How Asians secretly fix Hollywood movies
By Nury Vittachi
DID YOU SEE THAT brilliant Julia Roberts comedy movie The Sparrow Becomes the Empress?
No? Never heard of it? Well, it may be a surprise to you, but you’ve probably seen it. Although it would likely have been under the dull title Pretty Woman.
Today’s the 85th anniversary of the invention of the “talkie” film camera, so let’s talk movies.
In Asia, we don’t just chuck Hollywood movies up there on our screens. No; we gloriously reinvent them with eye-catching new names.
Come on, admit it: which is the most intriguing title? The English Patient? Or, the same movie as it was renamed in Hong Kong: Don’t Ask Who I Am?
The Professional became This Hit Man Is Not As Cold As He Thought. And Bladerunner (which had nothing to do with blades or runners) became the intriguing Silver Wing Killer.
Few Asians have any idea what the phrase The Full Monty means. But the Chinese title of the film was the wonderfully clear and unsubtle Six Naked Pigs. (I’m sure the stars were thrilled.)
In India, Hollywood movies are re-made from scratch, usually with a completely different title. The Indian equivalent of When Harry Met Sally appeared in 2004 under the name Hum Tum. When films move from India to the west, they don’t bother translating the titles at all. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge sounds exotic, while the sentimental literal translation would have sent moviegoers fleeing: The Brave Heart Will Take the Bride.
Yet it’s the English-to-Chinese renamings which are most entertaining, because you can clearly smell the desperation of distributors taking huge liberties to make a fast buck.
The Cable Guy in Chinese became Trump Card Specialist and Liar Liar became Trump Card Big Liar. These make no sense until you realize that “Trump Card” is the East Asian moviegoers’ label for Jim Carrey, whose first successful movies in the region were the Ace Ventura series (“Ace” being translated as “Trump Card”).
The logic veered off track when the first Austin Powers movie was released in East Asia as Trump Card Big Spy. It starred Mike Myers rather than Jim Carrey, but distributors apparently thought that the fact that it was a completely different human being was too subtle a difference to worry about. Why be fussy? Deranged white guys are deranged white guys.
In Taiwan, The Blair Witch Project became Night in the Cramped Forest. An embarrassingly bad parody called The Bare Wench Project was released as Night in the Cramped Forest 2, as if it was the sequel. (The actual sequel had to settle for a different title: Spirits of the Dead Roar. I imagine it was spirits of the original writers who had a right to roar.)
Movie distributors in East Asia reckon Western movie titles are not literal enough for Asian audiences. Deep Impact became Earth and Comet Collide, and Eyes Wide Shut became Eyes Wide Open.
Anyway, next time you see Julia, tell her from me that I loved The Sparrow. And if you meet any Western film directors, I challenge them to market a romantic comedy movie under the name Hum Tum.
Tomorrow: From new movies to brand new words you need to know