How a tinny earlobe!

I've never had a problem watching movies with subtitles (yeah, you have to read a movie. For me, that is not a problem). That means I've watched a lot of foreign films, which means I've read a lot of really crappy translations, which is part of why the translators in the Trang book are so damned clunky--I like to share my pain.

Translation is an interesting process: I once worked as an editor on a series of books that had been translated from French, and the really fascinating bit was how the (native-English-speaking) translator had fallen down on the job in actually making the book English. For example, in French, you say, "It is the dog that is big" when you mean "It's the big dog," and "It is that which we want to do" when you mean "That's what we want to do"--you're not trying to be wordy, that's just the way the language works. But this person was leaving in all the "thats" and "that whiches" that you have in French, even when there was simply no reason for the English version to have them.

My fellow editor thought this meant that the person's French was not very good, but my theory was that once you get into the syntax of another language, it's actually pretty hard to get back into normal English syntax, and this guy just didn't complete the process. I felt like if he had the translation aside for a week and then read it again, he would have realized that you never need to use "that which" in English, ever.

The translation issue came back to me when I watched You're Beautiful a second time with different subtitles. It's not like the first set of subtitles was perfect by any means, but the second set lose anything even vaguely resembling humor in the dialog--I'm guessing because they used auto-translation technology, and algorithms are not exactly known for their wit, timing, or aesthetic sophistication.

The difference is pretty stark: At one point, two characters, Tae Kyung and Go Mi Nam, are discussing what to do on Tae Kyung's birthday. In the first set of subtitles, the interaction went something like this (this is from memory--the original was probably clunkier, but the repetition was there):

TK: You brought me here against my will, so you decide what we're going to do.

GMN: But you never want me to decide what to do. You always decide what we do.

TK: And I've decided: You're going to decide what we do.

In the second set of subtitles, the scene is:

TK: You brought me here against my will, so you tell me.

GMN: You didn't like me to decide for us, do you? You always decide for us when we are together.

TK: I will just follow you today.

"I will just follow you today"? Honestly, that borders on an out-of-character line for the acerbic Tae Kyung.

There's also a priceless scene where Tae Kyung (who is the dour leader of a popular boy band) explains slash fiction to Go Mi Nam (who is a very naive former nun-in-training). The example I'm going to use first is actually from yet another set of subtitles, but they are quite similar to the first set:

TK: Fans write novels with us as the lead characters. There are lots of love stories without a woman involved.

The second set (oh, look how you have to log in as an adult to watch that video. Because it contains The Gay!!!):

TK: Our fans always write novels about us. Women don't even appear in some of their novels.

It's like, come on. I know nothing about Korean, but which approach is funnier in English? It's a comedy! Work with me here, evil translation robot!