Bad 'Dunkirk' ad translation irks Thai fans

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Asia / Pacific Roundabout

An erroneously translated advertising poster for World War II drama Dunkirk raised a storm among Thai film fans after it went online on April 20 on the local “Nolanography” Facebook official fan page for the movie’s director, Christopher Nolan. The original poster read in English: “400,000 Men Were Stranded in Dunkirk; 700 Civilian Boats Came for Them.” But the same tagline translated into Thai said: “400,000 Men Were Stranded in Dunkirk; Only 700 Returned by Boat.”

The glaringly bad translation prompted scores of movie fans to express their anger at the anonymous page owners—not so much for their obvious ignorance about an important historical event, but rather for their translating ineptitude. “Please delete this immediately and translate it again. What a blight on Nolan’s name!” wrote a user named Peraya Lorphensri. And user Supalak Ueasiyapan huffed and puffed: “If you don’t know how to translate, then use Google to research. I wanted to go watch the movie, but it looks like you’re not even taking the time to [correctly] translate easy words… You didn’t even correct it, what sloppy work!” Despite the flood of comments, the wrongly translated film poster remained on the page for several days before it was finally taken down without replacement.

Dunkirk is scheduled for release in Thailand on July 20, one day before the official U.S. start. The poster issue highlighted a general problem persisting in Thailand since time immemorial: Even officially approved Thai subtitles in foreign-language movies are sometimes so horribly garbled that they fail to confer what is actually heard onscreen. Another problem is the very broad artistic license Thai translators routinely take when it comes to transcribing actual film titles. In this manner, Source Code (2011) in Thai became “Hidden Body Obstructs Hell,” Mars Needs Moms (2011) mutated into “Mission to Secretly Snatch Mothers to Mars,” and Little Fockers (2010) turned into a hilarious “Zany Son-in-Law, Zippy Grandkids, Sour Father-in-Law.”

Indian Film Makes B.O. History in China

Indian movies have traditionally never fared particularly well at the Chinese box office. The reasons are manifold. But mostly it can be put down to a certain cultural gap between the two countries, the language barrier, the newfound addiction of Chinese audiences for anything “Hollywood,” as well as the fact that they simply aren’t especially fond of the elaborate singing-and-dancing scenes so integral to many films from the subcontinent.It came thus as quite a surprise that it’s exactly been an Indian movie that is currently sweeping box offices from Shanghai to Kunming, from Harbin to Guangzhou.

Directed by Nitesh Tiwari, Dangal successfully held China’s top spot for three consecutive weeks since its release on May 5. At press time, the biopic-cum-sports drama had raked in over CNY820 million ($119 mil.), making it the highest-grossing Indian film of all time in China. In comparison, the Walt Disney Pictures/Marvel Studios offering Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which opened in the country on the same date as Dangal, has so far earned only $94.4 million and is already seeing its audience numbers wane rapidly.

Tiwari’s brilliant directing work paired with mesmerizing cinematography and excellent production value may have helped to endear China’s movie fans, but the circumstance that Dangal’s gripping and dramatic storyline entirely avoids sari-clad musical numbers also might have been a deciding factor for its popularity. Dangal tells the story of half-sisters Geeta Phogat and Babita Kumari, whose father Mahavir Singh Phogat started teaching them Olympic wrestling from a young age. Thanks to Dad’s training, Geeta went on to become India's first female wrestler to win a gold medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, while her sister Babita won a silver medal.

Bahubali 2 Fans Thumb Noses at Bollywood

Although often poor value on many artistic and technical levels, “Bollywood” productions are nevertheless still the most widely distributed films in the Indian market and also abroad. Meanwhile, movies produced in southern India, often shot in local languages like Tamil or Telugu, usually fail to do well outside their region. But now it seems that Bahubali 2: The Conclusion, a Telugu-language movie produced at Annapurna Studios in the southern city of Hyderabad, has broken this spell—and much to the delight of southern film fans, too.

The historical fantasy epic has swept the entire country by storm, even enthralling northern audiences normally hooked on Bollywood fare. Since its release on April 28, the action and special-effects-packed spectacle has reportedly earned more than INR5 billion ($77.3 mil.) across India, comfortably recouping its estimated budget of $40 million.

The smashing success of Bahubali 2 has prompted southern film fans—frequently denounced by their northern compatriots as “non-Hindus” or as unpatriotic—to tweet mocking comments directed against Bollywood market domination. “While the morons [in] Bollywood make [tens of millions of rupees] degrading Hinduism, here is #Bahubali telling the world about rich Hindu kingdoms and winning hearts,” wrote poster Mac Thimmaiah. User Satish Acharya tweeted, “Bollywood Toons: Bahubali earns record rupees—1 billion in a day,” going a little overboard with the film’s actual revenues. Meanwhile, user Amritosh Pandey commented: “#Bahubali is roaring. This is the answer to all anti-Hindu Bollywood crooks. [A] must-watch for all Hindus. Experience a true Hindu/Indian story.”

However, apart from relatively harmless posts such as these, some local film critics who actually panned the movie for its violent scenes, misogyny and unabashed references to Hindu racial superiority have been subjected to quite nasty trolling and overt threats by overzealous fans.

For inquiries and feedback, contact Thomas Schmid at thomas.schmid@filmjournal.com.