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How do English movie titles being translated into Chinese: three American classic love movie examples

Posted by Grace Feng on February 28, 2013

I’ve noticed an interesting culture difference in naming movie titles between Chinese movies and English movies.a In this post, I’d like to analyze this topic using three American classic love movies as examples. A good title translation definitely can influence the box office performance of a movie. There are even traditional Chinese translation services that are specialized in this field.

English movie title is usually a straightforward name of a thing or a person that symbolize the theme of the movie, while a Chinese movie title is inclined to be a bit more literal. You’ll see the difference in the following examples.

1. Waterloo Bridge

How did English movie titles being translated into Chinese: three Hollywood classic love movie examples

This movie had been loved and remembered by Chinese audience for probably the longest time. Not only because of its classic quality in both story and performance, but also because it’s one of the very first foreign movies that were allowed to meet Chinese audience :-). English title of this movie is a straightforward name of the bridge where the memories of a sad love story began and end.

Now, look at its Chinese translation: 魂断蓝桥 hún duàn lán qiáo. It literally means: Soul Broken Blue Bridge. Well, 魂断 hún duàn is usually used to describe “die” in a literal way. As if to say, “soul has left one’s body“. 蓝桥 lán qiáo is totally an innovative translation that uses “blue” to indicate the sentimental feeling of the bridge. Overall, I’d rate this translation as a top job. It really helped to etch the title to people’s mind like a poem. At least that did it to me. :-)

 

2. Casablanca

How did English movie titles being translated into Chinese: three Hollywood classic love movie examples

This movie is a mix of espionage and love story that happened in a city called Casablanca in north Africa in the second World War. The whole story is very well told and the movie has so many best scenes that worth watching again and again. The English title is simply the name of the city that the story took place. It is translated as 北非碟影 Běi Fēi dié yǐng in Chinese, which literally means “North Africa Spy Shadow“. The use of in many Chinese movie titles implies the “suspense” element of the movie that helps arose audience’s curiosity. But honestly, I don’t like this translation since the movie itself is more of a love story than espionage. The Chinese translation is a bit misleading.

 

3. The Bridge of Madison County

How did English movie titles being translated into Chinese: three Hollywood classic love movie examples

This movie is a love epic of real people in real life around us. It’s happening in the cynical world which relates to everyone of us. The way love was explained was honest but heart wrenching. It’s one of a kind, very special. Luckily the Chinese translation of this title is also an awesome job – 廊桥遗梦 láng qiáo yí mèng. Literally it means “Corridor Bridge Lost Dream” – “The Dream that was Lost at Corridor Bridge”. Hmn… that exactly summarizes the theme of the movie. At the same time, it invites you to walk into the dream that had only lived in the hearts of two lovers.

Do you know any Chinese movie title translation that you like or dislike? Feel free to share, thanks …

 

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2 Responses to “How do English movie titles being translated into Chinese: three American classic love movie examples”

  1. nothing

    Ned Danison:

    06-28-2014 5:40 pm

    Grace, this is great! I love this sort of Chinese-English cultural analysis. As you point out, it seems the Chinese version of the title requires a bit more content. Is this generally true about Chinese movie titles? Are there Chinese movie titles that are simply the name of a place, as these English examples? ”南京!南京!“ (The City of Life and Death) comes to mind. But this example may not be typical.

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    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      06-29-2014 7:01 pm

      Hi Ned, there are Chinese movies that only use the name of a place, only a few though. For example, 芙蓉镇 (A Small Town called Hibiscus). I think culture and tradition is one reason, commercial purpose is another reason. The name of a place is too plain compared to a more eye catching title. What do you think? Is there any pattern in English movie title driven by selling strategy?

      Reply

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