I have posted before about the ways in which the titles of Korean movies are rendered in English: either the Korean name is retained (Silmido), or the English title is an exact or approximate translation of the Korean (Parasite), or the English title is more or less completely different (The host), or the Korean title is itself a transliteration of English (Oldboy).
I recently discovered the website koreanfilm.org, which I first assumed was an official site, but which turned out to be the private site of Darcy Paquet, now best known for his collaboration with director Bong Joon-Ho on the English subtitles for Parasite, assisted by a team of volunteer reviewers. The site gives the title of each movie in Korean and English, but otherwise refers to each by its English title. With some knowledge of Korean, the strategies I listed in the first paragraph can be seen. Sometimes the reviewer discusses the Korean title when it sheds some light on the meaning of the movie.
The champion in the ‘more different’ category is surely the 2004 movie 어디선가 누군가에 무슨일이 생기면 틀림없이 나타난다 홍반장 (eo-di-seon-ga nu-gun-ga-e mu-seun-il-i saeng-ki-myeon teul-rim-eob-shi na-ta-nan-da hong ban-jang), which is rendered in English as Mr Handy, or Mr Hong, or Mr Handy, Mr Hong, but which translates literally as If something happens to somebody somewhere, he always shows up, Chief Hong. This was the basis for the 2021 tv series Hometown Cha-cha-cha, which I mentioned here (in the PS at the end). ban-jang by itself usually translates as class monitor or class president at a school. Calling him Chief Hong makes it sound like he is the chief of police. Three major translation tools don’t even bother with the last word(s), Google giving If something happens to someone somewhere, it will definitely show up, Bing If something happens to someone anywhere, it will surely appear and Papago If something happens to someone, he will definitely appear.
A Korean friend posted on Facebook and its autotranslate gave:
I burned the kids and drove the car to the beach nearby.
Fear not. The Korean original was:
나는 아이들을 태우고 가까운 바닷가로 차를 몰았다.
Google Translate helpfully gave:
I took the kids and drove to a nearby beach.
태우다 (which word I didn’t previously know) means pick up, carry, take and set on fire, burn. In the context of food, both are possible, but in the context of children, surely not (99.9999% of the time, at least).
Before I went to Korea for the first time, I bought, among other things, the then-current edition of the Lonely Planet guide to Korea. In the Culture section, it says:
PROVERBS Traditional saying provide an uncensored insight into a nation’s psyche. … An unblemished character is a Korean’s most treasured possession. To avoid any suspicion of being a thief, ‘Do not tie your shoelaces in a melon patch or touch your hat under a pear tree.’
Yesterday evening I was browsing through TV Tropes and found its page for Translation: “Yes”, which it explains:
While we commonly expect short phrases in one language to be equally short in another, sometimes short phrases are translated into surprisingly long ones: however, many shows parody this completely by having a single word become a long phrase in English, or a ridiculously long phrase to a single English word, often the word ‘Yes’.
I noticed this many years ago when proofreading transcripts of court proceedings against the audio recording. There would be exchanges like:
Barrister (in English): Did you see the accused do something on the night in question? Interpreter (in other language): [Approximately that long sentence.] Witness (in other language): [Very long sentence.] Interpreter (in English): Yes.
The judge and barristers never seemed to notice or question this.
An esteemed Korean friend posted on Facebook a photo of an early spring scene with a comment which Facebook automatically translated into English for me, which I’ll get back to in a moment. His original is:
따스한 햇볕 잠자던 생명의 겨드랑이를 툭 치니 우후죽순처럼 일어나 춤을 춘다.
I can pick words out of that, but the whole sentence is way beyond me. If you know more Korean than I do, have a go.
One movie which is mentioned repeatedly on internet sites and videos about Korean movies is My sassy girl (2001) (trailer, Wikipedia). I remember a student mentioning it in 2006-2008 and have read about it, but never seen it. Yesterday I watched the trailer and found a Youtube channel which includes extended clips (possibly the whole movie in extended clips, which is of dubious legality, but I suspect that the producers put up with it as it’s ultimately publicity for them). As I was watching, my wife asked me what I was watching, so I gave the title in English and she said she didn’t know it. I said “It was super-famous at the time”.
This morning she said something else about it, calling it My sexy girl, which is a reasonable mishearing. Koreans use 섹시, but as far as I know, it’s used more to mean cute rather than sexy. I said sassy again very carefully, and she said she didn’t know the word, or the movie. Then she said “What’s the Korean title?”. I didn’t know, so I had to check. It’s 엽기적인 그녀, which translates literally as Bizarre girl. Only then did she recognise the movie and say that she’d seen it.
To me, bizarre is one step (or even two steps) beyond sassy. The latter is probably a good thing, if that’s your taste in girls, but the former is probably a bad thing. From what I’ve seen of the movie, she is closer to bizarre than sassy. In fact, for most of the time, she seems in need of professional help.
Ordinarily, I would have been singing at church on Good Friday, but the service I would have been singing at was presented online by the ministers and readers only, with music pre-recorded by the main choir interpolated. Instead, I listened to a performance of the St Matthew Passion of J S Bach, which someone had recently mentioned and which I can’t remember ever having listened to in its entirety.
Today, following a theme, I tracked down a performance of the little-known Brockes Passion by Handel. The text, by Barthold Heinrich Brockes, draws on all four gospels and other sources, and was written during the 30 Years’ War, so there’s rather more blood and guts than in Bach’s versions. (Bach knew the text and Handel’s setting of it.)
Unfortunately, I found a text entirely in German (which I won’t identify), which I got Google to auto-translate for me. The first problem was that the German text is badly typeset. The second was that it’s full of 18th century formal religious and/or poetic words, which obviously Google Translate doesn’t have a large dataset for. For either or both reasons, the English translation was at best questionable and at worst outright hilarious. Sometimes there was an obvious reason for it, even with my low level of German (I can spot obvious cognates, and have picked up a few other words along the way, and Google sometimes does better with single words than with a poetic sentence.
(I don’t want to sound like I’m singling Google Translate out here. One of the few things I know about auto-translation is that it’s very very hard. I’m more surprised that it gets so much right.)
(Strong language warning for one word after the break.)
Some years ago, before the internet, there circulated by various means an “English-as-she-is-spoke” synopsis of the opera Carmen, purporting to have come from an opera house in Italy. One version now on the internet runs:
Act 1. Carmen is a cigar-makeress from a tabago factory who loves with Don Jose of the mounting guard. Carmen takes a flower from her corsets and lances it to Don Jose (Duet: ‘Talk me of my mother’). There is a noise inside the tabago factory and the revolting cigar-makeresses burst into the stage. Carmen is arrested and Don Jose is ordered to mounting guard her but Carmen subduces him and he lets her escape.
Act 2. The Tavern. Carmen, Frasquito, Mercedes, Zuniga, Morales. Carmen’s aria (‘The sistrums are tinkling’). Enter Escamillio, a balls-fighter. Enter two smuglers (Duet: ‘We have in mind a business’) but Carmen refuses to penetrate because Don Jose has liberated her from prison. He just now arrives (Aria: ‘Stop, here who comes!’) but hear are the bugles singing his retreat. Don Jose will leave and draws his sword. Called by Carmen shrieks the two smuglers interfere with her but Don Jose is bound to dessert, he will follow into them (final chorus: ‘Opening sky wandering life’).
Act 3. A roky landscape, the smuglers shelter. Carmen sees her death in cards and Don Jose makes a date with Carmen for the next balls fight.
Act 4. A place in Seville. Procession of balls-fighters, the roaring of the balls is heard in the arena. Escamillio enters (Aria and chorus: ‘Toreador, toreador, all hail the balls of a Toreador’). Enter Don Jose (Aria: ‘I do not threaten, I besooch you’) but Carmen repels him wants to join with Escamillio now chaired by the crowd. Don Jose stabbs her (Aria: ‘Oh rupture, rupture, you may arrest me, I did kill her’) he sings ‘Oh my beautiful Carmen, my subductive Carmen.’
A few days ago, my wife mentioned the #MeToo movement. Not surprisingly, stories are emerging in the Korean entertainment industry. I asked her whether Korean women and news media use MeToo or 미투 (mi-tu, that is, transliterating the English into hangeul) or 나도 (na-do, that is, translating the English into Korean). Because her linguistic meta-language in English is limited and mine in Korean is non-existent, I don’t think she fully understood my question and I know I didn’t fully understand her answer.
She found an instance of 미투 캠페인 (mi-too kaem-pe-in) and asked me whether it was a campaign or a movement (which I’ll get back to in a moment). Otherwise, I have found online references to 미투 and 나도, and to 캠페인 and 운동 (un-dong). English Wikipedia’s page lists 나도당했다 (na-do dang-haet-da) and Korean Wikipedia’s page is titled 미투 운동. 운동 is usually translated ‘exercise’, but can also mean movement, motion, campaign, locomotion, effort, manoeuvre/maneuver (Google Translate). 당했다 is the past tense of suffer, so the Korean might be translated ‘I too suffered’. (Different dictionaries and translators give wildly different translations, which I won’t list. Suffer seems to be the best one. It hasn’t been in any of my Korean textbooks yet.) Currently, 미투 운동 gets about 3 millions results and 나도당했다 about 4 million.
So is it a campaign or a movement? Certainly in English, it is called a movement. To me, a campaign is more organised. Dictionary.com defines a movement as ‘a series of actions or activities intended or tending toward a particular end’ and a campaign as ‘a systematic course of aggressive activities for some specific purpose’.
Automated translations of Facebook posts are meant to help, but one I’ve just read was inaccurate or incoherent or both. Among other things, it translated 아들아! (a-deul-a), a standard vocative which might be translated as ‘hey, son!’) as ‘You son of a bitch!’. There are multiple references to “father” and “son”, but it from the English translation it is impossible to tell whether the writer is talking about his father and son, himself and his father (referring to himself as “son”), himself and his son (referring to himself as “father”) or someone else’s father and son etc. There was just enough coherence to know that he was not talking about fathers and sons in general, or about God the Father and God the Son, which would otherwise be two more possibilities.
(For the record, “You son of a bitch!” in Korean is 너 개자식! (neo gae-ja-sik). I am not only relying on a translator for that; I did ask a native speaker (not by saying it to them directly!). Don’t rely on translation tools for insults.)