15 votes

When subtitles are homophobic - Eternal Love

Eternal Love is a very popular Chinese romantic drama currently available on Netflix Canada. I originally had the English subtitles on, but eventually turned them off (as they were distractingly poor). As with a lot of period Chinese dramas with a female protagonist, there's crossdressing. Our main character pretends to be a guy, is accepted under a great master and trains alongside 16 other (all male) disciples.

I should mention here that Chinese is generally not gender specific. Written pronouns are basically for everyone, for female only (not really used, but seeing more use now for translating foreign media), for living creatures (like dogs and cats) and really specific uses (such as inanimate objects). When spoken, they all sound the same.

In this show's substitles, I noticed a very inconsistent use of pronouns for our main character. Since no one knows she's a woman, I expect the masculine form to be used. However, it often jumped to the feminine. My sister pointed out that it seemed like they stuck with the masculine in general, but switch to the feminine when talking about her romantically. So you end up with lines like "Shouldn't he be here?" and "Master's always had a soft spot for her." said by the same people.

This obviously made the show really confusing for me where I wasn't sure if everyone knew she was a woman. I know there's often ideas, feelings and more lost in translation, but this is one of the few times I felt very different message was sent in the original Chinese language (where a gay relationship was implied and accepted) to English (where there clearly wasn't a gay relationship).

Here, I should note that gay relationships in media and in public is not legally accepted in China. So I don't believe this was malicious. The Chinese version heavily implied a lot that couldn't be outright said, but translating it probably didn't afford the same liberties.

Thoughts? With so much international media easily available now, have you noticed anything similar?

10 comments

  1. [2]
    NaraVara Link
    I haven't noticed anything this egregious where plot details are changed, but there are lots of little mundane things. The thing I notice most in Indian movies is that sometimes slang or idiomatic...

    Thoughts? With so much international media easily available now, have you noticed anything similar?

    I haven't noticed anything this egregious where plot details are changed, but there are lots of little mundane things. The thing I notice most in Indian movies is that sometimes slang or idiomatic expressions get swapped in for untranslatable idioms, but they can wind up choosing really weird or archaic expressions that nobody uses. This winds up making characters who are ostensibly teenagers unironically talking like they stepped out of a 1920s period drama. Other times untranslatable idioms just get directly translated and sound like nonsense if you're not familiar with the language.

    Lots of Indians also tend to pepper in a lot of English into their speech, even when speaking their mother tongue. Yet often times the subtitles will translate the English differently from what's being said. I expect they're going off the script while the actors ad-lib around it or they're having to make compromises to match the cadence of their speech. But either way, it seems jarring when you hear "I love this, amazing!" and you read "This is very good."

    8 votes
    1. Catt Link Parent
      Haha, this annoys me probably a lot more than it should. Whenever I hear a "Prince on white horse", I'm pretty much going "Prince charming! It's a very common phrase".

      Other times untranslatable idioms just get directly translated and sound like nonsense if you're not familiar with the language.

      Haha, this annoys me probably a lot more than it should. Whenever I hear a "Prince on white horse", I'm pretty much going "Prince charming! It's a very common phrase".

      3 votes
  2. [2]
    spctrvl Link
    Older example, but the first english dub of Sailor Moon did something similar, removing any references to the same sex relationships that existed in the original, and even going so far as to...

    With so much international media easily available now, have you noticed anything similar?

    Older example, but the first english dub of Sailor Moon did something similar, removing any references to the same sex relationships that existed in the original, and even going so far as to change the genders of characters where that wouldn't be possible.

    4 votes
    1. Catt Link Parent
      Sailor moon was so poorly edited in English! It honestly felt a little creepy when they made Uranus and Neptune "cousins".

      Sailor moon was so poorly edited in English! It honestly felt a little creepy when they made Uranus and Neptune "cousins".

      1 vote
  3. [6]
    Akir Link
    I don't have anything to say about this particular series since I really don't like those "Victor/Victoria" plot contrivances. The "I'm so relieved I'm not gay!" at the end is far too aggravating....

    I don't have anything to say about this particular series since I really don't like those "Victor/Victoria" plot contrivances. The "I'm so relieved I'm not gay!" at the end is far too aggravating.

    That being said, I noticed a lot of Netflix 'original series' have rather terrible translations. The text ones tend to be pretty decent from the small selection where I have an inkling of the spoken language. But when there is a dubbing, things go terribly wrong.

    The best (worst?) example is The Disastrous Life of Saiki K; it has a lot of puns and wordplay that's difficult to translate, which the subtitles tend to do a pretty good job, IMHO. Some jokes just can't be translated, so they insert some of their own jokes. The dubbed translation tends to simply skip over a number of the gags.

    3 votes
    1. [4]
      cfabbro (edited ) Link Parent
      One of my favorite fansub projects, Team Gaki (for the show Gaki No Tsukai) goes a step further than any other I have ever seen. They often have text blurbs above the translations that explains...

      it has a lot of puns and wordplay that's difficult to translate, which the subtitles tend to do a pretty good job, IMHO.

      One of my favorite fansub projects, Team Gaki (for the show Gaki No Tsukai) goes a step further than any other I have ever seen. They often have text blurbs above the translations that explains all the wordplay (e.g. dajare), references, culturally specific jokes and even identifying the celebrities who make cameo appearances on the show.

      I frequently have to pause while watching most episodes because of how much text there is on the screen to read, but I really appreciate the effort they put in to their translations. It has given me a much deeper appreciation for the humour in the show and Japanese humour in general.

      3 votes
      1. [3]
        Catt Link Parent
        I remember watching a fansub of Fushigi Yugi and pausing at every pun! It really does add so much more to the experience.

        I remember watching a fansub of Fushigi Yugi and pausing at every pun! It really does add so much more to the experience.

        1 vote
        1. [2]
          cfabbro (edited ) Link Parent
          Yeah, I love when fansubs go above and beyond like that, which many often do. It's one of the major reasons I generally prefer fansubs to official subs, and absolutely never watch dubs unless...

          Yeah, I love when fansubs go above and beyond like that, which many often do. It's one of the major reasons I generally prefer fansubs to official subs, and absolutely never watch dubs unless there is no other option. There is just so much nuance and depth that is lost in the highly commercialized, often sanitized/political process of making official subs and dubs. Whereas fansub makers don't have to worry about that BS since they are doing it purely out of love for the shows.

          Speaking of which, have you considered looking for a fansub version of Eternal Love somewhere that may address the issues you have with the official subs?

          1 vote
          1. Catt Link Parent
            Same for me. I use to listen to dubs (because I use to read while watching TV), but once I realized how much I was missing, couldn't go back. Eternal Love actually does have fansub on YT. It's how...

            Same for me. I use to listen to dubs (because I use to read while watching TV), but once I realized how much I was missing, couldn't go back.

            Eternal Love actually does have fansub on YT. It's how a lot of my friends watched it. I just turned on the Chinese subtitles and between that, my own listening and asking my mom :p, I managed.

            1 vote
    2. Catt Link Parent
      I really dislike those too! Just once, I want to watch a series to the final reveal and have the love interest go "Sorry, but through all this, I've learned I really am gay." In fairness to this...

      The "I'm so relieved I'm not gay!" at the end is far too aggravating.

      I really dislike those too! Just once, I want to watch a series to the final reveal and have the love interest go "Sorry, but through all this, I've learned I really am gay."

      In fairness to this series, the love interest knows from their first meeting.

      2 votes