March 25, 2009

Movie titles translated into Chinese may be based on starring actor

The conventions for naming movies in Chinese are much different than those for English. For example, one-word movie titles (like Jaws) are thought to be dramatic and punchy in English, but are rarely used in Chinese. To explore some of these differences, let's look at mimetic naming in Chinese movie titles based on a few different factors.

Mimetic titles based on past movies of similar theme

In English, imitative movie titles are only acceptable for B-movies and for parodies (e.g. Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the Thirteenth). For Chinese movies, they are a bit more acceptable. I'll give two examples. The Korean movie My Sassy Girlfriend was a big hit when it was released in 2001. Since then, there have been ten other movies whose titles were translated as "My ____ Girlfriend" in Chinese. It might be true that a lot of these are B movies, and that list includes the American remake of My Sassy Girlfriend, but the list includes a diverse selection of movies such as Friends with Money (translated as "My Wild Girlfriend") and 50 First Dates (translated as "My Amnesic Girlfriend").

Mimetic titles based on no particular former movie

Another example of mimetic naming is the frequent use of the word zongdongyuan (總動員) in movie titles. Zongdongyuan literally means "general mobilization", but to get a better idea of how it is used in movie titles, think of it as "Mobilize!", "Move out!" or "All forces go!". Maybe the most natural translation is just to add the word "Ho!" at the end of the title. None of the movies are actually punctuated with an exclamation mark, but I think that is appropriate as an English translation. For example, the movie Elf was translated as "Elfs, Mobilize!", and the movie Robin Cook's Formula For Death was translated as "Bacteria, Mobilize!" There have been 45 movies titled using "zongdongyuan." I don't know how this meme started, but it is used so widely that it is clearly not seen as a reference to some former movie, it's just a snappy way of titling a movie.

Mimetic titles based on starring actor

Another instance of mimetics in movie titles is when the title of a movie is influenced by the starring actor's past movies. For example, Jim Carrey's Ace Ventura: Pet Detective was the first big Jim Carrey movie. "Ace" was translated into Chinese as wangpai (王牌, which literally means "king card"). When Cable Guy was released, wangpai was used in the Chinese title as a hint to prospective viewers that the movie starred Jim Carrey, star of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Later, wangpai was also used in the titles of Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty, and most strangely, in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is not a comedy, so I find the wangpai in the title misleading. Also, it does not follow that Jim Carrey fans are the most likely audience for it.)

Another example is Will Smith, who has made three movies using the word quanmin (全民, which means "the people"). The first movie was Enemy of the State, which was translated as The People's Public Enemy. Hitch was then translated as The People's Love God, and Hancock was The People's Superman.

The most extreme example of this phenomenon is Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger has made 14 movies that use the word mogui (魔鬼), which means demon. For 13 of those movies, "mogui" is the first word of the movie title; the one exception is the movie Last Action Hero, which was translated as "Last Demon Hero."

The Chinese poster for Terminator 4, or "Demon Terminator 4" as it is translated.

A few more examples are Brad Pitt, who has three movies that use the word huoxian (火線), which means "line of fire"; Matt Damon, who has five movies that use the word shengui (神鬼), which literally means "gods and ghosts", and which, based on its usage in movie titles, connotes stealthiness and intrigue; and Leonardo Dicaprio, who has three movie that also use the word shengui. (When Damon and Dicaprio starred in The Departed together, Damon already had three movies using shengui, and Dicaprio had two movies using shengui, so I suppose there was double motivation for including shengui in that title.)

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Movies of the form "My ____ Girlfriend"
  1. 我的野蠻女友 My Sassy Girl 2001
  2. 我的夢幻女友 My Beautiful Girl, Mari 2002
  3. 我的失憶女友 50 First Dates 2004
  4. 我的超人女友 My Super Ex-Girlfriend 2006
  5. 我的好野女友 Friends With Money 2006
  6. 我的恐怖女友 My Scary Girl 2006
  7. 我的雙面女友 Two Faces of my Girlfriend 2007
  8. 我的人魚女友 The Mermaid 2007
  9. 我的機器人女友 Cyborg She 2008
  10. 我去世的吃醋女友 Over Her Dead Body 2008
  11. 我的野蠻女友 My Sassy Girl 2008

Movies of the form "_____總動員"
  1. 汽車總動員 Cars 2006
  2. 未來總動員 Twelve Monkeys 1995
  3. 海底總動員 Finding Nemo 2003
  4. 危機總動員 Outbreak 1995
  5. 鐵男總動員 The Longest Yard 2005
  6. 精靈總動員 Elf 2003
  7. 魔鬼總動員 Total Recall 1990
  8. 奪命總動員 The Long Kiss Goodinght 1996
  9. 晶兵總動員 Small Soldiers 1998
  10. 鴿戰總動員 Valiant 2005
  11. 機飛總動員 Hot Shots! 1991
  12. 終極警探總動員 Striking Distance 1993
  13. 異形總動員 Virus 1999
  14. 機飛總動員2 Hot Shots! Part Deux 1993
  15. 公仔總動員-校園驚魂記 Terkel In Trouble 2004
  16. 靈異總動員 Bless the child 2000
  17. 潛艇總動員 Down Periscope 1996
  18. 危機總動員:疾素攔截 Con Express 2002
  19. 癲瘋總動員 Cool Runnings 1993
  20. 脫線總動員 Naked Gun 33 1/3 The Final Insult 1994
  21. 蟑螂總動員 Joe's Apartment 1996
  22. 綁票總動員 Screwed 2000
  23. 天兵總動員 Renaissance Man 1994
  24. 波霸總動員 Ladies in Operations 1991
  25. 情色總動員 Preaching To The Perverted 1997
  26. 病毒總動員 Contaminated Man 2000
  27. 終極笑探總動員 Rent A Kid 1995
  28. 絕地總動員 Queen's Messenger 2000
  29. 奪寶危機總動員 Legacy 2000
  30. 緝毒總動員 The Base 1999
  31. 小鬼總動員 Bebe's Kids 1992
  32. 全線總動員 Freedom Strike 1998
  33. 整人總動員 Dirty Work 1998
  34. 漢飽總動員 Good Burger 1997
  35. 戰略總動員 The Pandora Project 1998
  36. 細菌總動員 Robin Cook's Formula For Death 1995
  37. 黑金總動員 Montana 1998
  38. 布偶總動員 It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie 2002
  39. 捍衛總動員 Iron Eagle Iv 1995
  40. 神兵總動員 Tall Tale 1995
  41. 截殺總動員 Falcon Down 2000
  42. 瘋狂總動員 Going Berserk! 1983
  43. 賭鬼總動員 Gambling Ghost Are Ready 1991
  44. 黑色總動員 Tinseltown 1997
  45. FBI捍衛總動員 Mistrial 1996

Jim Carrey movies with the word 王牌
  1. 王牌冤家 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 2004
  2. 王牌天神 Bruce Almighty 2003
  3. 王牌大騙子 Liar Liar 1997
  4. 王牌特派員 The Cable Guy 1996
  5. 王牌威龍2:非洲大瘋狂 Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls 1995
  6. 王牌威龍 Ace Ventura: Pet Detective 1994

Will Smith movies with the word 全民
  1. 全民公敵 Enemy of the State (1998)
  2. 全民情聖 Hitch (2005)
  3. 全民超人 Hancock (2008)

Arnold Schwarzenegger movies with the word 魔鬼

  1. 魔鬼殺陣 Raw Deal (1986)
  2. 魔鬼司令 Commando (1986)
  3. 魔鬼阿諾 The Running Man (1987)
  4. 魔鬼紅星 Red Heat (1988)
  5. 魔鬼總動員 Total Recall (1990)
  6. 魔鬼孩子王 Kindergarten Cop (1990)
  7. 魔鬼終結者2 Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
  8. 最後魔鬼英雄 Last Action Hero (1993)
  9. 魔鬼大帝:真實謊言 True Lies (1993)
  10. 魔鬼二世 Junior (1994)
  11. 魔鬼毀滅者 Eraser (1996)
  12. 魔鬼末日 End Of Days (1999)
  13. 魔鬼複製人 The 6th Day (2000)
  14. 魔鬼終結者3 Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Brad Pitt movies with the word 火線
  1. 火線追緝令 Seven (1995)
  2. 火線大逃亡 Seven Years In Tibet (1997)
  3. 火線交錯 Babel (2006)

Leonardo Dicaprio movies with the word 神鬼

  1. 神鬼交鋒 Catch Me If You Can (2002)
  2. 神鬼玩家 The Aviator (2004)
  3. 神鬼無間 The Departed (2006)

Matt Damon movies with the word 魔鬼
  1. 神鬼認證 The Bourne Identity (2002)
  2. 神鬼認證2:神鬼疑雲 The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
  3. 神鬼剋星 The Brothers Grimm (2005)
  4. 神鬼無間 The Departed (2006)
  5. 神鬼認證:最後通牒 The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

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March 24, 2009

Searching for the title of a movie in Chinese

If you want to rent movies in Taiwan, it is helpful to know the Chinese title of the movie you want. In this post, I will introduce two websites that can be used to search for the Chinese names of a movie. The first site is from Taiwan and only lists the titles used in Taiwan. The second site is a Chinese knockoff of imdb.com (which does not have a Chinese site) found at imdb.cn.

For titles used in Taiwan

Use the search page for atmovies.com.tw. (Just enter the English title.)

  • I noticed mistakes in some titles, so if you can't find a movie here, you might want to try the methods described below.
  • There are also pages where new movies are listed (in theaters and on DVD). Titles of Western movies are in both Chinese and English.

For titles used in China/Hong Kong/Taiwan

There are few ways to search for movies:

First method:

This method is described here.

Step 1: Find your movie on IMDB.com
I found Run Lola Run, an old favorite of mine: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0130827/

Step 2: Now, take that link that you just found, and replace the .com with .cn: http://www.imdb.cn/title/tt0130827/

Second method:

Search by movie title at imdb.cn.

Third method:

Search Google using the "site" operator:
Example: Using google.com to search for the movie The Prestige, I search for:
site:imdb.cn "the prestige"
Then click on the link that looks like a link to the movie.

  • Most movies have different titles in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Some of the entries do not specify which title belongs to which region. Some of the entries may be missing titles for some or all Chinese regions.
  • The info is all in simplified characters, and you cannot search at the site using traditional characters.
  • The site states that it "has no relation with imdb.com", but the web addresses are organized identically to imdb.com, which makes Method 1 possible. Some or most of the information is scraped from imdb.com. Another site that uses almost the same web addresses as imdb.com is mov6.com, so you can uses the trick described in method 1, but mov6.com only lists the title used in China, not Hong Kong or Taiwan.

If you know of a better bilingual movie database, please leave a comment. (Wikipedia is another option but is not as comprehensive as the sites in this post.)

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March 17, 2009

Unpaid leave article in LA Times not cynical enough

I came across this article about unpaid leave in Taiwan via Michael Turton's blog. I wrote about this subject last month. The article does a good job of describing how unpaid leave is used instead of layoffs in Taiwan, and I recommend reading the article, but there is one point that I have a quibble with:

So fearful are some workers that they're going into the offices on their stay-at-home days to impress bosses in the hope of keeping their names off any existing or future layoff list.

The statement implies that this is a spontaneous act on the part of the employees. In reality, I think the motivation for employees working on their days off comes from management exerting pressure. If management hadn't already floated the idea of employees working on their days off, I think very few employees would spontaneously decide to come to work on those days. I mentioned this in the last post, but I will add a bit of explanation.

One method of coercion is for the managers to state that your workload is unchanged, so you can take the day off if you want, but you had better get the same amount of work done. And you are not allowed to apply for overtime pay on the days that you do work. And one more thing, if you do happen to take the day off and still get all your work done, then that shows that your work efficiency during normal times must be low if you can accomplish the same amount of work and still take time off. You might think I added this catch-22 line for comedic effect, but it is what I have personally heard.

A greater degree of coercion is when managers unambiguously state that you should come to work on your days off, and if you don't come, this will be considered when deciding on layoffs.

Like I said in the last post, this is not the kind of thing that is put in writing. That may be why the LA Times will not make this claim.

By the way, I'm not writing this out of bitterness. Personally, I love the unpaid leave and I was disappointed to find that my days of unpaid leave had been cut back. In fact, my secret wish would be that an extended recession period in which employees are forced to take one or two days of leave each week would lead to a change in culture in which part-time careers are possible.

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March 12, 2009

English words used in Chinese, or, Toward a Chinglish lexicon

While listening to a couple of presentations yesterday, I recorded the words that were spoken in English. The class was in Chinese, but the presentation material (PowerPoint) was in English. Here I have listed the English words used and added some comments about their usage in Chinese.

case - This word has been used in Chinese for so long, it should be included in Chinese dictionaries. But I don't know of any Chinese dictionaries that include English words (although there might be English acronyms in some Chinese dictionaries).

catch - This is a very popular term. It is used for the sense "grasp" or "comprehend". Instead of saying, "I don't understand" it is common to say "I don't catch you meaning."

challenge, highlight - These are both popular and are always used in a negative sense, and they are usually used without an object. "Challenge" is used in the sense of demanding an explanation for a problem, e.g. "I was challenge[d] by the customer". "Highlight" is used in the sense of pointing out a problem.

close - The speaker used this word multiple times and I don't understand why. It's such a simple word that you don't look any smarter for using it. This was used to describe a close relationship.(他們的關係很close)

contact window - This is popular. It sounds like Chinglish to me, but I don't know whether it originated in Chinese or English.

cover - Another popular term. Used in the sense of including or addressing.

co-work - This is used as a verb, meaning to work together, e.g. "You and KC should co-work." There is a Chinese word with this meaning (共事), but I don't hear it used at work.

information - This was used repeatedly by the speaker. The speaker may have liked this word because its meaning is broader than any of the Chinese equivalents.

logo - There is no Chinese term completely equivalent to "logo", but the English word "logo" has a broader meaning in Chinese than in English.

maybe - This word is popular with a lot of Chinese speakers. I don't see any advantages it has over the Chinese equivalent (也許).

methodology - Managers love this term. Methods are mundane so whenever possible they like to replace methods with methodologies.

milestone - There is a direct translation of this term in Chinese (里程碑), but the English term is generally preferred.

notebook - Used to describe notebook (laptop) computers. There is a Chinese equivalent, but "notebook" is shorter. I omitted technical terms from this list, but notebooks are so common they don't qualify as a technical term anymore.

presentation, trade-off - I don't think there are precise equivalents in Chinese so these terms seem fairly useful to me. On the other hand, when do you really need to say trade-off? Isn't almost everything a trade-off, something with positives and negatives?

promote - There is not an exact Chinese equivalent for this word, but 宣傳 seems like a close enough match to me.

soft - This was used to describe a customer ("The customer was soft."). This could mean "easily influenced" but I don't think that is what the speaker meant. It might have something to do with soft power.

step-by-step - There is a perfectly equivalent term in Chinese, but I occasionally hear this English term used instead.

struggle - I've heard this one a number of times, but I'm not sure why it is popular in Chinese.

surprise - This was used to say, "I was extremely surprise[d]!" (我非常的surprise!) The motivation to use an English word here baffles me.

Some more English words used during the presentations:

between, boost, business strategy, contact, customer, data, deliver, department, early stage, error, first, hint, image, improve, index, internal, lesson, marketing, message, promote, quick learning, thinking, timing

I tried to eliminate words that were used only because the speaker was using English PowerPoint slides. I also tried to eliminate English words that were not on the slides but were triggered by the use of English on the slides.

It would be great to expand this into a Chinglish dictionary. I searched for a Chinglish lexicon, but I couldn't find any of the type I am interested in. I am interested in the words Chinese-speakers habitually use when they are speaking Chinese to other Chinese speakers, and especially the non-technical terms. These vary with city, company, and with the individual, so it would take a lot of surveying to determine the extent of use for each term.


March 09, 2009

God Guan Gong displayed in police station is rich in meaning

This article comes from today's issue of The Liberty Times. When I was rereading the last translation post on this blog, I noticed there were a lot of awkward phrases in it, so I tried harder this time to make it sound more natural.

By Huang Lixiang and Huang Wenhuang

Idols of Guan Gong are often found in police organizations, especially in investigative units, in the hope that officers will imitate the god's dedication to integrity and justice. Many conventions have arose regarding the placement of Guan Gong, some resonable and some farfetched.

A senior police captain of an investigative unit in Taipei county states that Guan Gong idols are found in almost all of the Taipei county's 15 stations, especially in the offices of the criminal justice units. Unlike in Hong Kong movies, however, police do not burn incense or otherwise publicly worship the idols. Rather, the idols are primarily pieces of art. Although it is not an object of worship, the Guan Gong image is invested with meaning according to its placement, posture and the direction of the blade.

A senior officer states that Guan Gong idols can be classified as literary or martial. The literary Guan Gong is depicted reading the Spring and Autumn Annals, while the martial Guan Gong is depicted holding a scimitar. Police have traditionally favored the martial Guan Gong, whose display of strength and military might serves to intimidate criminals. In recent years, with the increase in popularity of higher learning among police, so the literary Guan Gong has gained popularity, as well as the literary and martial Guan Gong, in which he is depicted with the Spring and Autumn Annals in his left hand and a scimitar in his right hand.

The officer asserts that Guan Gong's expression is usually a reflection of the attitude of the owner. For example, if a new captain of an investigative unit places a Guan Gong with an austere expression on display, subordinates will be dissuaded from engaging in favoritism or corruption. If Guan Gong's blade points inward, the new officer may focus on rectification of internal practices; if the blade points outward, it might indicate preparation for a shakedown of the captain's area of jurisdiction.

The officer explains that there are many taboos dealing with Guan Gong's blade. It is important that the blade's edge not face oneself, so as to avoid inviting a bloodbath. Furthermore, it is rumored that if the blade falls, the police unit will encounter a mishap. Some even associate the dropping of Guan Gong's scimitar with cases of inappropriate conduct and discipline.


March 05, 2009

Site for Chinese book reviews: aNobii

The most popular site for buying books in Taiwan is books.com.tw. That's the number one search result if you search for "books" in Chinese. So, I imagined that, like amazon.com, the site would be a good place to look for book reviews. It's not.

There is a great place for reading Chinese book reviews: anobii.com. It is a social site for readers, like librarything.com. Although the site originated in Hong Kong and is available in 14 languages, it appears that Taiwanese users make up the vast majority. For example, there are on the order of 300 users with the book Perfume in English, and around 3000 users with the book in Chinese. There are 197 comments in Chinese, 163 of which come from Taiwanese users. (Perfume is more popular with Taiwanese readers than American readers, so don't read too much into the single data point.)

You can filter the comments and users that are displayed by language and region. You can import booklists, create wishlists, join groups, etc. For more on features, see the Wikipedia page.

While librarything.com hasn't been able to recognize any of the foreign language books I've read, anobii.com didn't seem to have any problems pulling up the info for the Chinese language books I checked. Anobii supports importing and exporting book lists, so if you really like librarything or another site like that, you could use anobii to enter in your Chinese books and then export them.

The name comes from a type of bookworm, Anobium punctatum. They explain this on their blog, but they don't explain why they had to make the name look ridiculous by changing the capitalization to aNobii.

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