Actor Michelle Yeoh’s sci-fi drama “Everything Everywhere All at Once” has come under criticism in Taiwan for its subtitle translations.
Since its Taiwan premiere on April 22, the action-packed film has won audiences over with its mind-bending plot.
Netizens were upset with some of the film’s subtitle translations, however, with many pointing out that the translator’s own interpretation got in the way of understanding the film.
Some of the translator’s controversial decisions included changing “just be a rock” in English to “You are now Wang An Shi (你現在是王安石)” in Mandarin, or “unlovable bitches” in English to the translation “Wu Zetian (武媚娘愛缺)” in Mandarin, referring to the ancient Chinese empress who is regarded as a symbol of women’s power.
In another example that the translator himself addressed in his defense later, the original line “Because it’s all just a pointless, swirling bucket of bullshit” was translated to “All of these are shit versions of ‘Jujutsu Kaisen’” in Mandarin. “Jujutsu Kaisen” refers to a Japanese manga series based on a high school boy on a mission to protect and serve those around him from evil.
Netizens complained that the translations were distracting and too reliant on the translator’s own opinions.
“I am happy to go to the cinema and watch [the film] again, but I hope the publisher can fix the ‘over-translation’ situation,” shared netizen Soso Tseng on Facebook. “I am clueless how the translator felt good about himself after translating with such an arrogant attitude.”
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Tseng added that many of his friends have refused to watch the film solely due to the subtitle translations.
The movie tells the story of struggling laundromat owner Evelyn Wang, who journeys through the multiverse to take on a “great evil.” Wang is transported through various dimensions, in which she takes on a different Evelyns in each. With each flung across the universe, she inhabits a chef, celebrity and kung fu master version of herself. As her “many Evelyns,” she can access each persona’s memories, skills and emotions.
The film’s translator Andy (@ndy, 旁白鴿) responded with a 1000-character long essay on Facebook titled “the subtitle sucks, you suck, and your family sucks!” He began by clarifying he was not a professional translator and had not translated subtitles for nearly 10 years. Andy also added that the movie used very sophisticated English words, making the Chinese translations unclear.
He emphasized that it was “very, very, very” hard to translate emotions for a Chinese audience, citing that while he might have “over translated” some parts, he still stood by some of his decisions.
Netizens were still not impressed, with one user commenting, “Finished the movie. Sorry to the translator, all I can say is that those that are criticizing are mostly correct.” Others also commented that they “really [hated] over translating.”
Andy closed his essay by stating that in the end he was responsible to the company, and not the harsh words and criticism of netizens.
Translations for foreign films consistently remain a topic of heated discussion. South Korea’s wildly popular Netflix drama “Squid Game” also led many fluent Korean speakers to take issue with the English subtitles.
Comedian and podcast host Youngmi Mayer made a TikTok video highlighting some of what she saw as discrepancies between the Korean and English translations. The video garnered over 10 million views and nearly 3 million likes.