Lost in Chinese Movie Translation

How a movie title is translated into Chinese in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan is quite an intriguing matter. For instance, Zootopia, a recent American 3D animated comedy is known as Zootropolis in Europe. This movie has been very popular in mainland China after its release. The Chinese translation is mainland China is 疯狂动物城, which literally means “crazy zoo city. The translation is somehow close to the English title and the content of the movie. It is straightforward and easy to understand.

In Hong Kong, where Chinese is often equated as Cantonese (not Putonghua/Mandarin), Zootopia is known as 優獸大都會. In Cantonese 優獸 sounds like 優秀 which literally means “excellent”. So, the Cantonese version can be understood as excellent city (of animals).

The weirdest translation of Zootopia might be in Taiwan, in which the movie is known as 動物方城市. I am not sure why it is so. MY GUESS is that 方, sounds like “fun” in English. So, 動物方城市 means a fun city of animals.

Confucius Institute at the University of Helsinki is going to show Peter Chan’s 2013 movie 中国合伙人 this Friday. Peter Chan is a Hong Kong-based director. I first came to know this movie through my brother. He loves it so much that he was so eager to show it to me. After I watched it, I understand why my brother loves it. I think this is a movie that clearly speaks to the hearts and egos of Chinese people, and it does not turn into something that is dramatically nationalistic.

The movie is said to be “loosely” based on the start-up story of New Oriental Education, a real company in China. The company offers English-language training to Chinese people who aspire to learn English and to start a new life abroad. The company was successful to the extent that it was publically listed in America in 2006.

If the Chinese title of the movie is directly translated into English, it should probably be “Chinese Partners”.  The official English title of the movie, however, is “American Dreams in China”. The title in mainland China and Hong Kong is the same; the only difference is that in mainland China it is written in simplified Chinese and in Hong Kong it is written in traditional Chinese (中國合夥人). Both Chinese and English titles reflect clearly the content and message of the movie.

The weirdest translation occurs again in Taiwan where the movie is known as 海闊天空. 海闊天空 literally means the sea is boundless and the sky is vast. Maybe it implies that the world is wide and the three Chinese friends who started the company have no limit to pursue their (American) dreams. In my view, this is not a good translation as it leaves too much room for self-interpretation and imagination.

American Dreams in China

American Dreams in China

March 18, Friday 4pm (The movie is about 1 hour 51 minutes)

Unioninkatu 38, Building F, Room F 211, University of Helsinki

The story of 3 friends who build a successful English language school in China called New Dream, helping the dreams of Chinese teenagers come true. The film begins during the period of sweeping economic reforms in China in the 1980s. It spans almost 30 years, so while all this is happening, the director Peter Chan inserts references to major moments in contemporary Chinese history into the story. The film won the 29th China’s Golden Rooster Best Picture award in 2013.

The screening is in Mandarin but with English subtitles. Before and after the screening, there’ll be a short introduction and open discussion.

No advanced registration needed. But we do have limited chairs in the venue. So first come, first served.