Kept in translaton: a company's 60 years in bringing foreign films to China

Updated 2017-03-31 17:00:52 Xinhua
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Photo collection of dubbing speakers of the Shanghai Film Dubbing Studio. (Xinhua photo)

The Shanghai Film Dubbing Studio might not be a household name in China, but many Chinese have enjoyed their work without knowing, especially with a film about William Shakespeare.

The British film adaptation of Shakespeare's famous play “Hamlet” was dubbed into Chinese by the Shanghai studio in 1958, a year after the company was founded.

The Shanghai Film Dubbing Studio was one of the first two state-owned companies formed especially to translate films.

April 1 is the company's 60th anniversary, in that time it has translated and dubbed more than 1,500 foreign movies.

The films were imported from over 40 countries including the former Soviet Union, Hungary, France, Italy, Britain, Japan and America.

Besides importing foreign films, the studio has started exporting Chinese films to foreign countries and regions.

INSPIRE A GENERATION

“The translation should be both faithful to the original film and understandable to the Chinese audience, and the dubbing should be vivid,” said Bei Qianni, granddaughter of the studio's former director Chen Xuyi.

For instance, Hamlet was translated into “the Story of the Prince's Revenge.”

The studio invited famous actor Sun Daolin to dub Laurence Olivier's character, the prince, in the film.

Sun was 37 at that time. He recalled that the cast did their best to make the dubbing as poetic as possible to engage the audience with the original text.

“In 80s, I received a letter from a college student who said his soul was shaped by the foreign films we dubbed. All of us were astonished but it made us thankful for our role,” said Su Xiu, who is in her 90s and was a dubbing director with the studio.

According to Su, another famous dubbing actor was Qiu Yuefeng, whose role of Rochester in the 1971 adaption of classic novel Jane Eyre affected a generation.

Many years later, artist Chen Danqing watched the original film in the United States. “I was so accustomed to Qiu's version that the voice of George Scott sounded strange to me,” he recalled.

The actors led simple lives. Qiu's monthly salary in the 1960s was barely 60 yuan (around 9 U.S. dollars).

“His voice inspired many of his fans while they were in despair,” said an audience Pan Zheng.

CHALLENGE IN THE NEW ERA

From the Russian film “How The Steel Was Tempered” in 1950, American musical film “The Sound of Music” in 1970s to Indian drama “Caravan” in 1980s to the modern hits of Harry Potter and Kung Fu Panda series, each foreign film dubbed into Chinese has left marks in the transition of the Chinese society.

As more Chinese audience prefer accessing foreign entertainment through the Internet, online translation groups emerge in China.

There is no official data on how many subtitle teams exist. Many of them work voluntarily translating books, magazines, games, TV shows and movies.

Zhan Jia, director and dubber of the studio, acknowledged that these subtitle teams do impact the studio's film production.

“But subtitle teams cannot replace us,” she said. Online translators in subtitle teams translate the lines into the target language while they are listening simultaneously. They often make mistakes.

“Our translation is more accurate because our studio can obtain the original script from the foreign film companies. Even unspoken words left to the understanding of the audience are often highlighted in the script,” Zhan said. “It helps translators better understand the film.”

In addition, translators in the studio are professional and more experienced, with knowledge about cinematics. “In this way, they can better interpret foreign languages into target ones,” she added.

On a wall in the studio, the 14-character doctrine by Chen Xuyi remains, “Translation of the script should be atmospheric, dubbing by the actors should be lifelike.”

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