Thursday, September 09, 2004

or, The Importance of Words

A few weeks ago, I saw Hero. Actually, I saw it for the second time, (Lee has a Chinese DVD of it, since it did come out 2-3 years ago there,) but this time on the big screen. I loved it. It's fabulous. If you haven't seen it, you should, and not just because you get to see Jet Li mostly naked.

Besides the colors, and the fighting, and the Jet Li-ness, I very much appreciated the movie's use of language. Words are very important in the story, especially in their written form. Nameless strives to learn the heart of Broken Sword to know his fighting style in advance by studying Broken Sword's calligraphy. Broken Sword convinces Nameless of his argument by writing two characters in the desert and then walking away. Qin Shihuang suddenly comprehends the lesson Broken Sword, through Nameless, has been trying to teach him by looking at the same calligraphed painting Nameless had studied so intently earlier. It was funny to me that they managed to show the (presumably fictitious) pivotal moment when Qin Shihuang realizes that the whole Chinese writing system is hopelessly complex, and vows to simplify it. Hear, hear!

I also had fun comparing the subtitles on the two different versions I saw. There is obviously a lot of room for subtitlers to make artistic decisions when translating. The biggest difference was the way they chose to deal with the two words Broken Sword writes in the desert. On the DVD, they decided that the best translation of the two words into English required that there actually be three words, which meant they in turn had to mistranslate the dramatic pronouncement that he wrote "two words." In the movie, they translated the two words as just two words, but the translation was worse, verging on completely inaccurate if you have any knowledge of Chinese characters.

Now that I've either given too many things away, or completely confused everyone, you should go see the movie, so you'll know what I'm talking about. Enjoy!

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