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A triumph of world culture

A few years back one of my children introduced me to the glory that was Star War The Third Gathers: The Backstroke of the West.

Now I see that Mark Liberman of Language Log has flagged up this piece by Patrick Shanley for the Hollywood Reporter:

‘Revenge of the Sith’ Dubbed With Bootleg Chinese Dialogue Is a Fan-Made Masterpiece

YouTuber GratefulDeadpool has done the unthinkable: He’s made Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith cool.

Using the original Chinese subtitles, which feature multiple lost-in-translation misinterpretations, GratefulDeadpool redubbed the prequel trilogy’s final installment — with hilarious results.

Entitled Backstroke of the West Highlights Part 1 (Star War: The Third Gathers), the recut features such memorable lines as “I has been hating you,” from the villainous Count Dooku, and “The front is a lemon avenue flying straightly,” spoken by Obi-Wan Kenobi while piloting a careening starship.

Dorkly explains the bizarre translations likely “began with a machine translation of the Chinese script to [Revenge of the Sith], which attempted to literally translate from Mandarin to English, despite the multitude of barriers between the two languages.” The end result was great quips, such as “Smelly boy” from General Grievous to Kenobi and “Your dead period arrived, teacher” from a rebellious Anakin Skywalker during his fateful lightsaber duel with his master on Mustafar.

You can view either edited highlights of this semi-accidental masterpiece or the whole thing by following the links in the Hollywood Reporter piece. Back at Language Log, one of the commenters, Jonathan Smith, rightly says that, “This latest editor’s genius was to get voice actors to read it with straight faces.”

However I cannot endorse Mark Liberman’s view when he writes, “I’m skeptical of the machine-translation idea, because I seriously doubt that there has ever been an MT system that rendered “the Jedi Council” as “the Presbyterian Church”.

Doesn’t he know what happens when you say things like that about Star Wars?

“I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

14 comments to A triumph of world culture

  • NickM

    My wife is a translator – Russian, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish into English. She also “doctors” translators work. This was from Mandarin:

    “Pepsi: Taste of a New Generation”.


    “Pepsi: Brings your Ancestors Back to Life”

  • Alsadius

    Isn’t this like a decade-plus old? Seems odd for it to be a “news” story.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Alsadius, as I said at the beginning of the post, the bootleg DVD with its strange subtitles is years old. The (fairly) new thing is that someone got voice actors to read out the subtitles aloud, redubbed them onto the movie and put the result on Youtube. That was done last February, but I hadn’t heard about it until today. So it was news to me.

  • A modern translation system may no longer explode when confronted with “time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana” and no longer translate “out of sight, out of mind” as “blind insanity” because these examples are well known, but I retain a lack of faith that could disturb any seeker after funding. 🙂

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Niall Kilmartin, actually it seems that within the last few months there has been a significant leap forward in machine translation:

    Google Translate just got a lot smarter

    The search giant said it’s now incorporating “neural machine translation” into the software, which means it can translate whole sentences at a time, instead of breaking the text down to smaller chunks and translating those pieces.

    The result is translations coming out more natural, with better syntax and grammar, Google said.

    “It has improved more in one single leap than in 10 years combined,” Barak Turovsky, the product lead for Google Translate, said during a press event at Google’s San Francisco office.

    This Reddit thread from two months ago is full of people exclaiming that the improvement is not mere advertising puffery.

  • CaptDMO

    And where are the ridiculous literal translations, from the third year “communications” students,between civilizations separated by a common language?
    “Man! Some women WANT you to grab ’em on the fanny!”
    It’s the kind of thing some teenagers learn in Private School.
    Amiright? Meh, fugidabahdit.

  • Alisa

    Years ago, when online machine translation just became popular, someone did this to some old Madonna hit (Like a Virgin?) – to Polish, IIRC, and back into English. It was a riot.

  • Runcie Balspune

    This is just All Your Base reimagined. Not that reimagining is all bad (Battlestar Galactica for example). Have we really reached “peak internet” and no new memes are possible?

  • Brian Swisher

    Waaaay back in the late 70s, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction had a reader contest where the premise was to take an SF title and do a translation/retranslation of it. The winner (or, at any rate, the one I remember) was of Roger Zelanzny’s The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth, which came out as, He Has A Hole in His Head and His Teeth Glow in the Dark.

  • Phil B

    @ Natalie

    The result is translations coming out more natural, with better syntax and grammar, Google said.

    “Coming out more natural”??? As opposed to being in the closet and being slightly unnatural and then claiming better syntax and Grandma*???

    You couldn’t make it up!

    * Yes, I’m “extracting the urine” on that …

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    I’ve long felt that the only way to satirise the first Star wars movie would be for Obiwan Kenobi to be the leader of a ‘Jedi’ cult, who puts brain chips into his pupils, hoping to download his personality into acolytes, like impressionable Luke ‘Skywalker’ Smith. (Was that a secret laboratory where Luke woke up the first time?) The fact that the Death Star is destroyed is pure good luck, which the historians feel compelled to ‘spin’ as a mysterious ‘force’…. Good dubbing could give us a saner plot all round.

  • jsallison

    All your base are belong to us, baby!

    I know, Japanese, Mandarin, to a round eye with tinnitus, tomatoe, tomahtoe.

    So, anyone for grafting the Grand Moff Tarkin into the Downfall bunker scene? And Steiner, musn’t forget Steiner

  • bobby b

    The only way I’ve been able to listen to Obama speeches has been by utilizing the back-and-forth auto-translate sites.

    Happily, “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal …” translates to “now the waters retard and the earth scars.” Gives it a whole new, and more palatable, meaning.

  • JB

    The memories this post brings back!

    In undergrad, I had dual majors in Chinese and Economics. My first year of Chinese study, I won the Modern Languages department award for language study. My Chinese teacher, who was an old hippy who had spent almost 30 years in Taiwan learning Chinese language and Tai Chi, had a very unique sense of humor. So, in front of a crowd of about 100 people at the award lunch, and my girlfriend at the time, he announced that the prize for my award was a set of “健康球”, traditional Chinese steel balls that you rotate in the palm of your hand to promote health. But then he had me read allowed the English translation under the Chinese which, rather than Health Balls, said “Healthy Balls” – he then remarked about how lucky my girlfriend was. Ah, the shades of red that I turned must have been something to behold.