Saturday, March 25, 2006

What's "Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck" in Mandarin?

A remarkable bit of web serendipity led me to a great post on dubbing in China on Danwei from quite a while back. The author knows the man who does the voice of Curly of the Three Stooges for Chinese TV.
His name is Cui Song, a teacher in the foreign languages department of the Central University of Radio and Television. A soft-spoken academic, he seems to inhabit a completely different dimension from the slapstick world of Moe, Larry, and Curly.

“Can you do the laugh?” I ask him. “You know, that laugh?” He nods. He knows what I’m talking about.

Nyuk nyuk nyuk!” he suddenly erupts, in an imitation of Curly so compelling that I’m suddenly transported from Beijing to my family’s living room floor in Eureka, Kansas, circa 1959, a bowl of popcorn at my side and the black-and-white TV tuned to the Saturday afternoon Three Stooges broadcast. I nearly spill my tea in the shock of recognition. Cui Song is proud of his craft.

“I’m the only one who could do that laugh,” he says, happy to be in the presence of an American who can verify the accuracy of his rendition. Cui Song studied Curly’s vocal mannerisms carefully in order to dub the role.

The article also includes some funny mis-translations from pirate DVDs:
Understandably, the listening comprehension of the translators tends to falter when the topic turns to sex, as can be seen from these examples from a bootleg DVD boxset of Queer as Folk:
Original English: “Linda Luttsky? She became a lap dancer in Scranton.” Chinese subtitles: “Luttsky? She became a laboratory dancer in Scranton.”

Original English: “To the neighbors we’re just the fags next door.”
Chinese subtitles: “The neighbors think there is a fax machine next door.”

Original English: “It might just be easier to be with someone who’s [HIV] positive.”
Chinese subtitles: “I think it’s easier to be someone with a positive attitude.”

And this nice example from a bootleg of Sex and the City:

Original English: “She gives hand jobs for a living.” Chinese subtitles: “She is a manual laborer.”

No wonder Chinese people always ask me, after watching an American DVD, “What in the world are you foreigners thinking?”

The author also notes that some of the finer points of Three Stooges dialogue gets lost in translation. After all, how do you translate that finely subtle irony in the line "Gimme the brush, Ein-steen!"?

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