Friday, October 31, 2003

lost and found in translation

So a movie called "Intolerable Cruelty" came out in the States, eh? It's in Korea now, with a completely different title: "Ch'am-eul su eop-neun sarang," or "A Love That Can't Wait." The movie appears to be a romantic comedy, and as such, it probably needed more saccharine marketing in Korea, where the Hello Kitty crowd, raised on treacly, helium-voiced soundtracks, won't be attracted to such an incongruous title. Koreans still aren't big on subtlety-- sarcasm, irony, all the things that liven up Western humor. The culture of sickening cuteness is everywhere, soaked into everything, and this includes marketing. Filmic emoting tends to remain mostly earnest, bombastic, and unlayered. You'll find lots of bitterness, passion, pride, and slapstick-- all the things you'd find in a typical stage play-- but very little reminiscent of even someone as lame as David Spade and his trademark, "And you are...?" Think I'm kidding? Compare some of the better Korean commercials to some of the better American ones, just for starters. Watch the Korean actors push their product with un-ironic zeal or steam-rollering cuteness (the LaNeige ad girl is cute, but she annoys the fuck out of me), something most American commercials try hard to avoid.

"Oran-ssi!" [the triumphantly shouted brand name of an orange-flavored soft drink-- ad from a few years ago; I used to mock it in class by shouting, "Saseum-p'i!"-- deer blood. Not all students would laugh at my mockery, since even marketing technique is apparently a matter of national pride. I'd say "lighten up," but only the expat crowd would be applauding.]

"The Matrix Reloaded" DVDs are being heavily marketed, right along with a slew of huge ads for the upcoming "Matrix Revolutions," which is due out in Korea in early November. "Reloaded" DVD ads are all over some of the Line 3 subway trains' interiors; I imagine other subway lines are plastered with them, too.

Posters for "Kill Bill" are also out, but unlike "Cruelty," the title was kept as is. The Korean rendering is simply a transliteration of the English title, and if you say the Korean version of the title, it sounds almost exactly like the English. I'm pretty sure David Carradine is an unknown quantity in Korea. He definitely won't have gotten the same press as Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is coming out in Korean, where they're pulling the usual dirty trick of taking a large English-language work and chopping it into smaller chunks. It appears they're releasing sections as they're translated. I saw parts 1 and 2 on the shelves of YoungPoong Bookstore this evening. Koreans have done this with plenty of large Western books; I bought my mother a few volumes of Clavell's Shogun a couple years back. Short books, like the kind written by Vietnamese Thien (Zen) monk Thich Nhat Hahn, escape this fate (his book Anger was something of a hit here, where the title is Hwa).

Koreans are more of a sound-bite culture than we are, I think; when I was suing my old boss, I was told to keep the court arguments as brief and to-the-point as possible. Koreans don't like toting around huge books, so I think they're perfectly OK with chopped-up works. I hate to see what Stephen King's novels look like in Korean. The Stand: Part Six-- coming soon!

Ah, yes-- the Korean publisher of the Harry Potter series has opted for the American version of the books' covers, so the new Korean Phoenix is blue, not the vivid colors of the British edition (which to my mind has its own appeal). The American and Brit versions of Harry Potter are sold side-by-side here.

Which reminds me, Edwin Thomas: the softcover Brit version of Phoenix hasn't come out yet here. I'll be on the lookout, though.

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