Subpar subtitles

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This is a full length martial arts action movie (English title "Sword Master"). You probably won't be able to stand watching much of it, and you have to put up with some pretty atrocious fighting scenes, but if you stick around for a few minutes of the Chinglish subtitles, you'll find them to be quite bizarre, although most seem to be just poor automatic translation.

"A[n] elite swordsman who is haunted by his skill, and a challenger who aims to take his place at all costs."

Incidentally, it has nearly 11,000,000 views, so some people must enjoy what they're seeing.

There are 746 comments (I read all of them). Most are about the poor quality of the subtitles, though some drift over into the deeper meaning of the movie. Here are a few of my favorites (the final one is the best):

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Ally Hosenbokus, 11 months ago: the person who wrote these subtitles is certainly an expert in linguistics.

Nina Willems, 11 months ago: living computer mean run occasional box repeatedly facility owner testing.

REPLY: Robbie McGill, 10 months ago: Did you use the same linguist as they did for the sub-titles ???

Mike OZ, 9 months ago: The subtitle must be in a new language never heard before!

Judy Neville, 8 months ago: Is the translator high?

Tofu, 1 year ago: Good movie, but the English Subs are obviously NOT done by human. Shame. smh

Paul Fonua, 8 months ago:  It's obvious none of you picked up on the poetic style of the translation. After a few readings into the translation, it should be clear to all that the translator isn't using words, but ideas for the translation.

Luther Israel, 8 months ago: I enjoyed the subtitle, it made me use my brain while watching

Abinash Daimari, 10 months ago: i cudnt understnd anything

Jesus Christ, 11 months ago: Good movie with proper special effect, but the subtitle is just junk :(… The meanings behind the scene are good and deep, which reflect the core of long Chinese tradition and culture. Only your true opponent do understand you. It's the supreme honor to die under the sword of your true opponent. Sacrifice for your own clan and for what you love. Life is miserable if you only live in hate and pain. Understand and embrace whatever your other half has, otherwise leave is the only resurrection……

PeterDad60,1 year ago (edited): Ahh just another Communist Party Propaganda film designed make Chinese people think they can actually do this things! To me, it's a sign that Chinese are insecure about their manhood and true fighting abilities. Can't the Chinese government simply make a movie with the Chinese people doing what is actually possible? For once? Oh that's right, this is propaganda.

srey sros bopha, 1 year ago: The ugly face master told his tricks to the other guy,, so the meaning of this,, Don't trust nobody…

Teresita Azada, 8 months ago: They we're fingting with long dress, how do they fight with so many clothes

YouTubex, 1 year ago: The translation are so funny that they bring an extra layer of entertainment to this magnificent movie.

Hemant Yadav, 11 months ago: Seems to be a good movie… Closed within 12 minutes due to wrong Subtitles

dare devil, 1 year ago: I wana watch it til the end but NO!! THE CAPTION IS PURE STUPIDITY! IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE MOVIE! The translator is so stupid!

Ay Oba, 4 months ago: What what subtitle writing, my no knowing😂😂😂

Mhay PM, 9 months ago: Hahah im so entertain of the subtitle 😂😂so funny

Tim, 8 months ago Translated for your enjoyment by the children of the Shanghai elementary school.

sonicvictory, 10 months ago: Its like a 2 year old tried to translate this into subtitles. frikin lol.

Steve Firth, 5 months ago: I know the subs are hilariously poor n all, but can anyone explain why it drops in to Greek(?) at 54:43?

Stephanie Murray, 8 months ago: Subtitles are science fiction!

Seymour Darby,1 year ago: Apegklwbisoyn what word is this. The translation makes no sense. Movie is tough.

Dumol, 6 months ago: i dont really care if the english subtitle is incorrect.. it is in the one who watch the movie to understand…

Eric Acob, 1 week ago: OMG I'm not understand the language but tnx because I have a Subtitles😃

Eugene Espina, 7 months ago R.I.P. English….this translator deserves an award……reading the translation is the only way I could understand what is the movie all about. At this time I felt dizzy to understand

tyson, 9 months ago: These are the compelling last lines of this movie.

"Also you can kill."

"Storage!"

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For a classic case of this genre, see "Backstroke of the West" (1/15/17).

[Thanks to Victor Steinbok]



17 Comments

  1. Philip Taylor said,

    February 9, 2019 @ 11:56 am

    Not unusual, in my experience. The films that I watch are frequently subtitled films from Asia ("Malaikat tanpa sayat", "Yokkakan no kiseki", Japanese, Indonesian, Korean, Chinese, …) and I frequently find it worthwhile to edit the subtitles. Fortunately modern software makes that very easy to do.

  2. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    February 9, 2019 @ 1:29 pm

    @Philip — just to clarify, by "Asia" you mean India & Pakistan? And not the whole continent of Asia (including China, Japan, etc)?

    Also: how do you edit subtitles?!

    Speaking of subtitles, I love the movie Megamind and recently had the opportunity to watch it again. My viewing partner had English subtitles on because we were watching it at low volume so as not to disturb sleeping children. I was upset that the subtitles ruined the Titan/Tighten joke!!

  3. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    February 9, 2019 @ 1:31 pm

    @Philip — my apologies. I need to work on my reading comprehension; I totally missed the part where you enumerate the countries you mean. Sigh. Sorry. #IReadTooQuicklySometimes :-(

  4. Victor Mair said,

    February 9, 2019 @ 2:03 pm

    But I still want to know how to edit the subtitles, and how modern software makes it easy to do.

  5. Philip Taylor said,

    February 9, 2019 @ 2:15 pm

    Regarding subtitles, these can often be downloaded in SRT (text) format from opensubtitles.org (live site currently hanging for me), edited by hand and then re-authored into the desired format (I use AVCHD format, then write to a 16 or 32 GB SD card); otherwise it is a little more complex but there is lots of good advice at (e.g.,) videohelp.com.

  6. DaveK said,

    February 9, 2019 @ 4:34 pm

    I was struck how, even though I don't know any Chinese, I could tell immediately how bad the acting was

  7. Alex said,

    February 9, 2019 @ 4:51 pm

    After a person uploads a video to youtube, youtube makes it very easy to add subtitles.

    you can search on youtube videos "how to add subtitles youtube"

    To give an example this is what Michael and I and some volunteers have done.

    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9hXMRlDghXC8iGx0soVeAw

    we shot the poetry and other videos and then used the built in creator studio.

    There are several options

    If you wish to manually enter subtitles you just enter into the time slots that youtube provides by detecting voices. You can make adjustments to the youtube provided time slots.

    You can also paste in text and youtube will try to match the text to the voice.

    For English and some other languages they even have an auto function which match automatically adds the English to the voices it hears. For English and Spanish it seems pretty good. Then after youtube does this you can edit any mistakes.

    You can also easily add in two sets of subtitles such as Chinese on top and English below it.

    Youtube then makes it easy for the viewers to turn on and off subtitles.

    Many videos on youtube use googles auto subtitling for videos for CC.

    I was very amazed how youtube made adding subtitles to videos so easy.

    If you wish to burn subtitles into videos then all you have to do is add the subtitles to your youtube video and then download the subtitle file. Then use a free program called handbrake to burn the subtitle into the video. Then the user dont have the option to turn off subtitles.

  8. Alex said,

    February 9, 2019 @ 5:30 pm

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9iLUyDqUYlI

    This video is pretty good very brief intro to show how to add subtitles to and video uploaded to youtube.

    Note the final 1 min. The auto translate subtitles into other languages.

    There are more options than described in the short video but for now thats a decent video.

  9. Pickering said,

    February 9, 2019 @ 6:26 pm

    Thanks for the tips on manually entering subtitles. I see that could add great value, but also could be used ala malicious deep fake type videos to do the opposite. https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2018-06-13/the-deep-fake-video-threat

  10. andy said,

    February 9, 2019 @ 7:24 pm

    Philip, do you mean that you edit the English translation text without understanding the source language?

  11. Amy de Buitléir said,

    February 9, 2019 @ 7:39 pm

    I started watching to giggle at the translations, but soon got caught up in the story. What some see as bad acting, I think is a very stylised art form. For anyone who watches all the way through, this Wikipedia article can fill you in on some of the more subtle plot points: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sword_Master_(film)

    I'm most curious about the repeated use of "Hillsborough" in the translation!

  12. Philip Taylor said,

    February 9, 2019 @ 7:42 pm

    Andy, yes. If I could understand the source language, I would turn off the sub-titles and just watch the film as a native speaker would. But in general the sub-titles are prepared by someone who is a native speaker of the source language but not skilled in English, so the s-ts are full of errors. It is not difficult to correct most of these, even when (as with Indonesian) I do not speak a word of the language. It helps, of course, to have watched the film a couple of times first, since a great deal can be learned about what the protagonists are likely to say by watching their faces and following the storyline.

  13. Philip Taylor said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 4:22 am

    Victor, not sure if you have all the information you need. I had thought that you were interested in editing sub-titles on DVDs, Blu-ray discs, etc, Alex clearly thought you were interested in editing s-ts for You Tube. I have no experience of the latter, but reasonable experience of the former. If you could clarify your interest, we may be able to offer more focussed advice.

  14. Victor Mair said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 7:00 am

    I have received more than enough information concerning entering and editing subtitles on videos, especially from Alex about what it's possible to do with YouTube.

  15. Victor Mair said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 7:44 am

    Offline, Alex told me that automated subtitling of English has been "relatively mastered by technology".

  16. MikeA said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 11:03 am

    Any chance this is a Chinese homage to "What's up, Tiger Lily"? :-)

  17. amy said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 1:56 pm

    This would become even more amusing if it was dubbed back with the Chinglish just like what happened with Backstroke of the West… except this time, the movie itself was originally in Chinese.

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