewing monitors to examine the differences). I actually considered starting this subject some time back but never got around to it, however, I can link one of the articles I'd considered using:

Linda Hoaglund - new translator for Criterion's Kurosawa titles

Actually, this discussion and the article above are quite timely in that I see from the DVDTalk DVD forum that Criterion has (finally) announced re-issues for "The Seven Samurai", "Yojimbo", and "Sanjuro". The existing DVD for "Throne of Blood" includes both the new Linda Hoaglund subs as well as the older subs by Donald Richie, along with a brief essay explaining their subtitling styles. So anyone wishing to examine the subject being discussed here can do so with that one DVD alone. I'm hoping Criterion continues this practice by including both sets of subs on the new "The Seven Samurai" disc. The weighty responsibility of translating a classic of cinema like "The Seven Samurai" isn't something I'd be eager to tackle. Trying to find the right "balance" (literal, Westernized, contemporary, etc.) in the translation would seem quite the undertaking.

So "yes", the topic of translation is vital and of interest, and it would be nice to see it given further attention (not necessarily in DVD reviews, but moreso in the realm of general film discussion).
Old 12-05-05, 10:11 PM
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CRITERION:

"No. But I enjoy the tranquility here."

HKL:

"I like it because it's quiet in here. I feel comfortable sitting here."
While the Criterion subs sound better, what if the HKL subs more closely reflect what is actually said in mandarin or cantonese? I don't think this is as simple as choosing what sounds better to you in the context of the film. Would you want, for example, subs in a litterary flowing style for characters who are uneducated bums?
Old 12-05-05, 10:32 PM
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Originally Posted by eXcentris
While the Criterion subs sound better, what if the HKL subs more closely reflect what is actually said in mandarin or cantonese? I don't think this is as simple as choosing what sounds better to you in the context of the film. Would you want, for example, subs in a litterary flowing style for characters who are uneducated bums?
I speak a little bit of Cantonese, and my co-writer's wife is from Hong Kong and thus is a native speaker, so I do have some guidance here.

But even so, I think there's plenty to go on in the three translations that I've personally seen out there on film.

Like I said above, the HKL version of some of these things are actually more "literal" than the Criterion, but the Criterion best captures the spirit - such as the "watch your ass" line versus the more literal "staying alive is important". Yes, "life is important" is what is LITERALLY being said, but it's not the most accurate subtitle to use there, because it sounds clunky and strange to an English ear, whereas the literal phrase is a colloquialism that doesn't sound strange at all in Cantonese, and means the same thing as "Watch your ass".

"Watch your ass" is better, because it gets across the flavor, tone and intent to an English audience, whereas the literal translation does not.

What I think subtitles are supposed to do, ideally, is not literally translate the language, as there's too much colloqualism and other things there to deal with. Just imagine what "I'm gonna fuck you up." or "What the fuck" would literally translate to in some other language - the actual meaning of those phrases would almost certainly be completely different if taken and heard/read literally.

What they should do is give the audience the same information, tone and intent as the original language line gives to the native speaker while watching the film without subtitles.

The HKL subs obviously don't do that - they don't support the hard-boiled, cynical film noir tone. They just give the viewer a clumsy approximation, often too literal, of what's going on, and it diminishes the film greatly.
Old 12-05-05, 10:32 PM
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Originally Posted by eXcentris
While the Criterion subs sound better, what if the HKL subs more closely reflect what is actually said in mandarin or cantonese? I don't think this is as simple as choosing what sounds better to you in the context of the film. Would you want, for example, subs in a litterary flowing style for characters who are uneducated bums?
Excellent point!! I feel exactly the same way...there are a lot of things that need to be taken into consideration.

With this said I have given up on quite a few Asian discs (I remember the Korean Memento Mori where it was simply impossible to "read" the subs...both in horrible English and poorly mastered). But there are times when poor subs are beter than no subs at all. In fact, this specific issue (subs) and PAL ports have been the main two reasons why I have not added a few titles that appear in R3 but are nowhere to be found in R2. The poor subtitles simply destroy any interest I might have in the film....simple as that!!

Good topic Nate!

Ciao,
Pro-B
Old 12-05-05, 11:16 PM
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Originally Posted by flixtime
Actually, this discussion and the article above are quite timely in that I see from the DVDTalk DVD forum that Criterion has (finally) announced re-issues for "The Seven Samurai", "Yojimbo", and "Sanjuro". The existing DVD for "Throne of Blood" includes both the new Linda Hoaglund subs as well as the older subs by Donald Richie, along with a brief essay explaining their subtitling styles. So anyone wishing to examine the subject being discussed here can do so with that one DVD alone. I'm hoping Criterion continues this practice by including both sets of subs on the new "The Seven Samurai" disc. The weighty responsibility of translating a classic of cinema like "The Seven Samurai" isn't something I'd be eager to tackle. Trying to find the right "balance" (literal, Westernized, contemporary, etc.) in the translation would seem quite the undertaking.

So "yes", the topic of translation is vital and of interest, and it would be nice to see it given further attention (not necessarily in DVD reviews, but moreso in the realm of general film discussion).
I am COMPLETELY with you here. In fact, the Kurosawa discs are among the biggest motivators for me to get interested in this subject and its lack of discussion among cinephiles.

I think the new translation of Ikiru is wretched, and it's led me to buy the BFI version instead, even though it's inferior in other respects.

Why Criterion has dropped the notion of putting both the original subtitle translation and the "new and improved" version on its discs is beyond me. It's obviously the best way to go in every respect - even just for film preservation purposes.

New dialogue throughout the entire film makes it a different film, clearly, and Criterion now just puts out releases that completely cast aside the translations of these films that have been there since their INITIAL RELEASE.

These are the translations that have been used for decades, the translations that are referenced in all the backlog of film criticism on these films up until this point.

Basically, the movies with these original translations are THE movies that everybody first fell in love with in the first place. And I think, even for mere film preservation purposes, it would be proper to include them as an option on any Kurosawa film, along with the "new and improved" translation.

That gives filmgoers the choice to select which one they like best, and also for people to be able to look at the film the same way that it was looked upon on its initial release, if they choose to do so.
Old 12-05-05, 11:20 PM
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Originally Posted by pro-bassoonist
Excellent point!! I feel exactly the same way...there are a lot of things that need to be taken into consideration.

With this said I have given up on quite a few Asian discs (I remember the Korean Memento Mori where it was simply impossible to "read" the subs...both in horrible English and poorly mastered). But there are times when poor subs are beter than no subs at all. In fact, this specific issue (subs) and PAL ports have been the main two reasons why I have not added a few titles that appear in R3 but are nowhere to be found in R2. The poor subtitles simply destroy any interest I might have in the film....simple as that!!

Good topic Nate!

Ciao,
Pro-B
Thanks, Pro-B. I think it's neglected, and I knew that the knowledgable foreign film fans here would have very interesting perspectives on it.

When a film like Ikiru is released in a new version that ONLY has the "new and improved" translation available, you'd think that'd be more of a topic to people reviewing the new release. Afterall, a whole new translation and set of dialogue for the film surely changes the experience of a film more than increased picture quality.

I don't eschew all bad subtitles, though - many of my Hong Kong discs only come with terrible subtitles - so I just watch them and go with it.

I mostly get steamed when there are two or more different translations available, and one of them is clearly inferior to the others - yet there was no warning in place like there is on a disc that has bad picture quality. I realize that picture quality is a much easier thing to measure and report on, but a serious comparison of subtitles - even if it's just a few lines here and there pulled out to compare, shouldn't be THAT difficult.
Old 12-05-05, 11:28 PM
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Originally Posted by flixtime
Actually, this discussion and the article above are quite timely in that I see from the DVDTalk DVD forum that Criterion has (finally) announced re-issues for "The Seven Samurai", "Yojimbo", and "Sanjuro". The existing DVD for "Throne of Blood" includes both the new Linda Hoaglund subs as well as the older subs by Donald Richie, along with a brief essay explaining their subtitling styles. So anyone wishing to examine the subject being discussed here can do so with that one DVD alone.
What's interesting is just how much I dislike Hoaglund's translation for Throne of Blood. She uses a lot of modern slang that doesn't suit the movie at all. I default to the Richie subtitles every time.

Nate, I was of course just kidding above. Of course a good subtitle translation is important. I watch a good share of Asian DVDs and it really kills me to run across a good movie with terrible subtitles (see: A Better Tomorrow II, featuring such immortal lines as, "Nobody dare not give me face").
Old 12-05-05, 11:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Josh Z
What's interesting is just how much I dislike Hoaglund's translation for Throne of Blood. She uses a lot of modern slang that doesn't suit the movie at all. I default to the Richie subtitles every time.

Nate, I was of course just kidding above. Of course a good subtitle translation is important. I watch a good share of Asian DVDs and it really kills me to run across a good movie with terrible subtitles (see: A Better Tomorrow II, featuring such immortal lines as, "Nobody dare not give me face").
Gotcha, Josh.

And I'm totally with you on Hoagland - her translations are what have gotten me into thinking about all this so much in the first place.

Throne of Blood is interesting, because it lets us compare, side by side, and the difference is clear. Most people that actually look at them side by side seem to prefer the original translation, which is Richie's.

But on all the new Criterion disc, they don't give us that option - and Hoagland translated most of them, which just sucks. Ikiru was thoroughly bushwacked by her, in my opinion, and Criterion didn't offer us a choice to pick the older ones.

It's so bad, that whenever I watch Ikiru or show friends, I put on my old VHS TAPE, which looks absolutely horrible on my big screen TV. But the translation is so much better and more moving - and it preserves double meanings and nuances which Hoagland coarsely leaves out of her translation.

I have now purchased the BFI disc of Ikiru, so the problem is a little better, but it's just a shame, as the Criterion versions are likely to become the "definitive" versions of these films for future criticism - and I feel Criterion's version of Ikiru is a extremely compromised version of that wonderful film.

Why did Criterion stop with giving us a choice after Throne of Blood, I wonder? Did they realize people tended to prefer the original? Is Hoagland some ego-maniac that said "mine and mine only!", or what? I just don't get it. Every aspect of such a decision that I can think of says its preferable to have the choice of the originals and the "new and improved" version over simply scrapping the originals and only offering us a translation we may not like, and may be worse for the film.
Old 12-06-05, 05:44 AM
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This is more of a comment/question. Do companies in other countries put english subtitles for a strictly bussiness purpose? I know hong kong was a colony of England so that explains some things I assume. I know the french put out most stuff without subs because of their protectionist ideas about their language, some mexican films have them but that could be explained also by the close proximity of the US as well as the many mexicans that speak english only or are bilingual living in the US. But then you see a place like thailand were it seems more arbitrary as to what dvds will have english subs. It seems as is that the films that have the possibility of having international sucess (ong bak, shutter, born to fight) etc. do not contain english subs yet some others that are out there and might never see a day of light outside the country do have english subs. Is this a determination done to possibly get more money out of selling the rights to a foreign distributor for release in another country? Wouldn't it be better to capitalize as much as possible from your releases that way your country's economy is helped and the national film industry is helped as well. Why would thailand let HK get the money for their dvd releases because they have english subs? Korea almost always put english subs on their releases and practically no one gets korean films from other places unless is a title they feel iffy about or really want english subs on the extras. A place like Brazil a lot of times put both english, spanish and sometimes french which makes sense since those are the languages spoken in its neighboring countries, not only that it increases sales to the international community as well I would imagine. Yet, they do not put them on tv series even if they could get some international attention such as the cidade dos homens, carandiru (tv series), anos rebelde, os normais and maybe one or two more. I guess I'm saying that it seems so random sometimes. What kind of work goes into subtitles? Is it a staff member? companies that do it? some ramdom intern or what? sorry if this makes no sense, i'm at work "being productive" so it could be a little rushed.
Old 12-06-05, 09:43 AM
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Originally Posted by BuddhaWake
This is more of a comment/question. Do companies in other countries put english subtitles for a strictly bussiness purpose?
I know the french put out most stuff without subs because of their protectionist ideas about their language,
You're wrong they're protectionists with the cinema industry, for the language
they're more protectionist in Quebec than in France.
Is this a determination done to possibly get more money out of selling the rights to a foreign distributor for release in another country?
Here's the real point, and another one, what do you think regions are made for ? Normally you shouldn't watch a R3 DVD which is for east, south-east Asia and Hong Kong area, thats why studios improve protections with the RCE.
We'll see in the future what they'll do with HDCP.

I see the difference between Japan and the rest of Asia, because Japan don't
sell DVD with english subs, the fansubbers are very active and there are lot of rumours about the rights of a movie sold to editor X or Y.
I think HKL don't target the same people than Criterion and if the subs are too
close to original dialogs it won't bother fans who have some knowledge of the culture and the language, they can do the link with the local expressions.
Quality of subs is relative to me because I'm not fluent in english, but I think
between a Mei Ah edition, a normal Hong Kong one, a HKL or a Criterion it
depends on what you're looking for.
Old 12-06-05, 10:13 AM
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that's fine but how about the Region 0/All DVDs out there? or the ones that say a region but that are not how do you account for these? Are they not targeted to a broader audience? How is this the real point? region codes are the real point? I thought making money was the real point. does selling rights make more money than selling the dvds internationally? that's the gist of my question. maybe that why subs are included. or maybe they just don't care and don't put them. Region Codes where created to protect certain rights and markets when it came to the product. From wikipedia "In theory, this allows the motion picture studios to control the various aspects of a release (including content, date and price) on a region-by-region basis." Which seems to be catered to multinationals with millions of $ to gain or loose in major markets or market. And there are Japanese dvds that do have english subs so how do you explain that since you said that they don't? When what I said was that most of French dvds don't which means that others do and I assumed it was based on the movement to preserve the language. So you are telling me that only Japan can watch Japanese dvds since they are NTSC even though they are Region 2 and the rest of Asia is region 3 and Europe is PAL even though is the same region? so its neighbors couldn't watch the films either or maybe some of the large Japanese communities in countries such as Brazil and Peru and even here in the US? your reason of "what do you think regions are made for?" Is not a reason at all as to why they put subtitles in another language or don't, in films released in any particular country. So i'm not allowed to watch a Spanish or Italian or Chinese movie because the dvd wasn't made for my market so I have to wait till someone here decides that i should be able to see it? I think your point is a non point if they are indeed INCLUDING subs in another language or in some instances multiple languages.

Last edited by BuddhaWake; 12-06-05 at 10:17 AM.
Old 12-06-05, 11:21 PM
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Originally Posted by BuddhaWake
that's fine but how about the Region 0/All DVDs out there?
Which ones, the ones with or without English subtitles? Sometimes lack of subtitles can be a better deterrent than region codes. For example, the Taiwan R0 of Ong Bak was released long before US theatrical, yet it hasn't been imported that much due to lack of English subtitles.

As for other R0, well, there are some titles that simply aren't going to get distributed in other countries, and there are some companies that don't care how it does in other countries. If someone else wants to distribute it in their country, fine. Meanwhile, they'll make their copy workable in any DVD player.

or the ones that say a region but that are not how do you account for these?
Possibly bad mastering. Or, for a more underhanded explaination, the companies want to be able to claim releasing a region encoded DVD, making the film more attractive overseas, while not actually doing so. This may be to deter pirates, who often expoit the desire for R0 DVDs, or possibly just to maximise profits. In any case, for the end consumer, a DVD just saying it's another region is enough of a deterrent. Not everyone, in fact very few, check online to see if it actually is.

region codes are the real point? I thought making money was the real point. does selling rights make more money than selling the dvds internationally?
Yes.

So i'm not allowed to watch a Spanish or Italian or Chinese movie because the dvd wasn't made for my market so I have to wait till someone here decides that i should be able to see it? I think your point is a non point if they are indeed INCLUDING subs in another language or in some instances multiple languages.
It's a bit ethnocentric to assume that a DVD was intended for your country just because it has subtitles in your language. R1 DVDs often have Spanish and French subtitles on them, yet they're not intended to be sold in France or Spain. They're included because there's enough of a Spanish and French speaking/reading population in R1 to make it worthwhile, often worthwhile enough to even produce French (Quebec) and Spanish dubs.

Region codes are one way of enforcing artifical barriers created by distribution deals. Obviously someone in France or Spain could import the US DVD and use the subtitles, but region coding deters that behaviour. subtitles can be another way. The reason French DVDs don't include English subtitles is because they are in the same region as another English speaking country, UK, but in a different market. Some method other than region codes must be used in that case.

The reasons why a foreign DVD may contain English subtitles are:

1) They exist - Film companies may comission and English subtitle track for film festivals, awards considerations, or in the case of Hong Kong in its past, by law. The film producers may put the subtitles on in a case of "well, as long as we have them," since removable English subtitles isn't actually going to hurt sales of the DVDs.

2) Enough of a local market for them - Again, this may explain Hong Kong, which has a fair number of English speakers, and possibly India as well. Again, these aren't meant for you, being in a different country/market, you just happen to be a side-effect.

3) International sale/import - Either by individuals, or by companies. Tai-Seng has made a habit of importing the Hong Kong DVD of a film, slapping their sticker on it, and selling it to US retailers. This might be desirable for smaller, older films, although it's not likely many subtitles are created solely for this; they may just end up being included because of this.


Reasons why a DVD may [b]not[/i] include subtitles are:

1) They don't exist - and the producers don't see the point in creating them for their local DVD.

2) They do exist, but producers still don't see the point in putting them on the DVD - DVD subtitles do cost some money to create and master on a disc, even with an existing script. I don't think this is too common a reason though.

3) Selling, or potential selling, of the film overseas. - Personal importing is really small-time sales. Overseas distribution of a film is far more profitable. One only has to look as far as HERO with Jet Li to see a film that made millions at the US box office despite an R0 English subtitled DVD of the film existing for nearly 2 years before its US premiere. Still, import DVDs worry local distributors. Miramax put the stomp on US retailers selling the China DVD. Sony did the same with R3 DVDs of House of Flying Daggers and Kung Fu Hustle. Region encoding discs is one way to make imports less prevalent. Sometimes though the distributors can even haggle exclusivity to a certain language. Hong Kong and Taiwan distributors didn't put English subtitles on Ong Bak because they couldn't get the rights to include one. Even if a film isn't already sold to a country, the producers might keep certain subtitles off their local DVD to make it more appealing to outside distributors.

There are exceptions to every rule, and none of this is absolute. But yes, to answer your original question, companies put subtitles on for business reasons.

One thing to think of is how few US DVDs contain subtitles other than English, French, or Spanish. These DVDs are often released in other countries with exactly the same features, extras, even menu layout, but with additional subtitles. Why weren't these subtitles on the R1 release? Because that might hurt the sales of the overseas DVDs. One exception to this is often Sony, although it seems more because they can't be bothered to make a master for one version of the DVD; even the region codes are the same on the discs.
Old 12-07-05, 05:30 AM
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natesfortune,

you bring up an extremely interesting point. Studying languages and being confronted with issues of translation for various purposes (and the purpose has a lot of weight in deciding how to translate) I've always thought demanding subtitles to be as literal as possible reduced the original dialogue to a supermarket shopping list.

All this has been alluded to already in this thread, but it just feels good to see this being discussed. The problem I see wrt including a verdict on subs in reviews is the reviewers authority to make such a verdict. They'd have to have some grasp on the language of origin so be able to gauge how the dialogue sounded/was intended in the original. It's entirely possible for subtitled dialogue to fit what is happening on screen but not be in keeping with the spirit of the original dialogue. In short, one would have to able to judge if the subtitle strikes a good medium between a literal translation and an adaptation into the target language. Be that as it may, a review can definitely mention what kind of subs they are and if they flow with the dialogue or grate like a modern day hoodlum in an Edo backstreet.

Two things I wanted to mention that are particular to subtitle translations in general and western subtitles of asian films in particular. First is time and space allotted to a subtitle. You'd maybe have to try this to see what a terrible pain in the ass it is, let's just say that you won't be able to use any of your favourite translations in the end. It is a huge compromise, and it should be considered that making it short and simple is rarely in keeping with the more flowery poetry of a period piece. Making subtitles verbose is not always an option as they aren't supposed to distract from the film. I forget the exact rate, but there is such a thing as an ideal ratio of onscreen characters to subtitle screen time. Enough to register with the viewer but not too long to interfere with the flow. If you subtitle a film print for cinema exhibition you will get and exact number of characters you can use for a line of dialogue. I know we're talking DVD here but these practical considerations are very real. We did one such test in a practical translation seminar in Chinese at the Uni and everyone was struggling like hell to come up with something both literal and short. I suspect the omission in the Criterion translation of the 'sitting here' part (assuming that's there in the dialogue) is such a concession to spatial and temporal issues of flow.

Which leads me to point two. The difficulty in the above test was exacerbated by the fact that translating literally from a language as far removed from our native German as Chinese, being all too literal turned out to be both way too wordy AND plain bad German. This is what happened in the HKL subtitles above. They retain none of the feel of the original language. They may be literal but make the dialogue sound stilted where the original flows. Is that really preferrable? Being literal in a langauge that has a completely different convention of expression is often just bad translation. The same sentiment or content is often conveyed in an entirely different fashion. A piece of dialogue, actively spoken by a character, should retain the same authenticity in the target language present in the source. Authenticity here encapsulating aspects of time period, cultural background, age and character as well as the circumstances of the scene (just look at all the slang and swears above to see how that doesn't go with literal translation). Translating literature has different priorities, and translating for an academic context has again different priorites (like transparency wrt your handling of the source difficulties).

Now add to all the above the spatial limitations of practical subtitling mentioned earlier. Naturally decision are made on a case by case basis, but even then there's just different approaches. And your approach has to be somewhat uniform to give the dialogue a consistent feel.

Ultimately, given the constraints of the format and its main application in conveying dialogue, being literal to the point of retaining a Chinese or Japanese structure of expression is imparting the experience with something exotic and alien that was never meant to be there. Even if we've gotten used to it and maybe regard it as part of the special feel of those films. Nor should we transpose the whole situation into a jargon too specifically western. But the translating will inevitably involve some transposing and adaptation. Words are tools used to effect, and sometimes the loss of the effect weighs heavier than the loss of the word.
Old 12-07-05, 05:31 AM
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Jay thanks for your comments/answers/etc. That's what I thought from the very beggining. The one thing is that there are (few in numbers) american dvds that containe subtitles in more than these three languages so just like you said, there are always exeptions. With the example of Hero that you gave while valid I think it misses the point that the mainstream movie goers would not have know about the film if it wasn't for miramax putting Quentin's name on it and putting trailers that did not show that it was subtitled. I remember when I went to see it although I already had the dvd, that the theater had a sign that the film was subtitled and even then some people left once the film started and they saw it wasn't in English. So I don't think is ethnocentric of me. Hey if it was ethnocentric I would want spanish subtitles on everything (along with english since I speak it as well)since i'm more confortable in that language. Also lets think about all the people that bought house of flying daggers and kung fu hustle at walmart, target, amazon.com etc? how many would have really know that the dvds where easily available as imports? maybe i'm too snobish but I don't give most mainstream movie goers that much credit.

Just so it doesn't seem like this is going off topic, what I'm ultimately trying to find out as what the real reason/motivations to put subtitles on DVDs? And thus being abble to acertain as to what sort of priority there are to putting these on and thus understanding why the quality might suck or not. For instance, if Hong Kong had to put them by law, maybe that would explain why they might (in the past) not have been as great as they could have been if they were only doing it cause they had to compared to a distributor hoping to sell the rights at film festivals etc.
Old 12-07-05, 09:22 AM
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Originally Posted by Liersi
natesfortune,

you bring up an extremely interesting point. Studying languages and being confronted with issues of translation for various purposes (and the purpose has a lot of weight in deciding how to translate) I've always thought demanding subtitles to be as literal as possible reduced the original dialogue to a supermarket shopping list.

All this has been alluded to already in this thread, but it just feels good to see this being discussed. The problem I see wrt including a verdict on subs in reviews is the reviewers authority to make such a verdict. They'd have to have some grasp on the language of origin so be able to gauge how the dialogue sounded/was intended in the original. It's entirely possible for subtitled dialogue to fit what is happening on screen but not be in keeping with the spirit of the original dialogue. In short, one would have to able to judge if the subtitle strikes a good medium between a literal translation and an adaptation into the target language. Be that as it may, a review can definitely mention what kind of subs they are and if they flow with the dialogue or grate like a modern day hoodlum in an Edo backstreet.

Two things I wanted to mention that are particular to subtitle translations in general and western subtitles of asian films in particular. First is time and space allotted to a subtitle. You'd maybe have to try this to see what a terrible pain in the ass it is, let's just say that you won't be able to use any of your favourite translations in the end. It is a huge compromise, and it should be considered that making it short and simple is rarely in keeping with the more flowery poetry of a period piece. Making subtitles verbose is not always an option as they aren't supposed to distract from the film. I forget the exact rate, but there is such a thing as an ideal ratio of onscreen characters to subtitle screen time. Enough to register with the viewer but not too long to interfere with the flow. If you subtitle a film print for cinema exhibition you will get and exact number of characters you can use for a line of dialogue. I know we're talking DVD here but these practical considerations are very real. We did one such test in a practical translation seminar in Chinese at the Uni and everyone was struggling like hell to come up with something both literal and short. I suspect the omission in the Criterion translation of the 'sitting here' part (assuming that's there in the dialogue) is such a concession to spatial and temporal issues of flow.

Which leads me to point two. The difficulty in the above test was exacerbated by the fact that translating literally from a language as far removed from our native German as Chinese, being all too literal turned out to be both way too wordy AND plain bad German. This is what happened in the HKL subtitles above. They retain none of the feel of the original language. They may be literal but make the dialogue sound stilted where the original flows. Is that really preferrable? Being literal in a langauge that has a completely different convention of expression is often just bad translation. The same sentiment or content is often conveyed in an entirely different fashion. A piece of dialogue, actively spoken by a character, should retain the same authenticity in the target language present in the source. Authenticity here encapsulating aspects of time period, cultural background, age and character as well as the circumstances of the scene (just look at all the slang and swears above to see how that doesn't go with literal translation). Translating literature has different priorities, and translating for an academic context has again different priorites (like transparency wrt your handling of the source difficulties).

Now add to all the above the spatial limitations of practical subtitling mentioned earlier. Naturally decision are made on a case by case basis, but even then there's just different approaches. And your approach has to be somewhat uniform to give the dialogue a consistent feel.

Ultimately, given the constraints of the format and its main application in conveying dialogue, being literal to the point of retaining a Chinese or Japanese structure of expression is imparting the experience with something exotic and alien that was never meant to be there. Even if we've gotten used to it and maybe regard it as part of the special feel of those films. Nor should we transpose the whole situation into a jargon too specifically western. But the translating will inevitably involve some transposing and adaptation. Words are tools used to effect, and sometimes the loss of the effect weighs heavier than the loss of the word.


Excellent post.

And you make even more clear why subtitle translations should not be ignored when reporting or reviewing a DVD - they have more affect on the film you're watching than any other consideration.

I realize it is difficult for reviewers to do this - but all that needs to be done really is to pick out a few lines and write down the subtitles for us, so we can see how a new release subtitels a particular line. That way we can compare it to any other version.

I also think it's possible to judge them without knowing much of the language - if you make a certain leap of faith. Meaning, that with companies like Criterion or HKL, or some major American company, I think one must make the leap of faith that the subtitler at any of these places knows what they're doing and is being as faithful to the language as they can for the job.

I would just assume that each set of subtitles from a major Western release is jiving with the original language, and the differences are simply differences in approach and interpretation. That way, you CAN compare subtitles even if you don't know the target language - if you assume they are reporting the language accurately - and then it is a determination of "which of these translations makes the film better and which damages it"?

Now, if subtitles were a more cared-about issue, then people who DID speak the target language would certainly let it be known if a certain translation was not very accurate to the original language. That way you could make comparisons off a trusting assumption, knowing that if a translation is just bad, somebody will point it out.

But to get there, the idea that subtitles are important and judging different translations against each other should be a part of any disc review must become as commonplace as "picture quality".
Old 12-07-05, 11:13 AM
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Originally Posted by BuddhaWake
that's fine but how about the Region 0/All DVDs out there? or the ones that say a region but that are not how do you account for these? Are they not targeted to a broader audience? How is this the real point? region codes are the real point? I thought making money was the real point.
R0 doesn't exist officially and technically. The mistakes with an announced region which is not the right one is a simple way to sell more DVDs than a negligence to me. Yes, they are targeted for a broader audience but the distributors/editors only paid the rights for one region and not for all, that's the trick. Yes, region codes were used to create artificials barriers to make more money, we are lucky that manufacturers of DVD players (mostly Korean in the beginning) give us the opportunity to change the code, I can configure my old Daewoo for all or one region, like we were lucky when Philips sold its music branch and began to sell the first CD burners.

does selling rights make more money than selling the dvds internationally? that's the gist of my question.
Yes, depending on the potential sells in the targeted country, a good example is japanime, 15 years ago it was easy to find bootlegs in conventions and expos, it was very confidential, it is not now. And people are waiting while editors are fighting to get the rights.
maybe that why subs are included. or maybe they just don't care and don't put them.
They don't put them for free or fun, they will get more money with.
And there are Japanese dvds that do have english subs so how do you explain that since you said that they don't? When what I said was that most of French dvds don't which means that others do and I assumed it was based on the movement to preserve the language.
Everytime a japanese movie is released on DVD, I have more chances to find english subs on the korean or HK edition than on the japanese one, that's why I wait for international releases now, even if some editors like Ponycanyon make the efforts. About french audience, they mostly don't like subs and compared to other european countries, they're not easy with speaking foreign languages.
So you are telling me that only Japan can watch Japanese dvds since they are NTSC even though they are Region 2 and the rest of Asia is region 3 and Europe is PAL even though is the same region? so its neighbors couldn't watch the films either or maybe some of the large Japanese communities in countries such as Brazil and Peru and even here in the US? your reason of "what do you think regions are made for?" Is not a reason at all as to why they put subtitles in another language or don't, in films released in any particular country.
I meant Japan is the only country in the region to respect the rightholders, maybe because it's easier to get a company to court for copyrights infrigements to get back your money. Regions where not made for cultural purpose and the Holywood studios don't care about the right to access other cultures. Region codes, RCE, SACD, HDCP, software license, all of this is created to lock regional markets.
So i'm not allowed to watch a Spanish or Italian or Chinese movie because the dvd wasn't made for my market so I have to wait till someone here decides that i should be able to see it? I think your point is a non point if they are indeed INCLUDING subs in another language or in some instances multiple languages.
Yes , it's the way that cinema/video industry imagined for you and no, it's not my point, it's just a statement.
Old 12-07-05, 11:16 AM
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They subtitle them because they want to make more money. It's that simple. If they think they can sell their film internationally, they will subtitle it.
Old 12-07-05, 08:04 PM
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But there's no way I could get a legal copy of Criterion's The Killer! I ain't gonna spend USD 100++ just to have better translation! I'd rather bring a Chinese speaker to translate it fer me!

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