Monday, January 14, 2008


Over the past few years I have been exposed to a variety of subtitles.
In fact, before that, that is to say, living in India, I never gave subtitles much thought as one either watched things in Indian languages or in English. The ease of obtaining or viewing a CD or a DVD was also not yet in full swing there.

Here, in Malaysia, I realized that subtitling plays a greater role. Firstly, subtitles are extensively used on TV as the Malaysian population consists of the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians (mostly Tamil). Depending on the programme, you have the option of English, Chinese or Malay subtitles.

But, besides this, there is the easy availability of the DVD or CD version of films from most of the region (China, Korea, Japan, Thailand, the Philippines, Iran, Iraq, Vietnam, etc) as well as a smaller selection from the European world.

My first serious look at subtitles was via French films borrowed from the Alliance Fran├žaise here at Kuala Lumpur. I’m bilingual (English/French) with the bias towards English. The subtitles were mostly “good”: they had not horrifying bloopers and the only comment I can make is that some were done by Native speakers of French and others by Native speakers of English.

The observation is that perfection sometimes kills. The flawless subtitling of the obviously Native speaker of English detracted from some of the flavoring and nuances of the French whereas the not so perfect subtitling by the Native speaker of French acted much in the way a French accent does. It actually enhanced the pleasure of the viewing.

Then came the Chinese movies viewed on Celestial Movies … That’s when the fun begins…Well, google “funny subtitles” and you have enough clones for the likes of The Best Bad English Subtitles from Hong Kong Movies. Some examples that spring to mind are the use of the word “fever” for “horny”. Yet here again the main satisfaction is the flavor- something was lost in the perfectly dubbed versions of Chinese films that I had seen on HBO or Star Movies. Some very vital cultural clues get swallowed up in the quest for perfection.

As the lust for viewing exotic films grew upon us, we progressed to pirated DVDs and here’s where the fun really got going. There was this version of the French film Taxi 4 –I have no idea how this marvelous gem of a sub-titler went about it. He or she merely used the sounds to weave the subtitles! An absolute gem.

But the end was nowhere in sight until we got this Japanese film and a whole bunch of others (Chinese, Korean…) recently. The subtitles are bizarre to say the least and must surely be the work of some robotic enterprise.

Hopefully I may find a way to capture some of these exquisite samples on my next blog entry!

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