As my obsession with kdramas continues, my plans to watch My Name is Kim Sam Soon
have been thwarted by SBS LA18. Last week they started airing Will it Snow for Christmas?
It's not readily available for stream since it is still airing in Korea, so I decided to go ahead and watch it on my TV despite my general dislike for the subbing on LA18.
I have watched a total of four full kdramas over the last few months: Lure of Wife
, 1st Shop of Coffee Prince
, You're Beautiful
and Boys Over Flowers
. I'm currently watching Smile, Honey
and Will it Snow for Christmas?
I had a side moment which I need to finish involving Coffee Prince's Gong Yoo, and dipped my toes into the first four episodes of One Fine Day
. Some things I have watched on TV, some streaming online. In the case of You're Beautiful
, I did both. What I've learned is that SBS LA18 kinda sucks with the subbing. Watching Lure of Wife
, my first kdrama, there were a lot of things that I missed due to my unfamiliarity with Korean. I watched one episode with a friend who is a native Korean speaker and she pointed out to me that the translations were inaccurate. What I gathered from talking to her about the translation and the spoken dialogue is that LA18 was translating into the simplest terms and concepts and that was not always the most accurate. My next kdrama, 1st Shop of Coffee Prince
, I watched streaming on mysoju.com
. That's where I began to recognize the discrepancies in subbing. Mysoju
doesn't host streams, so subbing can vary from episode to episode depending on the host location and who did the translations. The same is true for watching episodes on You Tube. I would go through the first few minutes of various sub versions until I found one that I liked, both in presentation of text on frame (font, color, timing) and actual language translation (which is kind of arbitrary, when I think about it, since I don't speak Korean). Once I find something I like, I try to stick to that user's content.
Of course, no sub is created equal. Depending on the subber and the amount of time invested, experience, fluency, etc, the subs are better or worse. I've attempted to watch dramas where the timing was so poorly done that I couldn't actually read the text before it flashed out of frame. I assumed that on TV they would be better, but apparently not. So far, Written in the Heavens Subbing Squad
(WITHS2), a fansub group, do some of the best subbing that I've seen. Here are the differences I've noticed:
1. WITHS2 doesn't translate the untranslatable. Certain words don't have verbatim translations. Colloquialisms and slang, for example are sometimes left as is and an additional line of text, usually at the top of the frame rather than the bottom, is included with the dialogue to explain the word, phrase or concept. Explanatory text can also be included to explain aphorisms or other cultural references that, although they are translated, do not have readily accessible associations or meanings to a non-Korean audience.
2. LA18 omits honorifics and kinship terms. The use of kinship terms and honorifics between characters says alot about their relationship both personally and socially. English equivalents are very thin on the ground and, besides, Korean usage is more complex. My preferred subs leave those usages in tact. In the LA18 translations, first names are substituted.
3. Anglicizing name order. Korean names consist of the Family name followed by the Given Name, in that order. The given name is made up of a generational name followed by a secondary, distinct syllable (a sort of personal name, as I understand it). For example, in You're Beautiful
, the lead female is named Go Mi Nyu. Her twin brother who she spends most of the series impersonating is Go Mi Nam. Of course LA18 insists on flipping the order and running the syllables of the given name together. So that Go Mi Nam becomes Minam Go. I take offense to the Anglicization because it seems an arbitrary and unnecessary change. It's not difficult to understand that in the Korean culture names are written "This Way" and not "That Way". Even if you're not willing to do the leg work and learn why.
3. LA18 doesn't translate written text. That is REALLY annoying. Text messages, notes, names on cellphones, among other things, are never translated unless there is a voiceover. These things can be a really important part of the story, so missing out on the translations present unnecessary gaps in the narrative.
4. Sometimes the translation just doesn't make sense. Literally, the translation is nonsense.
There is always a disconnect between listening to the dialogue and reading translations. As they say, all translators are traitors, and there are many elements to consider when translating. However, I find that the loss of specific language and over simplification of concepts detrimental to my understanding of the narrative. Researching elements that I don't understand or that are not translated broadens my understanding and ultimate appreciation of the drama and the culture it derives from. It can only enrich the experience. There is also, at least for me, the aural disruption that comes with reading one thing and hearing something else. Initially, it didn't register, but as I've become more familiar with the cadences in the spoken language, certain adjustments become very obvious. Perhaps if I had never been introduced to the words, their meanings and proper usages ... but hearing oppa and reading Ganjin always throws me for a loop. Not that I'm going to learn Korean by watching kdramas.
I also believe that there is a certain amount of work perpetrated by the audience that should go into consuming foreign material. Part of enjoying unfamiliar media is learning about it. In the case of kdramas that involves a little bit of research on naming practices, and usage of honorifics and kinship terms, for example. Accessing another culture's art should, I think, include accessing specifics about the culture. Otherwise, how do you really *get* it? How do you ever being to grasp the nuance and depth of the narrative? Geum Jan Di refusing to call Gu Jun Pyu "oppa" or "sunbae" and insisting on calling him by his full name means something. Go Eun Chan calling Choi Han Kyul "hyung", but never calling Choi Han Seung anything besides "ahjusshi" really means something outside of the verbatim translations. Watching a character being invited to call another character "unni" or "noona" are very specific and impact what we understand about the relationships developing on screen.
Although, there is a lot of controversy surrounding the legitimacy of fansubs, I prefer them because they seem to be much more representative of the heart of what I am watching. I don't watch kdramas looking for an Americanized/anglicized version of a Korean story. I get enough of that in the American film industry (i.e. Ju-On becoming The Grudge, Bruders becoming Brothers, Americanized versions of Torchwood and The Office). What I am looking for is a good story.
I suppose that, in the end, I would like LA18 to be a little more careful in their translations, and to remain more faithful to the source material. Maybe I should be writing a letter to someone.