Sunday, June 12, 2022

cheon ma haeng gong

When the end credits for "Everything, Everywhere, All at Once" start to roll, we see the film's title in English, but right behind it, we see what is presumably the Chinese title:

In Korean, this would be pronounced cheon ma haeng gong. Not knowing how it'd be pronounced in Chinese, I checked Google Translate and got tian ma xing kong (roughly, "tyen mah shing kohng"). While I could figure out what each character means individually, I have no clue what they mean together. Google Translate tells me the four-character phrase translates as "imaginative," but I have no idea whether that's correct. I can tell you this: the first character means "heaven" or "heavenly"; the second character means "horse"; the third character means "movement," "travel," or "action"; the final character means "empty," "void," or even "air." In looking up the first two characters together, cheon ma, I got "Pegasus" as a translation for what is essentially "heavenly horse." I got nothing meaningful when I tried translating the final two characters, so in the end, I don't know what's going on. I assume these four characters, taken together, are meaningful in some way, but I'll leave it to my Chinese scholars to provide me with a coherent translation. I'll be curious to see how different that translation is from the movie's English title, and if someone knows why this Chinese title was chosen, I'd love to know that, too.

One last thing: I ran the Chinese through Google and tried translating the phrase into Korean, which resulted in: 상상력이 풍부한 (sangsangryeogi poongbuhan), which apparently means "abundantly imaginative" or something like that. I know sangsang means "imagination" and ryeok means "strength," so the phrase sangsangryeok refers to the strength, skill, or capacity of your imagination. The adjective poongbuhan, from the verb poongbuhada, "to be abundant," was new to me. If the Chinese title really is "Abundant Imagination," well, that's pretty pregnant with meaning, too, but it almost seems to imply that the entire adventure is taking place inside Evelyn's head. Should the movie be seen through a solipsistic lens? Possibly: as I noted in my review, it turns out that the way to save the universe is to make a change within oneself. Such a change might indeed require an abundant imagination.

Your thoughts?


Charles said...

That translation in Korean seems flawed to me. 天馬行空 translates roughly to "heavenly horse flying [rapidly] through the air" (you note that 空 can "even" mean "air"; this is actually the most common usage when it comes to 사자성어, in my experience), and it is a metaphor for someone of exceptional talent or ability. This ability is traditionally connected to writing or composition, but I imagine in modern times it might have a broader meaning.

Given that, I suppose I can see how one might arrive at "abundant imagination," but that seems to stray a little too far from the original.

Oh, and this is another film that I haven't seen but need to. So, that's The Northman, First Reformed, and now this. And no doubt many others I've already forgotten.

Kevin Kim said...

I guess I'm concentrating on the Buddhist meaning of 空.

Charles said...

Yeah, that is certainly valid, and there may indeed be 사자성어 that use that meaning. It's just that most of the times I remember seeing it used, it meant "air," or more accurately "sky" or "the heavens." 天 of course means "the heavens," but it usually seems to be used in a moral/spiritual or metaphorical sense.