Monday, March 06, 2006


Ang Lee took home the Oscar for Best Director in last night's Academy Awards. The Taiwanese government seems to have realized the potential for "soft power" its local film industry carries, and I am sure Lee's victory will be a big deal there. Lee has been living in the States for years, but he is still something of a local hero in Taiwan. He's now sure to be even more of an inspiration for Taiwanese filmmakers.

The terms "soft power" and "gross national cool" got thrown around a lot a couple years ago referring to Japan read the Foreign Policy article on the latter here), and according to this AFP article, the Korean drama "Winter Sonata" and its star Bae Yong-joon boosted tourism revenues by $1.1 billion. Capitalizing on soft power seems a good way to go--especially when you are struggling for the attention of the international community like Taiwan is.

Matt of No-sword fame wondered how Brokeback Mountain's famous line "I wish I knew how to quit you" would be rendered into Japanese. Funny, I had been wondering the same thing about that line in Chinese. I saw a reference somewhere to 我希望我知道如何能離開你, so I checked to see if that's really what it is in the movie's Taiwanese theatrical release and according to this Chinese-language blog, it is.

The author of that post says the same line in the book was rendered as 要是我知道如何戒得掉你就好了, and like her I prefer that translation.

我希望我知道如何能離開你 is literally "I hope I know how to leave you." Chinese doesn't have a subjunctive like English ("I wish I knew....") so you could take that line either way. I used to blather on and on about how great the subjunctive is to my students, and the original English line is a great example. After the "I wish I knew...." is a parenthetical: "(but I don't.)" I don't get that resonance from this version of the Chinese.

I am not a native Chinese speaker, but I do get that resonance from 要是我知道如何戒得掉你就好了 because of the structure 要是...就好了 (very literally, "If... that would be good."). I also like the way this translation uses 戒--that's the word you use to say you are "quitting" drinking or cigarettes. The 離開 "leave" of the other version just doesn't have the same impact.

I realize, though, that subtitle-writing is a tricky task. You have to be concise so as to fit on the screen and keep up with the pace . The line has to be understandable at a glance or else it will run the risk of intruding on the film.


Andy said...

i think "要是我..." is definitely better than "我希望..." in that it gets the meaning across better and it sounds like chinese. the one used in the movie has none of the emotional pow of what jack is saying and sounds clunky to me. if i were ennis, and jack said, "我希望我知道如何能離開你," i'd probably say, "什麼意思? 再說一遍." if i heard, "要是我知道如何戒得掉你就好了," i'd feel a tear in my heart and drop to my knees. how could he say something like that?

if i were to translate those lines back into concise english, "if only i could quit you" sounds good to me, vs. "i wish to kno how to leave you." hmmm...

28481k said...

I wonder if "戒得掉你" is a good option here, it just doesn't sound like Chinese to me. You can quit smoking (戒煙), quit drugs (戒毒) or quit sex (戒色) even quit womanizing (戒女人), but I never heard someone quiting a person in Chinese! We normally say leaving (離開) or forgetting (忘掉) someone, 戒 just doesn't sound right here (even when the book was translated it is written as such!).

So, for "I wish I knew how to quit you.", I would make it as "要是懂得怎樣忘掉你就好了。" Not using a pronoun here - it's more concise and more detached, especially when you want to quibble/utter a statement rather than saying 我 all the time.

Using "懂得" rather than "知道" as he knew it from heart that he couldn't do it. Jack didn't learnt or acquainted (French connîtare) with this idea when he knew Ennis, he subsequently arrived that conclusion, so "懂得" rather like French savior is better.

amida said...

Andy: Ha, yeah I thought that sounded like "translationese." Also, when I used to teach English, we would go on and on about the difference between "wish" and "hope," both of which could be "希望" in Chinese. This is a great example of the use of "wish" plus a counterfactual statement. I am not a native Chinese speaker, but in thinking of my own translation for this I keep trying to fit a 但願 in there.

28481k: That is what makes the original English line so memorable. We normally would say "leave" or "forget," but here the character chose to say "quit." That's what makes it powerful rather than cliche. I suppose that in translation, though, people might think 戒 is just strange and therefore blame the translation. That would be unfortunate because it is more faithful to the way language is used in the original.

28481k said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
28481k said...

Sorry, there was some little typesetting errors in the previous comment post. Here is the edited one:

Actually, I've other strings of word in my bag, pick one if you like. :)


and the best of all (sorry for a common term used in Cantonese)

撇 (means quit, as in "你再唔做我就撇啦! (I'll quit if you aren't doing it!)")

Alternatively, you can say 撇 in Modern Written Chinese as well if you use a less-used phrase, 撇開

The last one should also carry the connotation of quiting from all the pleasure and connections from the said activity.

So, "要是懂得如何撇開你就好了。".

I justcan't imagine how would it be translated in those pirate DVD this phrase will certainly water down.